on February 22, 2001
I finally, and seemingly permanently, misplaced the 40 year old copy of 'The Annotated Alice' (which I had pilfered from my mother's bookshelf) for the last time. I can't go more than a month or two without it so I rushed to buy a new copy...just weeks before the more beautifully bound 'Definitive Edition' was published. No matter, now I have two (perhaps even three if the original turns up).
My point is that this book contributed more to my understanding of logic and wordplay than several semesters of college philosophy classes. If you've read this far then I am probably preaching to the choir but 'Alice in Wonderland' can hardly be classified as a childrens' book, dispite Disney's attempts to do so. The concepts Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner bring to this tale cover such areas as set theory, meta-language, Aristotelian logic, topography, game theory, several pre-Socratic logic paradoxes, and even quantum physics. Yet John Tenniel's original illustrations remain as an welcome tether to the original publication.
Gardner does a wonderful job of bringing all the various aspects of these two stories together as he illuminates layer upon layer of meaning that might not be evident to an American audience or, for that matter, a 21st century one. My favorite gems are the French and German translations of The Jabberwocky.
This book ranks in my top five favorite books of all time.
on January 21, 2000
I always enjoyed the twisted logic and unique sence of humor that I found in Lewis Carroll's Alice tales, the only problem I encountered was that some of the jokes required information that was no longer common knoledge. For example: when Alice continually misquoted the old English nursery rhymes I found myself wondering what the actual versions were, information that every child in Victorian England could have easily told me but that has since been lost to obscurity. After reading through this book I found the answers to all my original questions as well as many that I never considered asking. At first I thought that the commentary would strip the original work of its character and reduce it to a lifeless shadow. I found that the commentary did exactly the opposite, in a surreal way it made the book even more entertaining to read. The incredible detail of the commentary and the wide range of topics covered made the comments themselves seem part of the insane illogic that pervades the realms of wonderland and looking glass house. This does not mean that the coments themselves are insane or illogical, on the contrary they are all intresting and many offer new insights into the books, what makes the commentary so entertaining is how the story of "exactly 7 and one half" Alice is juxtaposed with comments on how the structure of the plot relates to physic and Robert Oppenheimer. Altogether I found the Annotated Alice to be a wonderful read and a gorgeous book which I recomend to anyone who enjoyed the original tales.
The Annotated Alice provides a treasure chest of information on the two Alice books and on the man, Lewis Carroll who was responsible for their creation.
Martin Gardner provides annotations throughout the texts of both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Gardner's annotations help explain the inside jokes and mathematical and linguistic puzzles that fill the stories.
Reading the Alice books as an adult is quite a different experience than it was as a child. The books' complexity really stands out on a careful reading. In fact, what are generally regarded as children's stories can be amazingly frustrating to read due to the complexity of the language and the almost constant stream of puns that are sometimes lost on modern audiences. One must remember that the stories are told purely for fun. Unlike other Victorian children's literature one gets no morals, plot development, or character development here. Alice is a yound child who stays a young child throughout her adventures. She neither matures or learns anything from her adventures.
This is a very nice volume in its own right. It contains complete authoritative texts of both books and includes the supressed episode "The Wasp in the Wig." The original Tenniel illustrations are crisp and clear. The only difficulty is that the annotations are placed on the same page as the text in a small column that sometimes supplies more information than the text itself. The annotations themselves range from the definitional to the clearly eccentric. One can read all of them or only the ones that he or she is interested in.
On the whole this is an excellent volume well worth the effort to read if one has any interest in the world of nonsense literature.
on October 26, 2004
My first exposure to Lewis Carroll's classic children's story was through the 1951 Disney film adaptation "Alice in Wonderland," which I watched repeatedly as a child. The creative quality of the story never failed to fascinate me, and I kept going back despite my deep-rooted terror of the frightful Queen of Hearts, who always gave me nightmares! However, it was not until recently, as an adult, that I ever picked up the book/s upon which that film was based. In some ways I wish I had read it when I was younger, as the book certainly makes a great deal more sense than the movie does (as much sense as a story of this sort can, anyhow), but thankfully this book is unique in that it is just as enjoyable for adults as for children.
The story is actually spread across two books, here contained in a single volume. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" was first published in 1865 and relates the events that take place after young Alice falls asleep during her lessons and dreams of following a white rabbit down a rabbit hole. Alice encounters all manner of strange creatures in her dream, and finds herself in all sorts of curious predicaments where common sense fails and the nonsensical comes to be expected. There is no central, concrete storyline, but rather Alice moves rapidly from one bizarre situation to the next before waking once more and relating the whole adventure to her sister.
