It was a gift that not only transformed the future of literature for children, it gave us all – young and not so young, alike – a legacy of humorous prose and verse, rich in pun and parody, linguistic riddles and logical puzzlements.
Six years later, he gave us another gift: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Arguably – for all the staggering originality of Wonderland – the story of Alice’s exploits in the realm beyond the Looking-Glass is even more accomplished.
I describe these books as a gift to the world as indeed they were. But they were a very special gift to the artists and illustrators of the world because, whilst Lewis Carroll creates dialogue that sparkles with wit and fizzes with the unexpected, he seldom describes a scene or a character beyond mere sketchiness. And that is a real gift to an illustrator: the passport for crossing the borders of invention and imagination.
The first beneficiary of this gift was, of course, John Tenniel, and he so significantly rose to the task that he virtually earned the right to be thought of as co-creator of Wonderland and Looking-Glass World. In so doing, however, he left a great many inky fingerprints upon the pages of those books as to seriously intimidate his successors.
Nevertheless, successors there have been – hundreds of them: from the hack to the genius… Some of their names live on and are greatly (and deservedly) admired from Rackham, Robinson and Rountree – via Peake and Dali – to Steadman, Oxenbury and Vernon Lord, to name but a few. And among the very best of the best is the artist whose work I am celebrating here – Angel Dominguez.
Brian Sibley with Angel Dominguez at the launch of
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There
Many of us are familiar with Dominguez’s painstakingly crafted paintings from books such as Diary of a Victorian Mouse, Classic Animal Stories, and Kipling’s Just So Stories and The Jungle Book – all of them overflowing with wonderfully drawn birds and beasts that, like the creatures in all the best bestiaries, are really only humans in fur and feather.
It was in 1996 that Angel Dominguez tackled Lewis Carroll’s first gift and gave us an edition of Wonderland of graphic splendour, abundantly embellished with all sorts of sly little jokes and visual puns and a remarkable sense of the essence of Englishness.
Dominguez has now demonstrated his great love of Lewis Carroll and the characters in the Alice books with his latest illustrations to Carroll’s second gift: Through the Looking-Glass…
All the usual suspects are here: the Kings and Queens of the chessboard as well as Hatta and Haigha from Wonderland and those nursery rhymes characters that are reborn in this book as flesh-and-blood characters that immeasurably transcend their modest origins.
And they are joined – in this chequerboard-patterned world – by the book’s author himself, kitted-out in full armour as his Own Invention – the White Knight...
Dominguez justifies challenging Tenniel's original aging, bewhiskered knight by quoting Carroll's first biographer, Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, who reported that his uncle had (in vain) told Tenniel that: "The White Knight must not have whiskers, he must not be made to look old..."
He is not, of course, the first illustrator to knight Lewis Carroll (Ralph Steadman caricatured the author in that role in 1972) but there is a haunting, poetic melancholy about Dominguez' likeness that strikes an entirely different chord; rather than portraying him as a foolish chevalier similar to that depicted in Cervantes' Don Quixote, this is a glimpse of how the Don (or, in this case, the don) saw himself: noble, heroic and, in the true sense of the word, pathetic.
And the decision to cast the author as surely the most intensely emotional character in either of the Alice books, then inspired another piece of role-playing: "It occurred to me," Dominguez writes in his Afterword, "to portray the Red Knight as myself and to create a bloodless medieval jousting match between author and illustrator."
Alice's exploits– as one might expect from an author who was an amateur conjuror and a lover of theatrical illusion – are filled with translations and transformations and this is something that Dominguez magically conveys in his illustrations showing the White Queen transmogrifying into the Old Sheep and, a few pages on, the egg in the her shop changing into Humpty Dumpty...
Then Dominguez adds a new puzzle of his own – the presence in the book of two Alices. As he explains: "One is a blonde like the character from the first book, and there is a brunette one in this book. Alice dreams, as many of us dreamed in our childhoods, to be the other and live adventures."
The book is, as one would expect, full of many such elaborations and extrapolations on Carroll's text – I particularly like the examples of Looking-Glass insectology (the elephant bees here being joined by rhino- and hippo-bees), the anthropomorphised blooms in the Garden of Live Flowers and (in the Humpty Dumpty rescue party), a contingent of Scottish drums drumming painfully on their own heads.
For all these expected – and unexpected – amusements, there is a new sensibility at work in these drawings. Dominguez has caught a quality of the original that is often overlooked. The sunny summer’s day adventures in Wonderland have given way to the misty, autumnal feel of Alice’s second dream, across which falls the lengthening shadow of life’s brevity and the fleeting nature of love.
The fact that these drawings were made as the artist battled with cancer, the effects of a stroke and impact of his mother’s death may explain the terrible darkness that hovers over many of these pictures like the Tweedle Brothers’ monstrous crow – itself depicted as a creature constructed from ancient tribal patterns.
And certainly no artist has ever before dared to grant the Jabberwock safe passage though the Looking-Glass to prey upon the dreaming Alice...
Dominguez has said that he has attempted to approach Carroll’s stories “with emotion”, which, as he rightly says, is "the goal of art." And it is a goal perfectly realised in this handsome volume – or, volumes if you chose the edition in which the suppressed (and once-lost) Wasp in a Wig chapter is also brought to book with an introduction by Carroll scholar Selwyn Goodacre and illustrations by Dominguez that disprove Tenniel's willful assertion that "A wasp in a wig is altogether beyond the appliances of art"!
There are those in our thought-to-be more sophisticated times who have no time for the dream narrative: "What a surprise!" they mock, "It was all just a dream!" Dominguez is wise enough to value the dream. He writes: "Sleeping, dreaming, even having nightmares, it is fantasy that allows us to navigate through life on starship Earth."
Angel Dominguez’ Looking-Glass is, without question, a bold and beautiful aid to navigation as well as ranking among the very finest illustrative interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece.
Inky Parrot Press and is available in three editions:
Standard Edition: The book has 160 pages, with double- and single-page illustrations for each chapter and many smaller ones. The book is signed and numbered, casebound in a dust wrapper, page size 310 × 210mm. Typeset in Breughel and printed by Northend Creative Print Solutions on 150 gsm Stow Book White paper. All editions are bound by Ludlow Bookbinders. £86.00.
Special Edition: 52 copies with an additional volume The Wasp in a Wig, with an introduction by Selwyn Goodacre and new illustrations for the cover, endpapers and a double- and single-page illustration. Both volumes are quarter bound in leather and contained in a slipcase. £260.00.
The Exemplary Edition: has the two volumes, plus four giclée prints of Angel’s paintings, two from the book and two completely new, all signed and numbered, printed by Senecio Press and contained in a solander box. £420.00.
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