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Illustrated Wonderlands: The Beauty of Books

After a couple of lousy days, I had 30 minutes of unexpected joy, courtesy of TiVO. In its infinite wisdom, TiVO decided to record Illustrated Wonderlands: The Beauty of Books. Whoever at the BBC chose to make this short program, I thank you for a delightful experience. I even took notes! (Yes, I know I’m a little odd).

It was a double delight featuring the works of not one, but two, of my nonsense heros: Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. I wonder, whether you can get any higher in the nonsense world than the works of these two wondrous men? Actually, no, you can’t.

To start with, Edward Lear loved cats.

He wrote about pobbles with no toes, ‘people’ who went to sea in a sieve, quangle wangles and, of course, my personal favourite, the scroobious pip. Yet as much as I adore the work of the bearded man with the little round glasses, I cannot go past Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

I completely agree with The Beauty of Books¬†assessment that while many illustrators have tried their hand at bringing Alice to life, the original fine drawings of John Tenniel are the ultimate compliment to Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece. When I reflect on it, they are right: it is the partnership of the two which makes it the treasured classic that it is.

That said, I love to see how others have interpreted Alice. I’m delighted that the BBC program mentioned Ralph Steadman‘s illustrations; certainly one of my favourites, not to mention those of Mervyn Peake of Gormenghast fame from 1946. I think both are ‘up there’ among the best Alice illustrators as each used only black and white. In my humble opinion, when a picture ‘sings’ in black and white; it’s a mighty fine picture indeed.

Ralph Steadman's Alice illustration

To my surprise, the program didn’t mention Arthur Rackham as he is one I frequently come across when looking for Alice illustrations. They did feature the work of a gentleman I had not heard of: John Lord Vernon. As the program is from 2011 it seems that he is a relatively recent Alice illustrator. As the show mentioned, he has taken the very unusual step of not including Alice in any of his illustrations. From what I saw on the TV program, I’m curious to see more of his work.

Illustration by Mervyn Peake

If I was at home, I think I’d continue this wonderful Alice indulgence by pulling some of my Alice volumes off the shelf and losing myself in the drawings and paintings of Anne Bachelier, Rodney Matthews and Iassen Ghiuselev among others. As my books are not nearby, I’ve settled for a little internet surfing for Alice illustrations instead. A bloody good way to spend a Saturday night if you ask me!

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