Is there such thing as too much “Alice”? Not in my library. I collect illustrated “Alice” for years now, constantly adding to and expanding my “Alice” holdings. Last I’ve checked there was close to 100 of these editions on my shelves, including versions illustrated by English, American, British, Russian, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Greek, Bulgarian artists. I love seeing this brilliant text, with its nonsensical sense and sensible nonsense, artistically re-interpreted over and over again. Illustrating “Alice” is regarded as a symbolic Everest ascent in any illustrator’s career. Not surprisingly, new versions continue to be produced around the world in great numbers with no slowing down on the horizon – heavens for “Alice” collectors and hell for their credit cards!
It is not known with certainty how many illustrated versions of this literary masterpiece exist. Some suggest many hundreds and counting. The renown Carrollean scholar and collector Selwyn Goodacre is said to own close to 2,000 illustrated “Alice” editions, though this number includes multiple version by the same illustrator. For example, following the book’s first edition, versions of it with John Tenniel’s illustrations have never been out of print. Thus, hundreds of various John Tenniel editions may be of interest to serious collectors who strive at completeness.
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was first published in 1865 and was an instant success in Victorian England. British children loved it. Adults were bemused by it. Her Majesty Queen Victoria herself was said to admire it. So big was its success that the Queen was rumored to have written to Lewis Carroll asking to send to her the first edition of his next book. Likely an anecdote, but story has it that Carroll (a mathematician, first and foremost) obliged Her Majesty by sending her his next book titled “An Elementary Treatise on Determinants”, a rather scientific and dry mathematical work. How perfectly in keeping with Carrollean sensible nonsense! Or was it nonsensical sense 🙂
In this post I show some English and Russian editions of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its sequel “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There” from my Alice-shelves, the books that started me on this collecting journey.
1 & 2. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, Walker Books, 2005
These illustrations are the best for introducing Alice to the youngest readers. This is the book I read to my 5 year-old when he rehearsed as White Rabbit for a theatre production of ‘Alice’s Adventures’ produced by a Sydney based non-for-profit theatre studio Imaducation Inc. My son’s laconic lines alternated between “Oh dear, oh dear! I shall be late” and “She’ll get me executed! As sure as ferrets are ferrets!” I can’t resist including this photo of my little White Rabbit here (a teenager with breaking voice these days). It is largely his participation in this charming theatre production that launched my research of what ‘Alice’ books are out there and which one would most suit as a read aloud to a 5 year old.
3. Illustrated by Maggie Taylor, Modernbook editions, 2008
This one is mesmerising. Not necessarily for young kids, great for teens and young adults who appreciate the art of utterly inventive photographic collage. A must for collectors! Click here for my review of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” illustrated by Maggie Taylor.
4. Illustrated by John Vernon Lord, Artist’s Choice Editions MMXI, 2011
In the afterword to this edition the artist John Vernon Lord quotes G.K. Chesterton who suggested that: “It is not children who ought to read the words of Lewis Carroll”. I would add that it is not children again who ought to handle this exquisite limited edition book, illustrated by the great master and which is an all round publishing masterpiece by a famed publisher Artists’ Choice Editions. Click here for my review of “Through-the Looking Glass” illustrated by John Vernon Lord, which I’ve acquired first. It has taken me several years to then hunt down the sold out (and rare as hen’s teeth in the second hand market) limited edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” illustrated by John Vernon Lord.
5. Illustrated by Harry Rountree, Calla Editions, 2011
Profusely illustrated with 92 watercolours, this edition is exquisite. Its illustrations are beautifully delicate, many full-page, some are wrap around the text in a very well conceived design.
6. Illustrated by Yayoi Kusama, Penguin Classics, 2021
An abstract rendition of “Alice” by Kusama with her signature pumpkins and mushroom elements and dot designs is totally psychedelic!
7. A Russian edition illustrated with classic Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel illustrations, Labirint Press: 2014
This edition presents on of the most reputable Russian translations of Carroll’s text by N. Demurova. The book includes a wealth of interactive elements – games, cards, fold-out pages, margins with windows, pockets with pull-out information cards, cartoons, vintage photos, reproductions of period paintings and a fantastic Sabuda-esque 3-D cascade of falling cards at the end. These interactive ‘extras’ offer insights into Victorian England’s traditions, lifestyles of commoners and aristocracy, they introduce Queen Victoria and the 9 year-old Alice Liddle who was the child for whom Lewis Carroll invented his famous story. This book would be perfect for kids with shorter attention spans, for those who struggle with pages and pages of uninterrupted text and would find relief in in engaging with some fun materials along the way. Personally, I found the amount of interactive elements here distracting from the ‘Alice’ story. I have used this book for background reading, focusing on its ‘extras’ – notes, the margins and interactive elements, which collectively work as a backdrop, a stage set of sorts, on which Carroll’s literary masterpiece unfolds.
8. Limited edition of 1,000, leather bound, Vita Nova, 2015
Includes both “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”, in Russian, with one of the best translation by N. Demurova. This edition is illustrated by an award-winning Russian artist Yury Vashenko. His art can be seen in some of Russia’s most celebrated collections, at the establishments such as The Hermitage, The Russian Museum, The Tretyakov Gallery and National Pushkin Museum, to name a few. This is an exquisite edition by Vita Nova, a high-end publisher of unique collectors editions, known to never repeat its print runs. So once it’s sold out, it’s gone forever and the only chance to own it is to get lucky and hunt down a second hand copy (usually, at an-arm-and-a -leg kind of price).
9. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland retold by the author for the youngest readers”, Rech, 2012
Another Russian edition, of the “Nursery Alice”, which is Carroll’s own retelling of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” for the yongest readers. Translated by Nina Demurova and profusely illustrated by a wonderful contemporary Russian illustrator Elena Bazanova. This edition is a perfect first encounter with Alice for the very young Russian-speaking readers.
10. “Illustrating Alice”, An international selection of illustrated editions of Alice’s adventures. Published by Artists’ Choice Editions, 2013.
This is a survey of hundreds of international illustrated editions of Alice’s adventures. It is a thoroughly researched, highly intelligent and insightful volume with great scholarly contributions. Referred to as the “Illustrated “Alice” Bible” by my Alice-collecting friends this book (sometimes I wish I did not have it!) regularly stresses my book buying budget! It showcases a few example pictures from hundreds of editions and leaves one wanting to absolutely check out the rest. Read my detailed review of this must-have “Illustrating Alice” anthology here.
11. “Lewis Carroll’s Puzzles in Wonderland” written by R W. Galland, Carlton Books, 2013.
A collection of conundrums and brain-teasers themed around the characters and events from Alice’s adventures, including some of Lewis Carroll’s own puzzles.
12. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, Princeton University Press, 2015, illustrated by Salvador Dali.
This is a 150th anniversary edition illustrated by the King of Surrealism. Need I say more?