Sunday, October 25, 2020


Jo Elwyn Jones & J. Francis Gladstone: The Red King's Dream (1995)

Jo Elwyn Jones & J. Francis Gladstone. The Red King's Dream: Or Lewis Carroll in Wonderland. 1995. Pimlico 230. London: Random House, 1996.

The other day I was in Dominion Books, a little second-hand shop on Jervois Rd which has provided me with numerous treasures over the years, when I came across the book pictured above.

The authors' thesis (I haven't finished reading it yet) appears to be that Lewis Carroll's two Alice books contain a complex web of references to the contemporary culture, politics and religion of Victorian England - not in itself a particularly contentious claim, but one which they feel convinced offers a genuine key to the books' oddities and private in-jokes.

Funnily enough, a couple of weeks earlier I'd picked up a copy of that terrifyingly inclusive classic of political biography, Morley's Life of Gladstone:

John Morley. The Life of William Ewart Gladstone: In Two Volumes: Vol. I: 1809-1872. 1903. Lloyd's Popular Edition. London: Edward Lloyd, Limited, 1908.

John Morley. The Life of William Ewart Gladstone: In Two Volumes: Vol. II: 1872-1898. 1903. Lloyd's Popular Edition. London: Edward Lloyd, Limited, 1908.

John Tenniel: Dr Punch and the Two Head Boys (1878)

One of the two authors of The Red King's Dream is actually Gladstone's great-grandson, and their book takes its departure in a very probable reference to Gladstone in the section of Through the Looking Glass devoted to the 'Lion and the Unicorn' (pictured by Tenniel as, respectively, Gladstone and Disraeli).

John Tenniel: Through the Looking Glass (1871)

Much of the book is less convincing, and it certainly owes a heavy debt to the maniacally detailed researches of Martin Gardner, editor of three successive annotated versions of the Alice Books, culminating in the (posthumous) "150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" of 2015:

Lewis Carroll. The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. Illustrated by John Tenniel. 1865 & 1871. Ed. Martin Gardner. Bramhall House. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1960.

Lewis Carroll. More Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. 1865 & 1871. Illustrated by Peter Newell. Ed. Martin Gardner. New York: Random House, 1990.

Lewis Carroll. The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. Ed. Martin Gardner. Illustrations by John Tenniel. 1960 & 1990. New York & London: W. W. Norton, 1999.

Lewis Carroll. The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. Ed. Martin Gardner & Mark Burstein. Illustrations by John Tenniel. 1960, 1990 & 1999. New York & London: W. W. Norton, 2015.

Martin Gardner, ed.: More Annotated Alice (1990)

However, it got me to thinking about just how many hare-brained books (and films) I've seen which claim to 'explain' these strange little books - some amusingly and tongue-in-cheek, others with ponderous earnestness. Quite apart from the intrinsic merits of the 'Alice' books themselves - my parents read them aloud to me even before I could follow print myself - I have to say that I think there are some genuine masterpieces among them.

Chief among these (after the Gardner book in its various manifestations) would have to be Bryan Talbot's extraordinary phantasmagoria in the form of a graphic novel Alice in Sunderland:

Bryan Talbot: Alice in Sunderland (2007)
Bryan Talbot. Alice in Sunderland: An Entertainment. Jonathan Cape. London: Random House Group Limited, 2007.

Talbot, a graphic virtuoso, one of whose previous books, The Tale of One Bad Rat, was composed almost entirely in the style of Beatrix Potter, really pulls the stops out for this, his masterpiece:

Bryan Talbot: The Tale of One Bad Rat (1994)
Bryan Talbot. The Tale of One Bad Rat. 1994-5. Jonathan Cape. London: Random House Group Limited, 2008.

His bizarre script doubles as a potted history of Sunderland, a social history of Victorian England, and a penetrating analysis of Alice itself - both as a biographical and an aesthetic document. Along the way we encounter such local characters as George Formby, Sid James, and the Lambton Worm, as well as the more obvious Charles Dodgson, Alice Liddell and John Tenniel. It has really to be read to be believed:

Bryan Talbot: Back Cover Blurb (2007)

Here are a few extracts to give you an idea of the kinds of connections he specialises in:

To continue with the theme of graphic novels, Lewis Carroll's favourite muse, Alice Pleasance Hargreaves (née Liddell), also makes an extended appearance in Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's weird semi-pornographic extravaganza Lost Girls, alongside Dorothy Gale, from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), and Wendy Darling, from J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1904).

Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie: Lost Girls (2006)
Alan Moore. Lost Girls. Illustrated by Melinda Gebbie. 3 vols. Marietta, Georgia: Top Shelf Productions, 2006.

As Wikipedia puts it, in its characteristically po-faced fashion:
They meet as adults in 1913 and describe and share some of their erotic adventures with each other.
The book culminates with the eruption of the First World War in 1914. Here's a medley of the original covers for the 3-volume slipcase edition to give you the general idea:

For the Birds: Lost Girls (2009)

Like all of Alan Moore's books, this one is both intricately plotted and technically ingenious. Beyond that, though, it's hard to see as much substance in it as in Talbot's almost exactly contemporaneous non-fiction novel.

Tim Burton, dir.: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Which brings us to films. The Alice books have a varied - and, for the most part, indifferent - filmography. They've had to endure a poor Disney animation, and two weird Tim Burton adaptations. There are, however, some high points here and there.

Jonathan Miller, dir.: Alice in Wonderland (1966)
Alice in Wonderland, dir. & writ. Jonathan Miller (from the book by Lewis Carroll) – with Anne-Marie Mallik, John Gielgud, Peter Cook, Leo McKern, Peter Sellers – (UK, 1966).

The first of these is Jonathan Miller's trippy BBC TV adaptation. It may be low on budget, but it's big on ideas and disturbing images. The 13-year-old unknown, Anne-Marie Mallik, who plays the main character is disturbingly sensual in her impersonation (or enactment) of a mid-60s flower child.

The central metaphor (it was mostly filmed in an old 19th century hospital) is of Victorian England as a madhouse full of cracked, elderly monologuists, expertly impersonated by the principal comedians of the time. Its application to contemporary conditions in that embattled island remains rather current, unfortunately.

Gavin Millar, dir.: Dreamchild (1985)
Dreamchild, dir. Gavin Millar, writ. Dennis Potter – with Coral Browne, Ian Holm, Peter Gallagher, Nicola Cowper, Amelia Shankley – (UK, 1985).

Dreamchild, at the time, attracted most attention as a showcase for the admittedly impressive animating skills of Jim Henson and his Creature Shop. The central (truish) story of an elderly Mrs. Hargreaves - Lewis Carroll's original Alice - sailing to New York to receive an Honorary Doctorate from Columbia University is somewhat marred by a mawkish love story.

However, the intercut scenes of her younger self in and out of Carroll's dreamscapes are beautifully done, with pitch-perfect performances from both Ian Holm as Carroll/Dodgson/the Dodo and Amelia Shankley as a mischievously flirtatious young Alice.

Jan Švankmajer, dir.: Alice (1988)
Alice [Něco z Alenky], dir. & writ. Jan Švankmajer (from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) - with Kristýna Kohoutová - (Czechosolvakia, 1988).

Last but not least is this piece of weirdness from the great Czech film-maker Jan Švankmajer. His film (whose title translates as 'Something from Alice') combines the cracked genius of his stop-motion animation skills with the darkness of his Freudian vision of a world of broken-down dolls and malevolent animals.

While it's not precisely fun to watch, it proves once again the seemingly inexhaustible power of the Alice books as a reservoir of imagery for our troubled modernity.

It was, I think, W. H. Auden who remarked of Alice herself:
In Wonderland, she is the only person with self-control.
We continue to foist our visions - social or sexual, literary or psychological, mathematical or historical, eccentric or universal - upon her. She remains, however, unreachable, untouchable, immaculate - like Thurber's Walter Mitty, 'inscrutable to the last.'

