- John Vernon Lord – the Illustrator
- Artists' Choice Edition/Dennis Hall – the Publisher
- Rarely illustrated scenes
- Carroll's Poetic Parodies
- Rule 42: "All persons more than a mile high to leave the court" – King of Hearts
- More Carroll titles from Artists Choice Editions & Inky Parrot Press
- Colour Illustration Gallery
- Black & White Illustration Gallery
From the moment I procured the brilliant edition of Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass” illustrated by John Vernon Lord (Artists’ Choice Editions, 2011) for my home library, I have stared forlornly at an empty cavity adjacent to it on my bookshelf. Following years of relentless searching for what seemed like a quest for the Holy Grail of Alice, I can proudly state that “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” from the very same illustrator and publisher is now happily ensconced in that cavity and rubbing shoulders with its pictorial stablemate. Published in 2009, this small print run of just 348 copies was long gone by the time I began my search, which by then was fast becoming an unaffordable mission impossible. However, now that one of the most elusive books on my must-have list has found its rightful home on my bookshelf, I can honestly say that this quest was well worth every minute and every penny. Read on to find out why…
The success and appeal of this edition rest firmly on the genius of three (wise) men – Lewis Carroll (the author), Dennis Hall (the publisher) and John Vernon Lord (the illustrator). The genius of the author, whose “Alice” books never waned in popularity since their publication in 1865 and 1872, is irrefutable. As noted in John Vernon Lord’s Afterword to “Through the Looking-Glass”:
“There is hardly anything new to be said about Lewis Carroll’s two ‘Alice’ books. So much has been written about them. Their contents have been probed by the scalpels of psychoanalysts, literary theorists, annotators, enthusiasts and journalists. Perhaps I should include illustrators among this group, for it is the illustrator’s duty to get to grips with the text and thus make a visual commentary upon it.”
So perhaps I should say that my duty as your intrepid book explorer is to therefore offer commentary on this illustrator’s consummate rendition of Alice in collaboration with its visionary publisher.
John Vernon Lord – the Illustrator
John Vernon Lord is a British artist, author and art teacher. He has written and illustrated a few children’s books, one of which is “The Giant Jam Sandwich”, which has never been out of print since 1972. In addition to both Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, he has illustrated Edward Lear’s verse and Aesop’s Fables. He has also illustrated a few important texts for Folio Society editions: “Myths and Legends of the British Isles”, Wagner’s famous “The Ring of Nibelung” and James Joyce’s “The Finnegan’s Wake” (the latter is now rare as hen’s teeth and astronomically expensive in the second-hand market).
John Vernon Lord was the head of various departments, including the Head of the School of Design at Brighton Art School, Polytechnic and University and Professor of Illustration at the University of Brighton in the 1980s-1990s. The latter university conferred an honorary D.Litt. upon him in 2000. He also served as Chair of the Graphic Design Board of the Council for National Academic Awards in the early 1980s. In 2007 John Vernon Lord wrote a book titled “Drawing Upon Drawing: 50 Years of Illustrating” which has been published by the University of Brighton. Of the early days of his career as an illustrator he reminisced about drawing on demand, often for long hours, describing the experience as follows in his book:
As well as drawing the insides of stomachs, I tackled everything that came my way. I carried out portraits of company directors for their retirement dinner menu covers, buildings for brochures, strip cartoons, maps and humorous drawings for advertisements….gardens and their plants, vegetables, mazes, refrigerators, dishwashers, totem poles, kitchen utensils, resuscitation diagrams, all kinds of furniture, typewriters, agricultural crop spraying machines, door locks, folded towels, decorative letters, Zodiac signs, animals….When you are a student there is a tendency at first to limit yourself to draw only what you like drawing. This of course ultimately shackles you and limits your repertoire…narrows the margin of what you are able to depict in an image and consequently stifles imagination and ideas.
Conscious of never limiting his imagination and ideas John Vernon Lord became an extraordinary draughtsman. His style in both “Alice” books is cohesive and versatile, his technique combines pen and ink drawings, colour tints and watercolours with the elements of photographic collage. In the introduction to this “Alice” edition, the artist touches on his approach to making decisions about what episodes to illustrate. He concluded that:
Tenniel had hit upon choosing the right moments of action on the whole…There is no point in my avoiding some of the ‘Tenniel moments’ but here and there I have tried to do something different in my approach in order to give (hopefully) a fresh enlightenment to the familiar story.
One thing Lord did very differently to Tenniel is illustrating what Alice saw and experienced while not depicting Alice herself. Alice’s parts of all conversations are printed in blue text and that’s how her presence is portrayed. The idea came to John Vernon Lord from a ‘red-letter’ edition of the Bible, in which Christ’s words were highlighted in colour. The artist admitted to being cognisant of the fact that illustrating “Alice” without an Alice would be anathema for most publishers and “will horrify lots of people in the same way that it has bothered my wife!” Most importantly though, it didn’t in the least horrify Dennis Hall of Artists’ Choice Editions, who gave John Lord the green light to proceed without Alice. Having said that, I did spot Alice once in this edition. In the illustration below, Alice’s face with her eyes closed can be seen through a clearing in the leaves, in the right bottom corner (her blond hair and physiognomy a clear nod to Tenniel).
