On July 26, 1951, Walt Disney’s thirteenth animated film, Alice in Wonderland, made its cinematic debut in London. Executed in kaleidoscopic Technicolor, the more-than-memorable film continues to haunt the dreams of children and leave stoners utterly dumbfounded today. The queer, dark yet lovely storyline was adapted from a very fictional nineteenth-century work by English poet and mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodson, who preferred to be published under the pseudonym Lewis Carrol.
Virginal young Alice, bored of history lessons from books with no pictures, daydreams aloud to her kitten Dinah of inhabiting her very own world in which everything would be nonsense— a zestier place with nothing as it is, because everything is what it is not. She watches as a very tardy bunny scurries past. Too intrigued for her own good, she scurries after him straightaway and tumbles down a rabbit hole directly into what was likely one of Carrol’s laudanum-fueled fantasies. Strange territory, to be sure, where the bushes rustle with even stranger natives. A chattering doorknob, an aquatic dormouse, a puzzling and toothsome striped cat, the maddest of hatters, a hookah-brained caterpillar atop a fat toadstool and rotund twins christened Tweedledee and Tweedledum are some of those that cross Alice’s path. That last pair tell her a jarring tale of a carpenter and a walrus, who orders about a troop of oysters and desires to speak of all sorts of things, like shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings. And one’s psyche does not quickly heal from the scar left by Alice’s encounter with a savage, bulbous-nosed Queen of Hearts, fond of croquet and swift decapitation.
Carrol’s upside down, slightly nightmarish world has piqued more than Disney’s imagination since its unveiling; there’s plenty of fantastical Alice fan art bobbing around on the internet. But in my humble opinion, it’s the illustrations for the first edition of Carrol’s book that remain the most stirring, despite Tim Burton’s best efforts. They were completed in 1865 by John Tenniel, after a fair amount of discussion with the author. I find the black and white images really bring out the aforementioned contrasting darkness and loveliness of this peculiar tale. And from an art historical perspective, it is doubly thought-provoking to look over the visual result of the world’s first exposure to Wonderland’s wackiness, as interpreted by a talented draughtsman and contemporary of Carrol. There is something inherently, creepily Victorian about Tenniel’s drawings, which combine gritty realism and whimsical hallucinatory elements. Like other old fairy tales in their untampered-with state (let’s say the Grimm account of the legend in which Cinderella’s step-sisters actually saw off their toes to squeeze into the glass slipper), the original illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass reflect something more authentically macabre than their Mickey Mouse-ified progeny, although it does appear that Disney’s animators logged many hours of recreational pharmaceutical research in preparation to tell their side of the story.
Source: alice-in-wonderland.net // Lewis Carrol, The Walrus and the Carpenter