Robert Phillips, ed.: Aspects of Alice (1971)

Charles Dodgson: Alice Pleasance Liddell as a beggar girl (1858)

A Baker's Dozen of Alices


Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures Underground (1862-4)

John Tenniel: Alice in Wonderland (1865)

Arthur Rackham: Alice in Wonderland (1907)

Mervyn Peake: Through the Looking Glass (1946)

Walt Disney: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Jonathan Miller: Anne-Marie Mallik as Alice (1966)

Salvador Dalí: Alice in Wonderland (1969)

Gavin Millar: Amelia Shankey as Alice (1985)

Jan Švankmajer: Kristýna Kohoutová as Alice (1988)

Melinda Gebbie: Alice in Wonderland (2006)

Bryan Talbot: Alice as Angel of the North (2007)

Lewis Carroll

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson ['Lewis Carroll']

    Lewis Carroll: The Complete Works (1939)

    Collected Works:

  1. Lewis Carroll. The Complete Works: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; The Hunting of the Snark; Through the Looking Glass; Sylvie and Bruno; Sylvie and Bruno Concluded; All the Early and Late Verse, Short Stories, Essays, Phantasmagoria. Games, Puzzles, Problems, Acrostics, and Miscellaneous Writings . Illustrated by John Tenniel. Introduction by Alexander Woollcott. 1939. Modern Library Giant. New York: The Modern Library, n.d.

  2. Roger Lancelyn Green, ed. The Works of Lewis Carroll. Illustrations by John Tenniel. Spring Books. London: Paul Hamlyn Ltd., 1965.

  3. Roy Gasson, ed. The Illustrated Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There; The Hunting of the Snark; A Carroll Selection; Appendix: The "Alice Verses" and their Originals. 1978. Poole, Dorset: New Orchard Editions Ltd., n.d.

  4. Edward Giuliano, ed. The Complete Illustrated Works of Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There; The Hunting of the Snark; Rhyme? and Reason?; A Tangled Tale; Alice’s Adventures Underground; Sylvie and Bruno; Sylvie and Bruno Concluded; Three Sunsets and Other Poems. Illustrated by John Tenniel, Lewis Carroll, Arthur B. Frost, Henry Holiday, Harry Furniss, & E. Gertrude Thomson. Avenel Books. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1982.

  5. Lewis Carroll: The Wasp in a Wig (1977)

    Editions of 'Alice':

  6. Alice’s Adventures Underground: Facsimile of the Author’s Manuscript Book with Additional Material from the Facsimile Edition of 1886. Introduction by Martin Gardner. New York: Dover Publications. Inc., 1965.

  7. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There. Illustrated by John Tenniel. 1865 & 1871. Ed. Roger Lancelyn Green. 1971. Oxford English Novels. London: Book Club Associates, 1976.

  8. Alice in Wonderland: Authoritative Texts of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking-Glass; The Hunting of the Snark. Backgrounds, Essays in Criticism. Ed. Donald J. Gray. A Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 1971.

  9. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Introduction by Langford Reed. Illustrated by Helen Monro. Nelson Classics. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., n.d.

  10. Alice Through the Looking-Glass. Illustrated by Maraja. London: W. H. Allen, 1959.

  11. The Wasp in a Wig: A "Suppressed" Episode of Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There. Preface, Introduction & Notes by Martin Gardner. Ed. Edward Giuliano. 1977. London: Macmillan Limited, 1977.

  12. Martin Gardner, ed.: The Annotated Snark (1962)


  13. Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Snark: The Hunting of the Snark – An Agony in Eight Fits. Illustrations by Henry Holiday. 1876. Ed. Martin Gardner. 1962. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.

  14. Carroll, Lewis. The Humorous Verse of Lewis Carroll. [Formerly: 'The Collected Verse of Lewis Carroll']. With illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, Arthur B. Frost, Henry Holiday, Harry Furniss, & the Author. 1933. New York: Dover Publications. Inc., 1960.

  15. Lewis Carroll: Symbolic Logic & The Game of Logic (1887-97)

    Mathematics & Logic:

  16. Charles L. Dodgson, M.A. Euclid and His Modern Rivals. 1879. Introduction by H. S. M. Coxeter. New York: Dover Publications. Inc., 1973.