Artists’ Choice Edition/Dennis Hall – the Publisher
The publisher of this all-around brilliant “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is Artists Choice Editions, the sister company of Inky Parrot Press which was started by Dennis Hall in 1980 at Oxford Brooks University. Specialising in producing books printed lithographically, the Press was described as having “an obsession about illustrations”. Upon his retirement, Dennis Hall continued to produce fine books under various imprints including Pliocene Parrot Press, Hanborough Parrot Press, Ploughman’s Parrot Press, Previous Parrot Press, Treparrot Press and Pensionable Parrot Press.
In addition to John Vernon Lord’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” Dennis Hall’s Inky Parrots Press and Artists’ Choice Editions have given Lewis Carroll’s fans some truly stunning fine-press limited editions listed below. “The Inky Parrot Strikes Again!” was the apt title of an article by The Lewis Carroll Society of North America. Every new product from this publisher indeed turns out to be a stroke of genius, and if you appreciate unique and high quality illustrated books grab them quickly and save yourself years of hunting for these titles once sold out. I can attest that they sell out quickly and become an elusive nonentity pursued in earnest on the second-hand rare books market.
Rarely illustrated scenes
“Everything that begins with an M” – Dormouse
John Vernon Lord has illustrated some of the scenes, verses and parts of the book, which I have rarely seen illustrated in other books. One of those is the illustration below, of things that begin with an “M” (which is also the cover of the book). It is an episode from the Mad Tea Party chapter, where Dormouse tells Alice the story of the three sisters who lived in a treacle well and who were learning to draw. They drew “everything that begins with an “M”, such as ‘mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory and muchness – you know you say things are ‘much of a muchness’.”
John Vernon Lord noted the following about his illustration above:
Memory is exemplified by a knot, as well as a depiction of a ‘hippocampus’ [Greek for seahorse], the seat of memory in the brain, which has the shape of a seahorse. Conveying a notion of “muchness” visually has been attempted by incorporating addition, multiplication and infinity signs.From Introduction to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
Pondering the artist’s association of memory with a knot I thought of ‘mnemonic knots’ (coincidentally or not, ‘mnemonic’ too begins with an “m”). These knots were known to be tied by the peoples of the early cultures (practicing magic and religious rituals) for a variety of reasons. One reason was to stimulate the memory as well as to record dates and numbers or to help preserve the memory of traditions and laws. The ‘mnemonic knots’, even if primitive, were thus the earliest known memory tools. Note that “much of a muchness” has been conveyed by a proliferation of additions and multiplication signs that appear around the March Hare’s head. They are also scattered over the moon craters and appear on each side on the white drawing behind the March Hare.
Apart from the M-words called out in Dormouse’s story, witty John Vernon Lord has added a few other things beginning with “m”, like the Dormouses’ fellow protagonist in the Mad Tea Party chapter, the March Hare. We see him hovering over the moon, with a cursive letter ‘m’ between his ears, while ‘madness’ associated with hares is of course another word beginning with ‘m’. Moon is there twice: the big one filling up two-thirds of the illustration’s plane with craters all over it and a small bright full moon in the left-hand top corner. On the bottom of the illustration, there’s a pink strip showing the moon phases from new to full moon and then the waning crescent phases moving back to the start of the moon cycle. The white drawing behind the March Hare reminds us that what is illustrated here is the three sisters from Dormouses’ story, learning to draw. A scribble in the bottom-left corner of that drawing resembles another letter ‘M’. Similarly, the hand holding a pen and a pencil must be signifying the act of drawing and perhaps so does the blue-grid graph paper which is the general background to it all.
“If you knew Time as well as I do” – Mad Hatter
Lord has also illustrated the rarely attempted depiction of Time as a protagonist of one of my favourite dialogues between Alice and the Hatter, as shown below (be sure to read the text in the two illustrations below – a fraction of timeless Carrollian hilarity and brilliance!) The only other depiction of Time I know of is in the “Alice” edition illustrated by the British illustrator Chris Riddell. If you know of any others, please comment below this post
Carroll’s Poetic Parodies
Likewise, rarely illustrated are some of Carroll’s famous parodies, those brilliant and humorous twists on traditional verses, songs and rhymes. Known to me (and my Alice collecting friends) are just a few illustrators who have attempted it, amongst them is German Franz Haacken, French Nicole Claveloux and the above-mentioned British illustrator Chris Riddell (who also drew Time). Some examples of John Vernon Lord’s illustrations of verse parodies are shown below.
