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Alice's Annotators: Alice in Wonderland has attracted more "serious" adult attention than nearly any other children's book in the world. Besides the academics who study the book's psychological symbolism, or its development of the dream-world of children, it has also long been a favorite for adults who enjoy the logical, linguistic, and mathematical games which Carroll built into his stories. In 1960, the mathematician and popular writer Martin Gardner released a footnoted edition called The Annotated Alice, which contains long and often hilarious footnotes on Carroll's references and contemporaries. To illustrate his points, Gardner discusses topics ranging from English history and symbolic logic to the theories of right- and left-handed molecules, and quotes sources ranging from Jack Kerouac to Socrates. It's an entertaining read, and for many people, Gardner's footnotes are now as indispensable to the Alice experience as John Tenniel's classic 1865 illustrations. (Gardner himself acknowledges in his introduction that "there is something preposterous about an annotated Alice," but seems to enjoy exploring Carroll's nonsense too much to want to stop.)
The Real 'Alice'?: Alice is based on a real person -- Alice Liddell, who was one of Lewis Carroll's many female "child-friends," and the daughter of one of the deans at Oxford University where Carroll lived and taught. The Alice in John Tenniel's pictures isn't based on the real Alice, though. Descriptions and pictures of Alice Liddell, including numerous photographs which Carroll took of her himself, show that she had short dark hair with straight bangs instead of the Wonderland Alice's long blond hair. Alice Liddell seems, however, to have had a mesmerizing face and personality.
Carroll -- who Alice would have known by his real name, the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson -- also put numerous in-jokes into Alice in Wonderland, including references to Alice's real life that only the Liddell family would understand. Many of the characters are based on people Carroll and the Liddells knew: Alice Liddell's sisters Lorina and Edith have cameos as the Lory and the Eaglet in the Pool of Tears. And the Dodo is thought to represent Carroll himself, with his awkward way of talking and his long words. (The Dodo's name would be a pun on the first syllable of Carroll's real name, Dodgson -- who, as Martin Gardner notes, sometimes stammered when he spoke.)
Alice's Influence: Alice in Wonderland is one of the most often-quoted books in English, up there with the big boys like the Bible and Hamlet. It's also been inspiring creative artists for a hundred-plus years, leaving its mark on books, TV, movies and pop music -- everywhere from science fiction to rock 'n' roll. In literature, Alice is a central inspiration for dozens of works; these range from Douglas Hofstadter's "musico-logical" cult favorite Godel, Escher, Bach (which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979) to the bizarre Vurt by English author Jeff Noon (1994) -- a sort of drug-cyberpunk dream set in a future Manchester. As Vurt 's topic suggests, Alice also had a popular revival in the1960s and 1970s, when many young people experimented with altered mental states, and Jefferson Airplane's 1967 song "White Rabbit" forever linked Alice's dreamlike imagery to drug culture: "One pill will make you larger, and one pill will make you small... Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call... Go ask Alice when she's ten feet tall."
As for movies and TV, Alice has been everywhere. Aside from the many live-action and cartoon versions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, references keep popping up in unexpected places -- from a gigantic white rabbit hopping through a 1966 episode of Star Trek, to the psychosexual imagery of a 1985 Tom Petty music video, to the "rabbit hole" virtual-reality jargon of the smash 1999 action/sci-fi movie The Matrix. Look for this month's reference to Alice on TV or in the movies. It's all around you...
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