  17. Symbolic Logic and The Game of Logic (Both Books Bound as One): Mathematical Recreations of Lewis Carroll. 1897 & 1887. Preface by Edmund C. Berkeley. New York: Dover Publications. Inc. / Berkeley Enterprises, 1958.

  18. Lewis Carroll: The Story of Sylvie and Bruno (1904)


  19. Carroll, Lewis. Diversions and Digressions of Lewis Carroll (Formerly Titled: The Lewis Carroll Picture Book): A Selection from the Unpublished Writings and Drawings of Lewis Carroll, together with Reprints from Scarce and Unacknowledged Work. With a New Selection of Lewis Carroll’s Photographs. Ed. Stuart Dodgson Collingwood. 1899. New York: Dover Publications. Inc., 1961.

  20. Carroll, Lewis. The Story of Sylvie and Bruno. Ed. Edwin Dodgson. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. 1904. Facsimile Classics Series. New York: Mayflower Books. Inc. / London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1980.

  21. Carroll, Lewis. The Rectory Umbrella and Mischmasch. Foreword by Florence Milner. 1932. New York: Dover Publications. Inc., 1971.

  22. Fisher, John, ed. The Magic of Lewis Carroll. Line Illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, Henry Holiday, Arthur B. Frost, Harry Furniss, & Lewis Carroll. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973.

  23. Ovenden, Graham. Masters of Photography: Lewis Carroll. London: Macdonald & Co (Publishers) Ltd., 1984.

  24. Roger Lancelyn Green, ed.: The Diaries of Lewis Carroll (2 vols: 1954)

    Diaries & Letters:

  25. Cohen, Morton N., with Roger Lancelyn Green, ed. The Letters of Lewis Carroll. Vol. I: ca.1837-1885. Vol. 1 of 2. London: Macmillan London Limited., 1979.

  26. Cohen, Morton N., with Roger Lancelyn Green, ed. The Letters of Lewis Carroll. Vol. II: 1885-1898. Vol. 2 of 2. London: Macmillan London Limited., 1979.

  27. Cohen, Morton N., with Roger Lancelyn Green, ed. The Selected Letters of Lewis Carroll. 1979. Papermac. London: Macmillan Publishers Limited., 1982.

  28. McDermott, John Francis, ed. The Russian Journal and Other Selections from the Works of Lewis Carroll. 1935. New York: Dover Publications. Inc., 1977.

  29. Colin Gordon: Beyond the Looking Glass (1982)


  30. Collingwood, Stuart Dodgson. The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (Rev. C. L. Dodgson). 1898. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, n.d.

  31. Lennon, Florence Becker. The Life of Lewis Carroll [aka 'Victoria through the Looking-Glass']. 1945. Rev. ed. Collier Books. New York: The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, 1962.

  32. Gordon, Colin. Beyond the Looking Glass: Reflections of Alice and Her Family. San Diego & New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1982.

  33. Cohen, Morton N. Lewis Carroll: A Biography. 1995. Vintage Books. New York: Random House Inc., 1996.

  34. Francis Huxley: The Raven and the Writing Desk (1976)

    Literary Critical:

  35. Huxley, Francis. The Raven and the Writing Desk. London: Thames & Hudson, 1976.

  36. Phillips, Robert, ed. Aspects of Alice: Lewis Carroll’s Dreamchild as seen through the Critics’ Looking-Glasses, 1865-1971. 1971. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981.

  37. Sigler, Carolyn, ed. Alternative Alices: Visions and Revisions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Books. An Anthology. Lexington, Kentucky: Kentucky University Press, 1997.

Carolyn Sigler, ed.: Alternative Alices (1997)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Jan Kemp's Tripstones

Jan Kemp: Tripstones (2020)

Expatriate Kiwi poet Jan Kemp's latest collection, Tripstones, is a beautiful piece of bookmaking as well as making an important statement about her poetic identity.

Titlepage. Tripstones (Puriri Press, 2020)
[photograph: Bronwyn Lloyd]

The central image here is the Stolperstein, the stumbling block, the stone that trips you up when you least expect it.

