The Annotated Alice

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.

7 responses to “The Annotated Alice

    • I hadn’t seen that one, Gary. That’s great – and The Definitive Alice is still available too. It looks like my US readers will be able to get a copy after all! It’s just us Brits that lose out.

      • The Annotated Alice at least did have a UK edition, which I cut off from my scan of its back cover. The ISBN is 0140013873. Although I actually brought my copy in Konstanz in Germany, having been tempted there by an utterly untrustworthy white rabbit.

  1. I always assumed this was a modern book, gutted to know it isn’t in print as I did see the odd copy around. Now there shall be much searching of second hand bookshops for a copy…or two.

    • Yeah, I know, it’s really frustrating! Have you got any second-hand bookshops in your area? Here in Barcelona they’re a bit thin on the ground. Truth be told, what with the recession, shops of any kind are a bit thin on the ground…

      • I hear you on that, I have to travel 14 miles to Nottingham to find the two or three that are there…I’ll be in the US again sometime next year so will try and hunt out the Annotated Alice when I get a moment…Where I tend to reside (Richland WA) it has a good four that I discovered with some fantastic gems in them…Once people realise that the big chain stores don’t offer a good enough range I see a resurgence in good quality second hand choice..and won’t that be a cause for celebration!

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