The second of the two books, "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There," appeared in 1871 and is very similar in nature to the first, though having a slightly different plot. Here Alice steps through an ordinary looking-glass one day, only to find herself in a world where, if you wish to get anywhere, you must walk in the opposite direction! Walking toward your desired destination only gets you further and further away. Also, interestingly, the land which Alice has entered is essentially a giant chessboard, and she must move through the different squares to reach the other side if she wishes to become a queen (which she does).
The characters Carroll created in these two stories are some of the most strikingly unique and unforgettable in the world of literature. Alice herself, based largely on Alice Liddell, a real-life child of whom Carroll was very fond, is a wonderful heroine that you can't help admiring. Throughout all of her backwards and upside-down adventures, she remains ever sensible and analytical, always trying to reason her way out of the most unreasonable situations. Other characters a reader won't soon forget include the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat, Bill the Lizard, the Caterpillar, the Duchess and her peppery cook, the aforementioned Queen of Hearts, the Mock Turtle, the Gryphon, the Red and White Queens, the talking flowers, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Sheep, Humpty Dumpty, and the Red and White Knights. Carroll also created many fascinating new creatures in his stories, including bread-and-butterflies, rocking-horseflies, "slithy toves," "mome raths" and more.
What I find most intriguing, as an adult reader of these books, is Carroll's brilliant use of wordplay and symbolism throughout the stories. Nearly everything has some sort of double meaning. There are hidden messags and subtle witticisms on every page. Carroll also includes several parodies of what were well-known songs and rhymes in England at the time. Young children will love the books for their fantastic qualities and imaginative inspiration, but most readers will not pick up on the many puns and jokes until they are a little older, so these stories really do have something to offer to anyone, no matter what age. I'd highly recommend the book to any reader - and be sure to get an edition that includes the original illustrations.
This review refers to the 2004 Barnes & Noble Classics printing, with introduction and notes by Tan Lin.
Perhaps no other set of works in literature benefits more from annotation than "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Class." Martin Gardner, the author of a regular monthly column on recreational mathematics for "Scientific American," provides expert commentary on all the jokes, games, puzzles, tricks, parodies, obscure references and other curiosities with which Lewis Carroll saturated his writing. That means that you will find out who was the original model for the Chesire Cat and how the "Jabberwocky" poem translates into French. Actually, the definitions of all of those strange words in "Jabberwocky" is quite a load off of my mind. Besides, this edition also contains the full text of each tale, together with all of the original Sir John Tenniel illustrations in their proper places. The annotation runs concurrently with the text and Gardner also provides an introduction that covers both the story of how the books came to be written and some of the most interesting analyses of Carroll's works, such as those always fun Freudian interpretations. The bottom line is that either one of these books gets 5 stars by itself, so when you put the two of them together and add all this annotation, there is nothing to complain about. This is the perfect book for re-reading these books; I would never send anybody here for their first exposure to Alice, but once they are hooked on Carroll's sublime nonsense this will open up a whole new dimension or two (or three) of his work for them.
on July 14, 2005
There is one thing that all potential customers must keep in mind when buying any Alice book: Do not purchase one that does not include the illustrations of John Tenniel! This edition includes all of them and the quality of the reproductions on the pages are excellent. Tenniel's illustrations help add to the childish excitement of Carroll's stories and will be especially invaluable to teenagers and adults, having just by nature of growing up lost some of the imaginative innocence, that ability to stretch reality, that we all possessed as kids.
Of course, the illustrations wouldn't mean jack if they didn't have a captivating story to work with. Carroll's amusing tale of nonsense is targeted as a kid's book, and that is always where many of our fondest memories of it will remain, but as a college student reading it I was amazed by its power to suspend reality and return me to a level of imagination that I had simply thought I lost somewhere along the way. The trip down the rabbit hole can be quite a different experience from a different point of view.
This particular edition also includes a good introduction and very helpful explanatory notes organized chapter by chapter. The introduction and notes offer insights to Carroll's life and his relations with the real life Alice and her family that, from a student viewpoint, reveal an interesting and more personal side of the Alice tales.
on April 20, 2006
This is the ONLY version of the Alice in Wonderland stories worth having. Lewis Carroll was a remarkably allusive chap -- and a mathematician to boot -- so you need a vade mecum to guide yourself through the bulrushes. Martin Gardner serves admirably for this purpose.
Without Gardner's help, I would never have known that mock turtle soup was actually made with veal (and that's why John Tenniel drew the Mock Turtle with the head, hind hoofs, and tail of a calf). And now I think I know why a raven is like a writing desk ("because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front"). Also, now I know the REAL text of the nursery rhyme "You Are Old, Father William."
This is the best edition to get because -- let's face it -- you WILL read the Alice stories more than once. And very likely others in your household will do the same. The real reason, as the Cheshire Cat says: "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."