Reading this version of Alice in Wonderland after growing up on the Disney version was interesting mostly because of the art difference. However, the illustrations also made me realize just how important illustrations can be for certain audiences and genres. While reading, all I could focus on was the illustrations. It was the first time, as an adult, that I’ve read a novel with ‘pictures’ involved. Though it’s understandable that the illustrations would be so vividly different because Lewis Carroll’s novel came out in 1865 while Disney’s Alice in Wonderland came out in 1951. For example, Disney’s Alice seems more childlike, colorful, and cartoonish:
Then, of course, we know about Tim Burton’s version that came out in 2010. Burton’s version was similar to Tenniel’s illustrations but Burton’s movie didn’t seem to have that same magic that Tenniel’s has:
Neither Disney nor Burton can mimic the same creativity that Tenniel does but they bring Alice to life in different, creative ways that can alter the way one perceives the story and art. For some, Disney may be too cartoon-like while Burton’s might be too grotesque for a novel that illuminates themes like childhood and identity. Illustrations have such strong power over the way a reader imagines a story, scene, or character. For every version of Alice is another way to see the character or story. Even Alice at the very beginning of the story questions her sister’s reading choice when she isn’t reading a book with pictures in it, reminding me that illustrations are an importance to books, especially books for children. It keeps their attention.
When Alice in Wonderland is talked about, it’s always common to hear the opinion that it’s inspired lunacy and I felt that Tenniel’s illustrations paired with Carroll’s writing truly captured this, especially the illustrations depicting Alice’s body morphing after eating or drinking strange things like on page 16. The introduction to the novel actually helped me form my opinion on the illustrations and how they are used in the novel, how they seem to help me envision what is happening. There was a sentence that said Tenniel’s illustrations “give solid, credible physiognomies and physical reality to speakers who have psychological and vocal individuality in Carroll’s text but little of the specific visual identity Tenniel’s designs confer.” Furthermore, Tenniel’s designs help elaborate Carroll’s novel where the reader can “plunge into a world of narrative distortions and nonsensical explanations.” His illustrations bring further life to Carroll’s work and I think that might be why Carroll went straight to Tenniel to do his illustrations, because he knew the man would be able to complement his writing. This edition of the novel portrays a detailed collaboration between illustrator and writer. In fact, the University of Maryland has a small section on Alice in Wonderland and the importance of Tenniel’s illustrations:
“John Tenniel, Carroll’s hand-picked illustrator of the Alice books, was able to capture the peculiar, over-the-top characters of Wonderland, incorporating both nature and humor into highly detailed illustrations which complement Carroll’s text so well. Ever since, the success of Alice’s story has been deeply connected to its artwork. Carroll’s text itself provides few visual cues about the world of Wonderland…This lack of visual description has left great scope for countless illustrators to re-imagine Wonderland.”University of Maryland
An example of Tenniel and Carroll’s partnership adding to the novel is the illustrations involving the Mad Hatter. If Tim Burton can envision the Hatter as a taller man acted by Johnny Depp, than there’s probably several other ways the reader can imagine how the Hatter looks. Even though some of Carroll’s illustrations at the end of the book in Alice Underground come close to capturing the same magical realism aspect that Tenniel’s does, I still feel as though Tenniel’s illustrations add the most to the novel.
Alice in Wonderland is the first novel I’ve read that dealt with magical realism and I felt that this was truly accomplished by not only Carroll’s writing but Tenniel’s depiction of Carroll’s words. His accompanying illustrations entertain and instruct the younger readers, the children. For children, the novel opens a world of fantasy up where logic is not the foundation and it’s just fun. I think that’s why I find Tenniel’s illustration to just to be so fantastic, despite not being as beautiful at Disney’s version. Because Tenniel’s illustrations embrace the weird, or odd, looking and disregard logic in style. Furthermore, what I personally believe, is that Tenniel’s illustrations create a visual road map for me as a reader. His illustrations helped me easily follow the story where Carroll’s writing could not. Readers can look to the art in the novel to truly see what Carroll is describing when it comes to magical entities that are not easy to envision for some. The novel holds many surprises to the readers and allows the imagination to extend beyond the usual in some everyday books.
From Professor Despain’s Initial Post for week one, my eye got caught by the illustrations for the novel by artist Salvador Dali. I felt as though his art was more obscure and captured the lunacy that the novel is known for in a way that might the others couldn’t. I just love the color that is in some of the illustrations and though it’s not as ‘clear’ as the other examples, I felt it was a much needed example of another illustration type that aided the novel.
I think without the illustrations included in this edition, readers would lose the clear visuals Tenniel provides. There wouldn’t be the ability to literally see the magical realism happening in the novel. The illustrations in this novel aren’t just there to be ‘pictures’ but to really add something to the writing and I truly believe that Tenniel accomplished this.
- Waller, Phoebe. “7 Best Vintage Inspired Dresses To Wear To A Tea Party And Get Your ‘Alice In Wonderland’ On.” Bustle, Bustle Digital Group, 5 June 2015, http://www.bustle.com/articles/90339-7-best-vintage-inspired-dresses-to-wear-to-a-tea-party-and-get-your-alice-in.
- Balthazar, Neil. “5 Alice Films That Take You To Wonderland.” Que Magazine, Tata CLiQ, 26 May 2016, https://www.tatacliq.com/que/5-alice-wonderland-films-havent-seen-yet/
- “Illustrated Alice.” University of Maryland, University Libraries, http://www.lib.umd.edu/alice150/alice-in-wonderland/alice-illustrated.
- Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004, p. x, p. ixxix.