The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition (review)
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Victorian Studies 43.3 (2001) 473-475



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Book Review

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition


The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, Introduction and Notes by Martin Gardner; pp. xviii + 31. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000, $29.95.

Marginal commentaries of texts are not new; they have been with us for centuries, particularly commentaries on the Bible. But those that have come to us through the ages have consistently been narrowly restricted to single disciplines, to theological, philosophical, or other specialized commentaries. The annotated text à la Martin Gardner is different in that it ranges through multiple disciplines and takes the world for its oyster.

It is a remarkable accomplishment, for with the publication in 1960 of the first [End Page 473] Annotated Alice, Gardner established a new genre of literature. As we know so well, genres normally evolve rather than appear in an instant. The novel, the serious play, the narrative poem, the opera, the musical, painting in oils or watercolors--no one person can claim actually to have established the genre. Seldom can we point to an artist or team who first popularized the form. The most we can credit individuals with is significantly adding to or altering the course of the genre. Gardner is the exquisite exception, for he deserves credit for establishing the "annotated text" as we know it today. How many "annotated" works have followed in the wake of the first Annotated Alice since it was published? They range from Ulysses Annotated (Don Gifford [1988]) to the annotated Casey at the Bat (Martin Gardner [1967]). The genre is now securely embedded in our literary culture.

The popularity of the Alice books has never really waned. Indeed, Charles Dodgson saw in his later years that his dream tales were turning into classics. In 1898, the year that Dodgson died, when the Pall Mall Gazette measured the popularity of children's books, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) weighed in at the top of the list. While it is Dodgson's amazing imagination that assures the two Alice books a secure place in the firmament, still, from time to time, some event, commemorative or creative, gives these classics a decided boost by thrusting them afresh into the public eye. Such was the case in 1932 with the celebration marking the centenary of Dodgson's birth, again in 1951 with the release of the Walt Disney Alice film, which, despite its vulgarities, won its way into the hearts of a new generation.

In 1960, Gardner's Annotated Alice did more to establish the Alice books as cultural icons than any other force. It has gone through numerous printings in the US and Britain since it first appeared and has been translated into Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, and Russian. It has circled the globe and made heaps of new Alice-lovers of young and old, created bands--dare one say cults?--of Carroll-cum-Gardner devotees. A good many of them turned out to be Alice-watchers as well, sending Gardner additional notations to the text. In time, the Annotator of Annotators saw that a new edition was necessary, and in 1990 he brought forth More Annotated Alice, in which he rewrote the notes, adding, correcting, and amplifying. He replaced the John Tenniel illustrations of the first Annotated Alice with the 1901-02 illustrations by Peter Newell and included the rediscovered "Wasp in a Wig" chapter (omitted from the original Through the Looking-Glass because Tenniel found "a wasp in a Wig [. . .] altogether beyond the appliances of art" [qtd. in The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1898) 146]), also appropriately annotated. Gardner dedicated his More Annotated Alice to "the thousands of readers [. . .] who took the time to send letters of appreciation and to offer corrections and suggestions for new notes" (vii); he even named the readers whose suggestions he used in his new annotations.

Now, to grace the millennium, comes Gardner's definitive edition of the Annotated Alice or, as he might have called it, the "Encyclopaedic Annotated Alice," for here Gardner has combined all the notes from the...