“How doth the little busy bee”
The first two verses of the original poem by the Victorian era poet Isaac Watts (1674-1748) about the busy bee read:
How doth the little busy bee Improve each shining hour, And gather honey all the day From every opening flower! How skilfully she builds her cell! How neat she spreads the wax! And labors hard to store it well With the sweet food she makes.
Carroll’s brilliant parody and equally brilliant John Vernon Lord’s illustration are shown below
"How doth the little crocodile Improve his shining tail, And pour the waters of the Nile On every golden scale! How cheerfully he seems to grin, How neatly spreads his claws, And welcomes little fishes in With gently smiling jaws"
“Twinkle, twinkle little star”
The universally known nursery rhyme that goes: “Twinkle, twinkle little star / How I wonder what you are / Up above the world so high / Like a diamond in the sky” becomes a story about a bat and a tea-tray:
"Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How I wonder what you're at! Up above the world you fly, Like a tea-tray in the sky."
“Star of the Evening”
“Turtle Soup” (a song sung by the Mock Turtle in Chapter 10) is a parody of the popular Victorian-era song “Star of the Evening” with the following lyrics:
Beautiful star in heav'n so bright, Softly falls thy silv'ry light, As thou movest from earth afar, Star of the evening, beautiful star, Star of the evening, beautiful star. Chorus: Beautiful star,— Beautiful star,— Star of the evening, Beautiful, beautiful star. . . .
Carroll’s ‘star’ swapped for a ‘soup’ and the sentimentality of the song is parodied with the refrain words divided to imitate singing:
"Beautiful Soup, so rich and green, Waiting in a hot tureen! Who for such dainties would not stoop? Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! ... Beau-ootiful Soo-oop! Beau-ootiful Soo-oop! Soo-oop of the e-e-evening, Beautiful, beautiful Soup!"
Rule 42: “All persons more than a mile high to leave the court” – King of Hearts
The number 42 makes a few appearances in Lewis Carroll’s works. But this number is of course best known for the significance ascribed to it in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” book by Douglas Adams, where 42 represented “the meaning of life, the Universe, and everything”. In “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, “Rule Forty-two” was announced by the King of Hearts in court when Alice all of a sudden grew in size: “All persons more than a mile high to leave the court”, it read. Coincidentally or possibly instructed by Carroll himself, Tenniel drew 42 illustrations for the first edition of “Alice”. John Vernon Lord’s drawing of “42” (below) is included as the tailpiece in this edition. There are 42 depictions of the number 42 in it. Struggling to count that many? Then include dice and binary representations and watch out for the small notebook on the bottom, to the left of the centre line (you may need to zoom in).
Curiously, in an article for the Oxford Mail, Dennis Hall (the publisher) recounts how John Vernon Lord had been reading Carroll the entire day of his birthday. That same evening he had friends to dinner who brought some hand-made chocolates for him as a gift. The first chocolate he pulled out of the box had the number 42 on it. He suspected that Carroll was trying to get in touch with him.
More Carroll titles from Artists Choice Editions & Inky Parrot Press
- a marvelous edition of “Alice’s Adventures Underground” (2013) with Lewis Carroll’s own illustrations enhanced through colour added by Ian Beck (watch out for a detailed review soon).
- a stunning reference volume “Illustrating Alice” (2013) subtitled an International survey of illustrated editions of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” (watch out for a detailed review soon);
- a renowned Spanish artist Ángel Domínguez’s spectacular “Through the Looking-Glass“ (2015), with Special copies of the print run including the rarely published “The Wasp in the Wig” and artist’s prints; also Ángel Domínguez’s “The Hunting of the Snark”;
- an edition of “Alice in Wonderland” subtitled Sesquicentennial Special Edition (2015) with each chapter illustrated by a different artist;
- a reference edition of “Russian Alices” (2016), surveying a vast array of Soviet and post-Soviet times Russian editions;
- Gennady Kalinovsky’s (famous Russian artist) two Alice books (2018), with ‘Wonderland” combining his black and white and colour versions;
- a great edition with the 1929 illustrations of Willy Pogany “Alice in Wonderland” (2020);
- John Vernon Lord’s “The Hunting of the Snark“ (2020);
- a gorgeous “Through the Looking Glass” by Franciszka Themerson in black, blue and red.
Enjoy browsing more of John Vernon Lord’s Alice illustrations below.
To browse other editions in my collection of illustrated “Alice in Wonderland” click here. To browse other editions in my collection of illustrated “Through the Looking-Glass” click here. What is your favourite illustrated ‘Alice’? I would love to hear your feedback in comments.
Author: Lewis Carroll
Illustrator: John Vernon Lord
Publisher: Artists’ Choice Edition
Year of publication: 2009 (MMIX)
ISBN: 9780955834318 (standard copy, reviewed above)
Published as 348 copies, of which 68 are deluxe Specials (with two signed etchings by the illustrator, one copy in the original black and one copy with added hand colouring by Anne Cathcart under the artist’s supervision). The Specials are numbered with Roman numerals.