A while back I was reading a review of Alice in Wonderland by my fellow book blogger StetotheJ. I popped a comment on to mention my favourite version of the book, which is The Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner. Unfortunately, whilst reading up on this edition online, I subsequently discovered that it is out of print.
That’s a real shame because The Annotated Alice is the definitive edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. The depth of Gardner’s scholarship is amazing, but best of all, he glosses the book with a keen eye on the ridiculous himself. To get a taste of Gardner’s style, check out the back cover of my copy, which features his pastiche of the Mouse’s Tale:
The book is a treasure trove of hints as to what the characters represent and the hidden meanings in what otherwise pass as innocuous passages. It also includes a quite brilliant breakdown of Jabberwocky, including versions translated into French (Le Jaseroque) and German (Der Jammerwoch).
It’s always a delight to spend time in Carroll’s imaginative world, where hypocrisy is exposed, as in the Walrus’s crocodile tears for his oyster dinner:
‘I weep for you,’ the Walrus said:
‘I deeply sympathize.’
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
Idiocy is challenged:
‘Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; ‘at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “Why, you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat” is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
And terrifying Manxsome foes creep in the wabe:
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the jubjub bird and shun,
The frumious bandersnatch!”
And where our very sense of reality is challenged at every turn.
Martin Gardner (1914-2010) himself was an American author from Oklahoma, which is about as far from Victorian Oxford as you could get. His Annotated Alice was by far his greatest and most popular work. Although the book is now over fifty years old, it remains a marvel. I hope that his estate will get this book back into print, so that new readers can discover this crafty breakdown of Carroll’s surreal universe. In the meantime, you’ll just have to track down a second-hand copy in that endangered species known as a book shop.