Here's Jan's own picture of the Stolperstein she discovered in her own (new) hometown, Kronberg im Taunus. As she herself explains in the note at the back of the book:
A Stolperstein is a small square burnished brass plaque about 12cm x 12 cm set flush with the walkway paving in many German towns, villages and cities - gold against grey - so that you might notice one shining underfoot. You 'stumble' upon it, and then perhaps look down and read the inscription engraved on it, the name of a murdered victim of the Holocaust who lived in a nearby building.
The poems, too, drawn from the last thirty years of her writing life, from The Other Hemisphere (1991) to Black Ice & the Love Planet (2020), seem to be those she wishes us to be stopped by, to stumble over, not to be able to move on from too rapidly.

They range widely in theme and content, mind you. From the evocative local imagery of "Swimming" (which you can hear the author reading here), dated from Waiake Beach, Torbay, 2004 - just a few miles down the road from where I live:

Jan Kemp: "Swimming." Tripstones (2020)
[photograph: Bronwyn Lloyd]

Nothing reduces you to your skin like the sea:
cold plunge into reality,
a tongue already salty
& all that power
self-propelling you through our other element,
body loving
every pummelling second,
as your mind slips on the (no wonder)
Madonna-blue beach wrap of the sky.

Jan Kemp: "Golden Week, Kyoto." Tripstones (2020)
[photograph: Bronwyn Lloyd]

To the Alice in Wonderland-like restrictions of 'Golden Week' in Kyoto:

Giants in yukatas,
a 4-tatami-mat room,
we bend far to unroll beds

open, half-open, close, re-open
the double sequence of glass
bamboo, paper square-framed doors,

duck, enter a garden.

To her new Heimat in Germany ('The Kiwi in me' - joint English / German reading available here):

I've swapped Tane Mahuta
for two mighty Eiben,
the woods for the sea -

tui, tuatara for
Rotkehlchen, Eidechse,
but the Kiwi stays me.

Jan Kemp: "The Kiwi in Me." Tripstones (2020)
[photograph: Bronwyn Lloyd]

Increasingly the new poems need glossaries, peppered as they are with German terms. Did you know a Rotkehlchen was a robin redbreast and an Eidechse a lizard? I knew that Eiben were yew trees, but the linguistic realm inhabited by her more recent work does seem to presuppose a reader equally familiar with the particularities of New Zealand and German discourse.

Clearly this isn't an accidental choice. When you go international, you can go bland and unitone: an idiom suited for the airport bookshop; or, alternatively, you can cherish the peculiarities of your own idiolect.

Characteristically, this is the choice that Jan has made, something which fits with her life-long fascination with the spoken word, the sound of a particular poet reading a particular poem at one precise time - the reason she worked so hard for so many years on the Waiata (1974) and Aotearoa New Zealand (2002-2004) Poetry Sound Archives, as well as on our three published anthologies of work from those collections (2006-2008).

After all, as the first of the poems I quote from above concludes:
The straightest line imaginable
just over the breakers
visibly separating the two
doesn't exist.
You do.

Yet, can you hold
a handful of salt water
to prove it
for just one moment
before you go?
The straight line, the centrist discourse, doesn't exist - except in the abstractions we're invited so vociferously to inhabit and believe in - but, unprovably yet demonstrably, 'you do'.

This is a lovely and thought-provoking collection from a poet who's been making a contribution to our literature for almost half a century. Judging from the poems here, she's still going strong!

Poetry NZ 48 (2014)

The book has been published by John Denny of Puriri Press in a limited edition of 50 copies. Most of these have already been sold or distributed to friends, but there are still a very few copies for sale. John Denny adds that:
People wanting a copy should contact me first to make sure there are some still available (, in which case I'll confirm and send them an invoice. The price is $NZ50 plus $5.90 pack & post.
As you can see from the sample pages included in this post, it's a lovely piece of printing: on sumptuous paper, with a handprinted cover, and all the things we collectors cherish so much in a small-press book.
[NB: As of Sunday, 25th October, this edition is officially
so from now on you'll have to consult it in a public collection near you!]

Jan Kemp: "Stolpersteine / Tripstones." Tripstones (2020)
[photograph: Bronwyn Lloyd]