Tag Archives: Lewis Carroll

Return to Wonderland

Return to Wonderland

Many writers have a relationship with Alice. A whole bunch of them have now written their own new stories about Wonderland and the wondrous creatures you find there. It’s Alice Day on the 4th of July, or so I’ve been told, and here’s a whole new story collection featuring your favourite characters.

In fact, I was struck by how nicely these authors played; they all seemed to have an affinity with a different character from the other authors, which seems to mean there was no fighting. They simply sat down and mused in an interesting way about the Cheshire Cat, or the Knave of Hearts, or any of the others.

To tell the truth, I only ever read the original Alice once, and don’t have a deep and meaningful relationship with any of them. I like tea parties, but prefer them to be normal. I like my head attached. And so on.

Some of these stories were great, lots of fun and interesting new takes on the old tales. I didn’t like all of them the same, but that’s understandable as the eleven authors don’t write the same way, and maybe for me some of Wonderland’s characters are more my cup of tea than others.

‘One morning, Pig woke to discover he had been turned into a real boy.’

How can you go wrong with a start like that?

Dare to be honest?

When asked for the best children’s books, do you a) list the ones you truly loved the best, or b) mention the ones you reckon are expected of you? The ‘proper’ books of childhood.

Last week I was impressed to find I wasn’t totally alone in thinking the new list of 11 best books for under tens, published by the BBC wasn’t one I agreed with. They asked critics, who are supposed know about this. All adults, I imagine.

Charlotte’s Web, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Where the Wild Things Are, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Little Women, The Little Prince, Winnie-the-Pooh, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Wizard of Earthsea, A Wrinkle in Time, Little House on the Prairie.

These are fine books. But how much were they even the favourites when these critics were under ten, and how likely is it that they will continue to please young readers of today? Under ten 25 or 50 years ago is not the same as now. Much as I loved Little Women, I’d give it to an older reader today.

I’m not too keen on Roald Dahl. Never read Narnia, but accept that many have and will continue to do so. I have a feeling I’ve not got round to Charlotte’s Web, either. It’s one of those books that are always mentioned, and so well known that it can be hard to keep track of whether or not you’ve actually read it.

Surely this is primarily a list of the books a group of adults believe they loved the best, or feel are the books they ought to admit to in public? Rather like the castaways on Desert Island Discs, who were always asking for the Bible and Shakespeare, and I suspect, not always because those are the very best books in the world. True, there is a lot to read in both, but the choice feels more to be about what you dare say in public. Brave is the person who’d admit to not being a reader, or one who’d prefer Enid Blyton or Lee Child, to pick a couple of very popular writers.

As a foreigner, I feel I’m allowed not to know all these books from childhood. But if I were to choose my favourites, I feel I would be expected to go for Astrid Lindgren, rather than some unknown or forgotten light fiction (by that I mean there were lots of books I loved to bits, but where I either didn’t note the author’s name, or can’t remember it now). Nothing wrong with Astrid, I hasten to add, but whereas I liked Pippi Longstocking back then, today I’d rather not suggest her, but go for one of the others.

And there is that difference between now and then. What I liked 50 years ago, and what I reckon a little Bookwitch today would enjoy. It’s not the same. These critics would also not all be the same age, so their choices show a top eleven from the mid-20th century onwards.

If Offspring were under ten today, there are about four books on the list I’d give them (wouldn’t prevent them from picking any of the books themselves, of course). If I ever end up with Grand-Offspring, I might offer two of these books, and after that I’d go for much more recent books. There are countless wonderful reads for under tens from the last 25 years.

Two Alices

Continuing with the rabbit theme, here are two Alices and consequently two rabbits down two rabbit holes, and two Cheshire cats grinning away (a bit like those ‘catfish’ of yesterday). And so on.

150 years after Lewis Carroll published his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, we seem to be celebrating like crazy, and there are lots of new Alice-related things out there, if you are so inclined.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Yelena Bryksenkova)

I’m not a mad Alice fan, but these two books are nice. Both are folded up, small versions of the story. From Frances Lincoln we get Alice as illustrated by Yelena Bryksenkova, with the plot shown scene-by-scene, real quotes, a 30-second summary and a list of characters. (Personally I applaud this attractive and time efficient way of accessing an old classic.)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Grahame Baker-Smith)

An even smaller, folded affair is the one from Walker Books, where they have based the story on the Royal Mail stamps by Grahame Baker-Smith. If you’re not fussy about having the whole original text, this is an excellent way of meeting and getting to know Alice. Briefly.

I like both of them, and reckon you can have a lot of fun folding and unfolding your Alice. And tucking her into the accompanying case. And taking her out again, and so on…

Defending Anne

The other day on the Guardian’s book blog, Sam Jordison reminisced about his childhood reading, and I was vaguely amused to find his ‘distant’ childhood was quite recent. Didn’t comment on it, as that would have been ageist, but I feel that any historical musings need to be a little, well, more historical. The 1960s, for instance, and not the late 1980s. It seems the young Sam was mainly concerned with losing his marbles. No, I’ll check that again. Losing at marbles. Slight difference.

But what I couldn’t resist commenting on (read complain) was Sam’s totally incorrect view that ‘Anne of Green Gables (is) a bore’. I’m the first to admit that Sam is entitled to his opinion, however faulty, but to be allowed (Guardian editors can be strict) to state it as a fact, was a bit much for me. And it was only as I brought the subject up that anyone else noticed. They’d all been too busy discussing the main theme of his blog, a book I don’t know, so can’t say anything about. As I feel the whole point of a Guardian blog is to get a little off topic with the comments, it was clearly high time to defend Anne.

I’ll leave Blyton alone, and Willard Price, too. Dahl and Carroll are good, but not necessarily geniuses. You don’t have to like Anne, but she is no bore. Considering how popular she is, I was shocked to find that no fan jumped in to say anything at all. Where were you all?

Plates of biscuits and glasses of Ribena? Go and get them yourself, Sam! Oh, and I’ll have a mug of Earl Grey while you’re in the kitchen. Please.

And I’m of the opinion that you can go home again. Not to Kirrin Island, perhaps, but Prince Edward Island still works for countless elderly women. And me.

Life-changing books

This sounds so awfully worthy that I’m almost ashamed. The Resident IT Consultant forced a copy of the New Scientist on me the other evening, saying I might want to read the bit on books.

They had talked to a number of scientists (what else?) about books that inspired them when they were young. Quite interesting, in a quirky way. Only the women dared mention anything vaguely childish in the way of books. Whether that’s because the men never were childish, weren’t inspired by children’s books or didn’t think it right to mention, will remain a mystery.

Alice in Wonderland, Doctor Doolittle, and Tarzan will have to count as children’s choices. Not sure about A Mathematician’s Apology, The Art of the Soluble, One Two Three Infinity, or The Mind of a Mnemonist. Wow. Heartily approve of The Foundation Trilogy.

Having got this far, I’m beginning to suspect that you won’t let me finish without giving you mine. It will have to be Five On A Treasure Island. And I refuse to blush. After that it could be many others, but perhaps I wouldn’t have those if I hadn’t had the Blyton to begin with? You wouldn’t be sitting reading this drivel if it weren’t for the Five. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Famous Five

This isn’t MY cover picture, which I couldn’t find. Couldn’t even find my book to take a photo… But this is nice enough.