For 150 years people have been reading, parsing, researching and teaching about this classic on steroids. It was first published in 1865 and was a huge blockbuster success. It has been accredited for changing the landscape of children's literature, "adding nonsensical fun to what had been a genre obsessed with moralizing." (that sounds fun eh?, kids would love a steady diet of that!) This year the book celebrates its 150th anniversary. Following are a few fun facts that may not have come to your attention about this amazing book and it's author, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson a.k.a Lewis Carroll.
Unwrapping some quotes from the book...
* The real Alice was the daughter of Carroll's boss. She was the daughter of Henry Liddell, the dean of Christ Church College at Oxford, where Carroll taught mathematics. Here's what she looked like. The photo was taken by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898).
Alice Liddell in wreath as "Queen of May," 1860.
* The Mad Hatter never would have existed without the persistence of children. Carroll began by spinning this great tale to Alice Liddell and her two sisters on a summer 1862 boating trip up the Thames. He never planned on becoming an author but the kids kept asking for the story over and over so he wrote the story in his diary. He eventually turned it into a written book and presented it to Alice as an early Christmas gift in 1864. By the time he self-published in 1865, it had doubled in length and included new scenes including the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat.
* The original illustrator hated the first edition. John Tenniel created the art for the story. When he first saw the early copy he became so upset at how badly his drawings had been reproduced that Carroll scraped the entire edition. He then spent more than half of his annual salary to get it reprinted leaving him in a financial hole before the book was even out. Lucky for him he received great success with the book. Tenniel was a renowned illustrator by the time he took on the book, known for his political cartoons. His drawings were first made on paper, then carved on woodblocks by engravers, which were then made into metal electrotype reproductions to be used in the printing process.
* The Dodo is based on Carroll himself. In the book, Carroll alludes to the 1862 boating tip that inspired the story by putting those present (Alice, her sisters, and Carroll's colleague) in the story as birds. Carroll was the Dodo, named after his real name, Charles Dodgson. As one story goes, the author had a tendency to stammer, introducing himself as "Do-do-dogson." His sometimes debilitating stutter presented him from becoming a priest, leading him to mathematics and writing instead.
* It was first made into a movie in 1903. FFI National Archive. A short time after Carroll died, directors Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stowe made the story into a 12-minute film. At that time it was the longest film produced in Britain. Hepworth himself played the Frog Footman, while his wife was cast as the White Rabbit and the Queen.
* It was almost called "Alice's Hour in Elfland." The original novel he presented to 10-year old Alice Liddell was called "Alice's Adventures Underground." Another rejected idea was "Alice Among the Fairies." Glad he went with the one he did.
* It satirizes newfangled theories about math. For example, imaginary numbers. Math was changing at that time and Carroll was not happy with the changes.
* The original manuscript almost never leaves London. For it's latest exhibition, New York City's Morgan Library managed to get ahold of the original manuscript--the hand-written version he gave to Alice Liddell. (Can you imagine? Sigh!!) The book belongs to the British Library, and it rarely gets out of the country. When it does it's a huge deal, as The New York Times explains:
[I]t is accompanied by security measures whose details are cloaked in obfuscation befitting Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Jamie Andrews, the head of cultural engagement for the British Library, said that it was not checked on the flight over (‘We don’t freight things like that’), but he would not say exactly where it was on the plane or who exactly was with it
It did cause a minor stir at the airport. "I showed the customs form to the customs guy at J. F. K.," Mr. Andrews said. The man looked at the declared value of the manuscript, a number Mr. Andrews would not divulge. "And he said, 'Jeez, son, what have you got in there, the crown jewels?' And in a sense it is our crown jewels."
* Here are some illustrations from the original book...
Wrapping up for you...
Carroll was an amazing marketer of his story and characters. That is why the book is so well known today, even for those who might not have had the privilege of reading the it. He is one of the first authors that had related products manufactured relating to his book. He was all about tie-ins. He designed a postage stamp case decorated with images of Alice and allowed her image to adorn cookie tins and other products. For readers eager to learn more about how the book was created he produced a facsimile of the original, a rare move for such a time as that. He later created a shorter version of the book for young readers. His 19th century business savvy foretold franchise-obsessed companies like Disney decades before their founding.
The book has never ever been out of print. It has been translated into 176 languages. It's sequel, "Through the Looking-Glass", and "What Alice Found There", sold out within seven weeks of it's publication.
Who knew? What fun to know some of the backstory to such a great classic. Hope you had a wonderful time and will celebrate the 150th anniversary by reading the book once again and sharing it with someone you love.
Read on and read always!
It's a wrap.
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