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Catherine Nichols – Alice’s Wonderland review

A pictorial guide to the world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Alice's Wonderland

The large-format, full-colour book Alice’s Wonderland is a beautifully-presented, hardback tome which, in the words of the subtitle, guides the reader along a visual journey through Lewis Carroll’s mad, mad world.

Anyone who’s ever been inspired and intoxicated by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, either in their original book form or in the multifarious big screen adaptations, will find much to enjoy in this visually impressive book. It contains reprints of the iconic Arthur Rackham paintings which, whilst not the original accompaniments to Carroll’s text, have long since been felt to definitively capture the childlike wonder and weirdness of the prose like no other artist before or since.

Naturally, since the Walt Disney company secured the rights to make a film of the book, and a suitably distilled and purified animated version resulted, part of the book is given over to the toothless 1951 big screen adaptation; though thankfully this, nor Tim Burton’s empty 2010 offering, take precedence over the many other adaptations of the ever-popular story.

Small-screen outings, such as the 1986 BBC production directed by Barry Letts are also given a pictorial record, and if that name stirs the interest of Doctor Who fans, then so too will Deborah Watling, whose 1965 performance as Alice receives a full-page black and white portrait.

Having spawned so many hundreds, if not thousands of adaptations and parodies, author Catherine Nichols’ account of each of these shows is necessarily terse, and points out pros and cons with economy, giving a potted history but leaving so much necessarily unsaid. Whilst some of the details of the text are interesting and illuminating, the prose is frequently slight, and it’s really the impressive gallery of images that serves as the main selling point of the book.

There’s an introduction by Mark Burstein, the president of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, as well as a list of further reading, and a selection of notable fan art. Nevertheless, we couldn’t help but think that with pages given over to tenuous homages that cashed in on the copyright-free text, such as The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland and an entire chapter on graphic novels inspired by the stories, the remit of the book becomes too sprawling, and more detail on the faithful adaptations would have made for a more rewarding and in-depth read.

With plenty of colourful images from the books and movies, there’s no denying that Alice’s Wonderland is an extremely attractive book, that will comfortably adorn any coffee table.

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