Saturday 27 January 2007


I was surfing the web the other day, looking for some images by an artist named David Hall who had worked at the Walt Disney studio in 1939 creating conceptual art for an early, abandoned film version of Alice in Wonderland.

Hall’s exceptional drawings (quite unlike the style of the eventual 1951 film) were exhibited in the recent exhibition Il était une fois Walt Disney at the Grand Palais in Paris and I was especially glad to see them again because, twenty one years ago in 1986, I had put together an edition of Lewis Carroll’s story, illustrated with Hall’s artwork - a book that has since totally vanished without even leaving a grin…

Now, while surfing, I happen to stumble into The Pancake Parlour, an Australian restaurant chain whose web site is, bizarrely, stuffed with information and images relating to Alice.

There are at least 22 pages - but it’s not easy to track them all down! - and one is dedicated to the work of David Hall.

As I read the accompanying text, I began to feel a curious sense of déjà vu… As it happens this was not entirely surprising since it was an edited, unacknowledged lift from my book!

“There’s glory for you!” as Humpty Dumpty remarked.

Anyway, today just happens to be---

The 175th Birthday of Lewis Carroll.

It was the friendship between Carroll’s alter ego - the mathematician, logician and cleric, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson -and the children of the Dean of Christ Church - and, in particular, Alice Pleasance Liddell - that inspired the telling of the now world-famous story on a boat-trip up-river from Oxford 145 years ago, on 4 July 1862.

In an acrostic poem at the end of the Wonderland’s sequel, Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There (1872), Dodgson commemorated both the event and his muse…
A boat beneath a sunny sky

Lingering onward dreamily

In an evening of July -

Children three that nestle near,

Eager eye and willing ear,

Pleased a simple tale to hear -

Long has paled that sunny sky:

Echoes fade and memories die:

Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise

Alice moving under skies

Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,

Eager eye and willing ear,

Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,

Dreaming as the days go by,

Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream -
Lingering in the golden glream -

Life, what is it but a dream?

Carroll revisited the question in the final stanza seventeen years later in another - this time, double - acrostic on the name of Isa Bowman, the young actress to whom the author dedicated his epic tangle of a novel, Slyvie & Bruno...
Is all our Life, then but a dream
Seen faintly in the golden gleam
Athwart Time's dark resistless stream?

Bowed to the earth with bitter woe
Or laughing at some raree-show
We flutter idly to and fro.

Man's little Day in haste we spend,
And, from its merry noontide, send
No glance to meet the silent end.
I was Secretary of the Lewis Carroll Society when, in 1982, I was party to the extraordinarily convoluted and expensive process that was involved in having a plaque in memory of our author placed in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth. The words chosen for the stone came from that second acrostic and were, for the Dean and Chapter, highly problematic.

In the end, the clergy acquiesced - accepting, perhaps, that Dodgson was saying that earthly life is but a transient prelude to Eternal Life

That was, heaven help me, twenty-five years ago, and yet I still remember the delight (and the nervousness) that I experienced in reading the following extract from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland during the service of dedication…
`Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; `Why, what a long sleep you've had!'

`Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about; and when she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, `It was a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it's getting late.' So Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been.

But her sister sat still just as she left her, leaning her head on her hand, watching the setting sun, and thinking of little Alice and all her wonderful Adventures, till she too began dreaming after a fashion, and this was her dream:--

First, she dreamed of little Alice herself, and once again the tiny hands were clasped upon her knee, and the bright eager eyes were looking up into hers--she could hear the very tones of her voice, and see that queer little toss of her head to keep back the wandering hair that WOULD always get into her eyes--and still as she listened, or seemed to listen, the whole place around her became alive the strange creatures of her little sister's dream.

The long grass rustled at her feet as the White Rabbit hurried by--the frightened Mouse splashed his way through the neighbouring pool--she could hear the rattle of the teacups as the March Hare and his friends shared their never-ending meal, and the shrill voice of the Queen ordering off her unfortunate guests to execution--once more the pig-baby was sneezing on the Duchess's knee, while plates and dishes crashed around it--once more the shriek of the Gryphon, the squeaking of the Lizard's slate-pencil, and the choking of the suppressed guinea-pigs, filled the air, mixed up with the distant sobs of the miserable Mock Turtle.

So she sat on, with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality--the grass would be only rustling in the wind, and the pool rippling to the waving of the reeds--the rattling teacups would change to tinkling sheep- bells, and the Queen's shrill cries to the voice of the shepherd boy--and the sneeze of the baby, the shriek of the Gryphon, and all thy other queer noises, would change (she knew) to the confused clamour of the busy farm-yard--while the lowing of the cattle in the distance would take the place of the Mock Turtle's heavy sobs.

Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

How many children - of all ages! - have, in almost a century and a half, had their eyes made bright and eager with that "dream of Wonderland of long ago"? A goodly few, I reckon...

Thanks, Mr Dodgson - and...
Happy Birthday!

[Illustration of Lewis Carroll from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, designed and illustrated by Barry Moser]


Unknown said...

Happy Birthday indeed. Have not seen David's pictures before and they are rather marvellous. Am minded to go and see if Dreamchild is available on DVD...

Brian Sibley said...

Sadly, DREAMCHILD is only available in the USA (as a Region 1 DVD)...

I also love the film - despite its historical inaccuracies - mainly because of Coral Browne and the Henson Workshop Wonderlanders that are so UN-Muppet-like, being literally red in tooth and claw...

So, maybe I should buy a copy from and and we can watch on one of our wireless laptops! :-)