The enduring legacy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Cover art by Volterra

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Recently I ventured to the Harry Ransom Center for their Alice in Wonderland exhibit. Hot off the heels of Gone With the Wind, this collection was just as engaging. The wall of art work is incredibly fascinating – especially when you check out the international covers (and the Dali examples are beyond amazing and I’ll share those with you in a moment). It’s definitely a must-see if you are in the Austin area.

This week BBC Culture published a list of the top eleven children’s books and there at number four is Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece. The article cites Alice’s curiosity and bravery as the reason this tale lives on and on. But what do you think about the enduring legacy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

Novelist AS Byatt shared her thoughts with The Guardian, summing it up as a result of Carroll’s storytelling (the way ideas and space – even travel – are conveyed). Kind of cool when you consider that this was written before a lot of the technological innovations we enjoy today. The novel was published in 1865; the result of an inspiring boat journey the author took with his friend Reverend Robinson Duckworth and four young companions who were siblings (one of which was Alice Pleasance Liddell). Carroll (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) continued to perfect the tale over the next few months, with the children providing their thoughts and ideas along the way. Additionally, he researched natural history to flesh out the fantastical creatures he created.

Since then the surreal environment of Carroll’s making has gone on to inspire many artistic greats. Just look at these Dali pieces!

Image from the HRC exhibit

The white rabbit

Dali at his finest

Love how the text plays with the art work

So why have over twenty five film/theater iterations been created to date and about as many literary adaptations? Perhaps it’s Dali to the rescue – he adored the fantastic and unique situations our main character navigated. Maybe that’s exactly where the magic is. There isn’t one over-arching theme, evil lives in a gray area, and bravery resides in a strong female character rather than the typical male hero. Here is a girl put into dangerous settings, facing difficult personalities and she approaches her brand new world with unwavering interest. Naturally credit is owed to Carroll, but I think that the insights he received from the original Alice herself are the real reason this story captures the wide-eyed wonder of youth so successfully (and why it remains influential all these years later).

We often talk about the timeliness of stories or icons, wondering if certain perspectives will hold their meaning as the years go on. But here is a story that hasn’t just preserved itself, but actually adapted. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a cultural touch stone that spans generations. I’ll leave you with one other side note: while the publication itself has lived on, becoming even more popular, the reputation of Lewis Carroll has risen and fallen over time. Share with me in the comments why you think this tale is so heavily referenced and if you think there are any other contenders on that BBC list that give Alice a run for her money…

Cause A Frockus would like to thank the Harry Ransom Center for another brilliant exhibit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments will be subject to approval by a moderator. Comments may fail to be approved or may be edited if the moderator deems that they:

  • contain unsolicited advertisements ("spam")
  • are unrelated to the subject matter of the post or of subsequent approved comments
  • contain personal attacks or abusive/gratuitously offensive language