Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

by Lewis Carroll
Illustrated by Salvador Dali

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll announced his credo for writing children's book in the opening paragraph of his Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

... once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations."

Conversations - even if the great part of them are Alice's soliloquies - naturally play a major part in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, while Carroll himself illustrated the manuscript. The first published (1865) edition of the book carried 42 illustrations by John Tenniel. There were dozen attempts to illustrate the book, but - for me - Tenniel's illustrations were the definitive ones. In my imagination I used to identify Carroll's characters with Tenniel's images. Holding the latest, 150th Anniversary, edition published by the Princeton University Press with illustrations by Salvador Dali proved to be a novel, rather overwhelming experience which almost feels like holding a new book, or, perhaps, a book in a book.

I think Alice would have approved of the latest edition of the book telling her story - if for no other reason, then because the new edition starts with two conversations, both featuring a number of illustrations by Dali and memorable photographs. The first one is by Mark Burstein, Carroll's expert (president emeritus of the Lewis Carroll society of North America,) the second is by Thomas Banchoff - geometer, professor emeritus of mathematics at Brown University.

Burstein draws parallels between surrealists Carroll and Dali and notes Dali's fascination with mathematics which "gives him another commonality with Lewis Carroll" (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematician in real life.) Banchoff continues the conversation from there, narrating of his multiple encounters and friendship with Dali, and going into more details of Dali's mathematical interests.

Dali's illustrations, of which there are one per chapter, are made in a splashy, fuzzy style, much different from his familiar pseudo-realistic paintings. They do illustrate the book, not simply reflect on Dali's artistic imagination, and as such, reroute the attention to the book itself. They are not quite indexing the content of the corresponding chapters, yet serve a stimulus to read the book anew in the attempt of absorbing, deciphering Dali's comprehension.

One iconic image of a girl apparently rope-jumping (included in each of the illustrations) has appeared in several of Dali's previous works but in 1984 was released as a sculpture, Alice in Wonderland. The image in itself calls for a pause: the girl is clearly more developed than Alice could have been while the long dress is utterly unsuitable for the rope-jumping activity. Each chapter ends with a small, hardly noticeable icon of a small girl in a short dress who is unmistakably skipping a rope, probably as an additional prompt to give it a thought, to ponder over Dali's story.

Here's the image which I have almost missed and a little darkened copy so that you do not:

girl skipping rope girl skipping rope, darkenned

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by Salvador Dali. Princeton University Press, 2015. Hardcover, 136 pp, $24.95 ($18.09 at ISBN 0691170029.

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