What To Read After Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland | RA Crossroads

As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to RA Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge, and whole-collection readers’ advisory (RA) service goes where it may. In this column, Alice herself leads me down a winding path.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Penguin. (Classics). 2003. 400p. ISBN 9780141439761. pap. $11; ebk. ISBN 9780141956732. F
aliceinwonderlandtwo112415Marking its sesquicentennial in 2015 with global celebratory events taking place through late fall, Carroll’s poetic mix of nonsense, whimsy, and charming threat remains evergreen. Alice, who famously follows a white rabbit down a warren hole only to find herself in a land where she frequently changes size and encounters “curiouser and curiouser” creatures, is a brave, imaginative, and fairly unflappable girl—if not one who is also impatient and easily bored. She ably navigates a world populated by such oddities as a fade-out cat, a mad hatter, and a hookah-smoking caterpillar. The story, a blend of adventure, fantasy journey, puns, puzzles, and jokes, unfolds in a frenzied spree, moving from scene to scene in a series of jumps that eventually take Alice to a royal trial held at the pleasure of an entirely displeased Queen. For all its quirky disorder and flights of fancy, the novel feels immediate and immersive, transporting readers into an alternative reality so vividly realized that the illustrations it inspired are as famous as the story itself.


Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful World of Oz: The Wizard of Oz; The Emerald City of Oz; Glinda of Oz. Penguin. 1998. 389p. ISBN 9780141180854. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781440674358. F
Like Alice, the main character of Baum’s classic children’s novel (also known for its illustrations) has become part of the cultural lexicon—Dorothy is another stalwart girl who travels to a strange land, becomes acquainted with all sorts of odd creatures, and finds her way home. Her quest story is both adventure and fantasy as Dorothy makes her way to the grand and gleaming Emerald City in hopes that a wizard will return her to Kansas. Along the way, witches variously hatch plots and offer protection, flying monkeys capture and assist, and, perhaps unlike Alice, a lesson that has resonated through generations of readers is imparted. While the story lacks the zaniness of Carroll’s approach, it is no less fanciful, and the two tales share a similar undercurrent of menace.


Pratchett, Terry. The Wee Free Men: The First Tiffany Aching Adventure. HarperCollins. (Discworld, Bk. 30). 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780062435262. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061975264. FANTASY
weefreemen112515An intrepid girl; intimate, vivid, and immersive storytelling (with jokes); and a world of rich imagination—readers looking for those Carrollian attributes might want to turn their eye to Pratchett’s “Discworld” books and to Tiffany Aching in particular. Nine-year-old Tiffany is a young witch with a talent for dairy making and an outsize sense of courage. When monsters invade her world and kidnap her baby brother, she goes after him, armed with tenacity and an iron skillet. Aided by the tiny, fierce, and rowdy creatures known as the Nac Mac Feegle, Tiffany faces down an evil queen. Like Carroll, Pratchett populates his novel with elements of risk and the supernatural. The intimidation of the queen is very real, while the wacky lure of other characters echoes Carroll’s sly humor. As Wee Free Men deepens and gets darker, the dislocation that Carroll evokes is also present.

Vehlmann, Fabien (text) & Kerascoët (illus.). Beautiful Darkness. Drawn & Quarterly. 2014. 96p. ISBN 9781770461291. $22.95. FANTASY/GRAPHIC NOVELS
darknessbeautiful120214While reading Alice’s adventures, it seems that one wrong turn could redirect the entire story from daydream to nightmare. Vehlmann and Kerascoët take the turn, offering a graphic novel detailing a brutal fairy-tale landscape that is as disquieting and illusory as Carroll’s tale yet overlaid with an unsettling story line that makes it more “Jabberwocky” than tea party. Princess Aurora is indeed having tea with her princely intended when a cataclysmic event exiles her into a strange land, along with a bevy of others, some she knows well and some she knows not at all. As everyone in the land struggles to survive, most descend into a disturbingly offhand viciousness. Imagine Disneyland colliding with Lord of the Flies. Illustrator Kerascoët details the anti–fairy tale in a lavish style full of deft gestures. Lush and confounding, this otherworldly realm offers Alice fans a brilliant evocation of the dangers just beneath the surface of some wonderlands.


The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. Norton. 2015. 432p. ed. by Martin Gardner & Mark Burstein. illus. by John Tenniel. notes. ISBN 9780393245431. $39.95. F
For a pure reading copy of the Alice story, the “Penguin annotatedalice101915Classics” edition can be relied upon, but for context, Gardner’s version has long been the standard source. This newly published edition to celebrate the anniversary gathers the wealth of Gardner’s explications, published in various forms, in one volume and supplies annotations and updates on both Adventures and Through the Looking-Glass. Viewing Carroll’s text alongside Gardner’s intriguing notes allows access to the social, literary, mathematical, and historical climate of the stories. In addition to the iconic illustrations by Tenniel, this edition is further enhanced by work from the legion of artists—from Salvador Dalí to Beatrix Potter—who also undertook the challenge of creating a visual landscape for Carroll’s world.

