This special nonsense issue of Bookbird falls between two anniversaries, one being literary and widely celebrated, the other being critical and obscure, yet in its way, worthy of note. The first, as many readers will know by now from recent articles, television shows, dramatic adaptations, radio interviews, lectures, and new multicolor manga editions, is the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear (whose seminal A Book of Nonsense preceded Alice by 19 years), are in many ways the basis from which modern nonsense literature in the West (and sometimes beyond) is created and critiqued. And as much as I would like to move the discussion of nonsense beyond its Anglocentric, colonial, hegemonic (& etc.), nineteenth-century roots, this anniversary, and the articles in the present issue, remind us that we cannot and should not do so. Carroll and Lear are so deeply embedded in the genes of world-wide nonsense today, that we simply need to embrace them, with all their colonial complications.
We also now approach the thirtieth anniversary of the first, and possibly most recent, scholarly journal to devote a special issue entirely to critical essays on a wide range of nonsense art, the Dutch Quarterly Review of Anglo-American Letters, which in 1986 was guest edited by a then-soon-to-be pioneer of nonsense study, Wim Tigges.1 This issue of the DQR also started with its feet firmly in Victorian ground but branched out to nonsense in graphic art and film among other topics. As the back flap of the journal states, Tigges was producing something like a teaser for his book of essays to be released the next year, Explorations in the Field of Nonsense, the goal of which was, in part, to broaden the field of nonsense research beyond the child audience and even beyond literature.
With the present special issue of Bookbird, we also have the opportunity to create a wider world of nonsense, though we will bring the focus back to the child reader, while recognizing that, as with all studies of nonsense, the audience is always a complex mix. The articles and features here also acknowledge Lear and Carroll but add to the canon by looking beyond (and through) them, to other languages and cultures, including Poland, France, Germany, Slovenia, and Canada, and to artistic and critical influences beyond those typically addressed in discussions of nonsense literature. We hope that the wide scope here will expand our methods of creating, critiquing, and teaching the art of nonsense.
Fittingly, and to our great delight, Wim Tigges returns now, to lead our Bookbird charge with a study of Dutch nonsense. He points us to a rich, under-recognized—and fraught—source: nonsense anthologies. It turns out that much nonsense is written by authors not necessarily known for the art or those who write it only occasionally. Anthologies give us the opportunity [End Page 5] to explore these and move well beyond canonical authors, though in doing so, the definitions of nonsense used in the selection process are tested and stretched, sometimes beyond practical limits. That is, in these collections, often anything funny or light or inconsequential or slightly inconceivable might be called nonsense. Tigges comes to our rescue, though, for in surveying Dutch nonsense anthologies, he not only adds to our awareness of new authors and texts, but equally importantly, addresses the minefield that is genre definition. Who better than Tigges, author of the definitive An Anatomy of Literary Nonsense (1988), to help us navigate these rough waters?
One of the problems that Tigges grapples with, however, is the fact that most Dutch nonsense anthologies include Anne M. G. Schmidt, one of The Netherlands’ most popular children’s writers. While admitting that a little of her work can be considered within nonsense proper, he mentions that most of her work is not—unless we are willing to stretch the definition to any text that includes “speaking animals or objects, or naughtily eccentric characters.” In terms of nonsense criticism, Tigges is usually considered on the conservative end, and so to tilt the scales just a bit more towards the nonsense libertine, Annette de Bruijn...