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Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

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Alice in Wonderland | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Since its publication in 1865, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has remained a classic tale that bridges the gap between children's and adult literature. The author paints a fantastical portrait of the world "down the rabbit hole" that has inspired the imaginations of generations of children, while the themes of absurdity and logical incongruity allow for more complex literary analysis by older readers.

Written by Charles Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, the book was met with mixed reviews at the time of publication. Critics were more fascinated by the first edition's illustrations than by Carroll's writing. Few would have guessed the story would remain a literary classic well over a century later.

1. The original illustrations in Alice do not look a thing like the real-life Alice.

Alice in Wonderland first came to life as a story told to three young sisters—one of whom, Alice Liddell, inspired the title character. The girls were the daughters of Henry Liddell, the dean of Christ Church college in Oxford, where Carroll taught. John Tenniel, a political cartoonist, illustrated the first editions of the book but did not model Alice on the character's inspiration. Liddell had shorter, dark hair, while Tenniel, who refused to use a model, drew Alice with long blonde hair.

A photograph of Alice Liddell taken by Lewis Carroll

A photograph of Alice Liddell taken by Lewis Carroll Lewis Carroll

2. Carroll's sudden break from the Liddell family is a lingering mystery.

One of Carroll's diaries has been noted for missing several pages (between April 18, 1858, and May 8, 1862) that are thought to explain the mysterious end of communication between him and Alice Liddell's family. Whether the pages simply went missing or he removed them himself has been a matter of controversy.

Portrait of Lewis Carroll

Portrait of Lewis Carroll Oscar G. Reilander

3. Tenniel's illustration indicates that the Caterpillar's hookah probably contained tobacco.

In the original edition of the book, the illustrator drew tobacco flowers next to the the Caterpillar's mushroom. The idea that caterpillars might blow smoke comes straight out of the natural world. The hornworm caterpillar eats tobacco leaves and, to defend itself against predators, exhales the nicotine, which is a natural insecticide. Like author Lewis Carroll, illustrator John Tenniel shared the Victorian fascination with science.

Illustration by John Tenniel

Illustration by John Tenniel Project Gutenberg

4. The mushroom pictured in the first edition of Alice was edible.

Some have suggested the Caterpillar's mushroom is fly agaric, a species of mushroom with hallucinogenic properties. But John Tenniel's illustrations in the first edition made clear that the Caterpillar's mushroom was edible. Fly agaric mushrooms are red, with raised white spots. The Caterpillar's mushroom had a smooth cap and appeared to be yellow agaric, which is not only edible but good-tasting.

5. Most copies of the first edition of Alice were destroyed at the illustrator's insistence.

After Tenniel illustrated the first edition of Alice in Wonderland, he described the quality of the printing as "disgraceful." Most copies were destroyed at Tenniel's insistence, and only 23 of the incredibly rare first editions remain. In 1866 an edition was printed that was better received.

6. Lewis Carroll wrote 11 books on mathematics and logic.

Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician. Among his academic writings was a text entitled Symbolic Logic, a dense, two-volume philosophical and mathematical tome. Dodgson also applied math and logic when developing a system of proportional representation in politics that still influences how people vote today.

7. Carroll took pictures of rich and famous Victorians.

Charles Dodgson was an avid photographer. In addition to pictures of family and friends (such as Alice and her sisters), he photographed great writers and artists, influential scientists, and other prominent individuals in Victorian England. Among his subjects were the poet laureate Alfred Tennyson, poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, actress Ellen Terry, scientist Michael Faraday, and Queen Victoria's youngest son, Prince Leopold.

A photograph taken by Lewis Carroll during the Victorian era

A photograph taken by Lewis Carroll during the Victorian era Library of Congress

8. There were nine film adaptations of Alice before the Disney version.

Alice in Wonderland has always held the fascination of filmmakers, with nine versions already created before the 1951 Disney classic animation. The first three were silent films, with the first talking production released in 1931. The first silent film was made in 1903; at 12 minutes long it was the longest British film made to date. Its special effects (such as Alice changing size), though certainly primitive by contemporary standards, were groundbreaking at the time.

The 1903 silent film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland YouTube

9. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) made more than $1 billion.

Despite being met with criticism regarding departures from Carroll's books and an overuse of effects created with computer-generated imagery (CGI), this film starring Johnny Depp was extremely popular.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Alice in Wonderland (2010) Walt Disney Pictures

10. A musical marked the 150th anniversary of Alice.

The musical, which premiered in July 2015 at the Manchester International festival, is called A contemporary take on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the show portrays the magical other-world as an online virtual universe.

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