Maguire, Gregory. After Alice. Morrow. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780060548957. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062410825. F
afteralice112515In Maguire’s world, Alice is not the only child to travel down a rabbit hole. Her great friend Ada Boyce tumbles down as well and begins a search for her wayward pal. Back in Oxford, Alice’s sister, Lydia (the one who reads dreary books without pictures or conversations), is on a hunt of her own, trying to figure out the complicated process of coming of age. Her story line intersects with that of a mysterious boy, who comes to her home in the company of a traveling party that includes Charles Darwin—and then disappears as well. Lydia’s story, set in Victorian times rife with issues foreign to the kaleidoscopic setting and inhabitants of Wonderland, adds interest and punch to Alice’s well-known tale, allowing Maguire room to riff on loss, faith, identity, imagination, and more. Meanwhile, the new journey to Wonderland offers readers a chance to reexperience Carroll anew, even as surprises and twists await.

Listen-Again and Listen-Arounds:

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 3 CDs. 4 hrs. Naxos. 2006. ISBN 9789626343845. $22.98. F
alicenaxos112515The musicality and humor of Carroll are a wonder on audio as this all-hands-on-deck performance proves. David Horovitch reads the frame of the story in a rich, sonorous voice, providing guidance through the nonsense by shifts in tone and emphasis, while at the same time hitting the perfect note—be it giddy delight, a realization that all is taking place on just this side of treachery, or an extremely keen understanding of the behavior of dreamy kids. Jo Wyatt reads the part of Alice, with pitch-perfect characterization, and others, including Sean Barrett, Charles Collingwood, and Teresa Gallagher, fill out the remaining central roles. Musical interludes and sound effects heighten the production. Another version to consider is Alison Larkin’s reading of both Alice novels for BMA and British Classic Audio. Keep an ear out as well for Scarlett Johansson’s 2016 release produced by Audible Studios.

Gaiman, Neil. Coraline. 3 CDs. 3 hrs. Harper Children’s Audio. 2002. ISBN 9780061660160. $9.99. F
If Gaiman were not so busy writing, he could make a full coraline112515career in audiobooks. As the author narrates his own work and knows just what effect he wants to convey, the experience of hearing him read is a delight. His voice is warm and kind, intelligent and mysterious, fun and deft. Here he narrates his creepy children’s tale of a little girl who finds a doorway from her home to another residence. As all children of curious mind might do, Coraline travels to that other place. What she finds there is a Carrollian mirror of her own life, only better. The food is delicious, the toys fantastic. Yet there is a different mother and father—who very much want Coraline to stay—and the cost of staying is high. Eerie and bizarre in the best of ways, Gaiman’s fable provokes shivers, and he plays it up marvelously, infusing his reading with an exactingly chilling tone.

Watch-Agains and Watch-Arounds:

Alice in Wonderland. color. 75 min. Clyde Geronimi & others, Disney. 2010. DVD UPC  786936801811. $19.99. F
alicedvd112515The first experience many readers have with the Alice stories is through the 1951 Walt Disney animated film, rich with color, music, and fantastical realizations of Carroll’s creations. Clearly influenced by the art and poetry enriching Carroll’s tale but having a charming twist all its own, it is a masterpiece of animation. The team at Disney distilled the story to what have become set pieces of eccentricity and absurdity. A zany tea party, haughty flowers debating breeding, and the angry-mad Queen’s croquet game employing hedgehogs as balls and flamingos as mallets are but a few examples. The soundscape is a particular pleasure and contributes as much to the impression the film makes as do the bright colors, the clever and fun plot, and the fine character depictions.

Pan’s Labyrinth. color. 118 min. Guillermo del Toro, New Line. 2007. DVD UPC 794043111136. $19.98. FANTASY
panslabryinth120214Many films and novels draw upon Carroll’s vision of a wonderland as both an escape and a world brimming with potential dangers. Few have done so with the lavish, baroque, dark majesty that del Toro brought to his 2006 film set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War as the Francisco Franco era begins and soldiers and rebels fight a bloody pitched effort for political control. Into this setting, del Toro places a young girl named Ofelia under the thumb of one of Franco’s most brutal enforcers, her new stepfather, Vidal. As Vidal wreaks havoc around him and creates terror in his own household, Ofelia finds escape in a labyrinthine garden in which she encounters a strange creature who tells Ofelia that she is a princess and sends her on a quest, promising that if she completes the challenge, she will be returned to her real parents in a fairy underworld kingdom.


The Alice stories are visual delicacies. As much of the fascination with the tales lies in their images, readers might be interested in exploring a range of illustrated editions. There are many to choose from, ranging from John Tenniel’s original drawings to Arthur Rackham’s slightly spooky versions to Lisbeth Zwerger’s more modern but no less meaningful slant.

Here are some links to delightful and splendid illustrations:

The Tenniel Illustrations
Illustrating Alice in Wonderland (a collection of images spanning 1899–1929)
Brain Pickings Guide to the Best Illustrations
The Salvador Dalí Illustrations

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net