Any excuse to re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a good excuse for me. But this one is even better because it’s not just the classic story that is featured here, but the artwork for the story by Salvador Dali.
This year of 2015 we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, so I expect we’ll see a number of editions of the book being re-released, but I suspect Princeton University Press’ edition will become a collector’s edition.
I don’t feel the need to comment much on Lewis Carroll’s work. (I imagine most people reading this already understand that Lewis Carroll was the pen name for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.) I’ve said before that I think it is one of the most highly creative, original pieces of literature that I’ve ever read. And I don’t think I’m alone, given the books I’ve seen commenting about the work.
This edition is about Salvador Dali’s illustrations. While there is a part of me that misses Sir John Tenniel’s work — which is typically very much a part of the experience of reading the book — Dali’s work is possibly even better suited to the work. Tenniel was Dodgson’s first choice to illustrate his work because of the “grotesqueness” of Tenniel’s work. “Grotesque” is a style that “is an abnormality that imparts the disturbing sense that the real world may have ceased to be reliable” (Wikipedia). The real world may have ceased to be reliable? Does any artist better imply this sentence than Salvador Dali?
The paintings within are not to be glanced at, appreciated in passing, but actually looked at and studied. Finding the sources within the story that inspired each moment, is sometimes a jigsaw puzzle, but the sources are there and can be found for the astute reader. Knowing the story quite well already, I appreciated this challenge. Given the nature of Dali’s work – surrealism – sometimes the images themselves are not as understandable as we are often used to. What do the images of a figure on fire, repeated, represent? And what is the figure? A stick man? Caterpillars? Soldiers? This art is extreme surrealism.
We must be honest, though, and admit that this is not Dali’s strongest work. Unlike his more famous work, The Persistence of Memory, this art is not sharp, clearly delineated, but rather a much more scattered and sketched look, with seemingly a variety of mediums involved. Watercolors? Oils? Ink?
Some of the art is stunning (I am particularly drawn to those in Chapters 4, 5, 7 and 8) and some rather bland (chapters 6 and 10), but all should evoke reaction from the reader.
The book begins with an introduction, “Dodgson and Dali” by Mark Burstein and “The Math Connection” by Thomas Banchoff. Both are fascinating essays and well worth the price of the book alone. Getting a personal account of Dali is a true bonus in a surreal fiction book!
I will admit to being particularly attracted to this book because of my strong interest in all things ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as well as all things ‘surreal’ art. In the 1980’s I bought two museum-quality Dali prints from the ‘Alice’ series which are still a part of my extensive art collection, and among the very few ‘prints’ (rather than originals) that I own. I am thrilled to see more from this ‘Alice’ series.
Looking for a good book? Anyone interested in the “Alice in Wonderland” stories or the art of Salvador Dali should make sure to add this book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Salvador Dali, published by Princeton University Press, to their ‘must buy’ list.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
author: Lewis Carroll
artist: Salvador Dali
series: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland #1
publisher: Princeton University Press
hardcover, 136 pages