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  • The Persistence of Alice
  • Roni Natov (bio)

Lewis Carroll's children's epics have been written about, dramatized, and illustrated from so many points of view that they are obviously among the great classics of all times. And yet it is curious that the Alice stories are hardly read by children anymore. But this is misleading: children are familiar with the characters and the stories through Disney's cartoon and through the various television and children's theatre productions. However, many of these versions are distorted in some way. Disney's cartoon ignores the shape and texture of the work. Although some of the characters are vivid portrayals of Carroll's (and Tenniel's) originals—the Dutchess, the Queen, the Cheshire Cat, for example—and Disney's genius for animation cannot be underestimated, the entire effect is one of meaningless nonsense, and here 1 use the term literally, not the way Lewis Carroll did when he exposed the anti-sense, anti-rational underside of our existence. Most of the children's theatre productions have more successfully maintained some semblance of Carroll's intent and power in the scenes chosen for dramatization. But rarely does a theatre group present more than a part or a scene. The hugeness, the grandness of the work remains unexperienced by children. In recent years, a British television network produced a fine Alice in Wonderland which stuck fairly closely to the text; many of Carroll's lines were included and kept intact. But I had trouble relating to the voluptuous 25-35 year old woman as Carroll's Alice. And many of the modern productions seem similarly distorted.

So, although the Alice stories have survived in other forms, much of their richness is lost unless they are read. And although there are nursery versions for the youngest children, I recommend for the child-reader the work in its entirety, though meted out in small doses, perhaps one chapter at a time. This would not harm the sense of the work or disorient the child, since each chapter stands on its own. Perhaps, also, some of [End Page 38]


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Photograph of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Carroll's Alice, taken by Lewis Carroll.

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Illustration by Lewis Carroll, 1864.

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Illustration by John Tenniel, 1865.

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Illustration by John Tenniel, 1865.

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Illustration by Peter Newell, 1901.

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Illustration by Peter Newell, 1901.

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Illustration by Peter Newell, 1901.

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Advice from a Caterpillar

Illustration by Arthur Rackham, © 1907. Reprinted by permission of William Heinemann, Ltd., London.

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At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her

Illustration by Arthur Rackham, © 1907. Reprinted by permission of William Heinemann, Ltd., London.

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The Mock Turtle drew a long breath and said, "That's very curious"

Illustration by Arthur Rackham, © 1907. Reprinted by permission of William Heinemann, Ltd., London.

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Illustration by Milo Winter, © 1916. Reprinted by permission of Rand McNally.

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Illustration by Tove Jansson from Alice in Wonderland. Copyright © 1966 by Albert Bonniers Forlag AB. Used by permission of the publisher, Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence.

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Illustration by Ralph Steadman, © 1973 by Ralph Steadman. Reprinted by permission of Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.

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the extensive verbal sophistications could be cut at the discretion of teacher, librarian, parent, always keeping in mind the particular child-audience, who may have difficulty following the connotations of Victorian idiom and humor. But the work is intrinsically interesting and universally powerful. Carroll's sense of the way children...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6563
Print ISSN
0147-2593
Pages
pp. 38-61
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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