Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Illustrations by John Tenniel
I grew up with Alice in Wonderland being first exposed to it as the Disney animation, and being in my year 6 play of Alice in Wonderland being the Mock Turtle, at it was around that time of the age of 11 I read the book for the first time and fell in love with it, even though I read children’s illustrated books as a child, I had always been a keen reader, so this was the first time a book challenged me but drew me in with illustrations and where I was first introduced to the idea of illustration.
I have a couple of editions now, but the one I am going to talk about today is the most modern, published by Penguin Random House in 2017 with the cover designed by Coralie Bickford Smith. Inside contains both Alice in Wonderland, and Through the looking glass, and what Alice found there.
The cover is a beautiful red faux leather embossed cover with blue foiled text and repeated pattern of flamingos. When I brought this copy, I already had several, but I was immediately drawn by the cover, the book felt special and not just something to read to be seen as art, of the designers, author, and illustrator. It was a copy I don’t necessarily read when I want to reread the book, but it holds the most symbolism to what the book means to me, sentimental and special.
Inside contains over 50 illustrations by John Tenniel. Originally looking at the work and thinking of the era I assumed they were etchings of some sort. However, I knew I was likely to be wrong, as even though I have been becoming more interested in print, I am not well versed enough to know the era that well. I discovered in researching that they were completed by taking the original drawing and transferring it onto wood to be engraved, this was completed by an outside contractor, and then were transferred on electrotype plates. This was not a printing method I had heard of before, however discovered it was commonly used with letterpress to create illustrated books. I tried to discover whether the first editions were printing using letterpress and couldn’t find any confirmation, however with finding out these plates were most commonly used with letterpress, and pictures of the original books and even the way the text is laid out to create images of its own, I imagine it was letter press.
However, because of the way of printing these illustrations they are all line drawings, and tone is built through hatching. Even though I know it is down to the era it was created it feels very juxtaposed to the text which is full of colour and imagination. I would be curious to see what John Tenniel working with Carroll would now create with today’s technology. However, they do work together for this reason, the words are complicated and bold and something simpler helps balance the whole book.
Tenniel’s illustrations often stray away from Proportion and I think the is purposeful because the world the characters situate is not proportional, it’s strange, unique, beautiful but scary, and I think this is his way of communicating this to the audience even when show showing a character. Also, I believe he is using it to also show the young age of Alice, as children and pre-teens are particularly hard to draw and get across. So the bigger head against the smaller body is more child like proportions and then even if characters are different sizes to what we aspect, for instance when she drinks the potion and become giant or tiny, or against the Jabberwocky, playing cards, animals which are now out of extinction we can still see her as a child because height is irrelevant in the story and the schemes of things. Also, in the writing of Alice and in the way, she acts she can seem a lot older than she seems, and I think the illustrations could be also there to remind us she is still and young child, but also to reinstate how she is such as unique and different character as one would expect of a child. She is a strong female character invented in a time where that didn’t truly exist, to have a clever, young, curious, dreamy and indomitable girl who isn’t afraid to talk back made readers rethink what they thought about children in particular girls.
It disappoints me that it seems the children of this generation have not read this book, and I was looking it and was wondering why, is it just getting too old? And unfortunately I do not believe it attracts the younger generation today as we have been exposed to so much technology and colour that the illustrations would underwhelm a younger audience today, children’s book are full of colour and wonderland, and even though Alice contains illustration the colour and wonder are in the words and the illustrations are just a supporting act and not many children would be attracted to that, maybe even intimidated. I even know my generation being at the age of 21, not many people I know have read it, and I remember getting my first computer and only got my first phone under a decade ago. I read it because I was an ambitious reader, I was reading adult novels at the age of 10, my parents couldn’t stop me reading, and even though I loved illustrations I read a book for the words. I grew up with Going on a bear hunt, and the hungry caterpillar as children’s book’s which even though have incredible illustrations, and good stories they don’t stand against some of the more artistic and creative children’s books you can get today.
Kids want the newest, colour and shiny object and unfortunately to them they don’t believe that is Alice.