Saturday, June 22, 2013

Review of The Annotated Alice

book cover

The Annotated Alice contains both "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and the follow-up book "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There" by Lewis Carroll (the penname of Reverend Charles Dodgson). "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" gives us a number of whimsical characters that we all know (the hookah-smoking caterpillar being my personal favorite) and manages to turn the machinations of a queen who wants to chop off everyone's head into comedy. There is no greater modern portrait of the queen than North Korea's Kim Jong Un. "Fire a nuke!" is his frequent phrase, though just like the queen, he never follows through with it.
Queen Kim Jong Un - Off with his head!

But back to The Annotated Alice. The later book is much better than the first because of how its underlying theme follows the movement of characters on a chess board. This likely the first time that has been accomplished in the literature, or at least to such a level. And for that alone Carroll deserves his place in history. Carroll even gives a nice foreword regarding the particular moves. Beside the underlying theme, what I liked most about the second book is the "Jabberwocky" poem. Its creation of words, introduction of a new literary monster, and rhythmical structure make it one of the finest things Carroll ever wrote. It has been tagged a "nonsensical poem," which makes no sense in itself. Carroll defines the words he has created in the story. The poem has a setting, characters and a monster. What is nonsensical about it? The creation of new words pushes languages forward in time and is vital to any language or it will die off like so many ancient languages have over time. If Carroll gave us nothing more than "Jabberwocky" he would have earned his rightful lofty place in our Hall of Literature.

As for this edition, the annotations are wordy and the editor, at times, seems to be searching for something to annotate in these children's books. It is a little much at times and distracting from the actual story. The addition of more photos of Carroll and the Liddell children and Alice Liddell as an adult, etc. would have made this edition more interesting such as the many photos in Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems. For that I give this edition middling marks.

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