Sunday, April 25, 2010


I am retroactively adding a scan of my very own copy of a 1920 Edition of Alice in Wonderland that my Mom bought for me when I was about 6 years old and that I still have to this day.

Everyone knows that Lewis Carroll is responsible for Alice in Wonderland, but how many recognize the name John Tenniel? John Tenniel is the man behind the timeless orginal illustrations of the book. I very much believe that Alice in Wonderland wouldn't be what it is today if it weren't for the artistic genius of Tenniel who worked on the illustrations for the book for almost two years, reworking parts under Carrol's orders. I have been reading parts of Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot for the last few days and he has several good bits in his book about the relationship between Tenniel and Carroll.
Tenniel was the the leading political cartoonist of the satirical magazine Punch which Carroll in turn was a big fan of. Tom Taylor who became the editor of Punch in 1874 introduced Carroll to Tenniel thus bringing together this winning combination.

'Tenniel agrees to take the commission, despite a heavy workload of weekly Punch cartoons and book illustrations and his deep depression over the recent death of his wife, compounded by the subsequent deaths of his mother and a close friend.

Tenniel takes two years to complete the pictures in between other work, and , although he pays him well, Carroll the perfectionist and connoisseur of printed illustration, continually demands improvements and changes... not a happy experience for the artist.

The foremost Victorian wood engravers and accomplished illustrators, the famous Dalziel Brothers finely engrave his Wonderland pictures onto printing blocks. When the pages are printed in 1865, the volatile Tenniel objects to the standarts of printing of his illustrations. Carroll the perfectionist is satisfied with the print quality and dismayed at the prospective expense and delay but bows to his illustrator's judgement.

The rejected unbound sheets are sold to a New York publisher who issues the book the following year.'

On a site about Tenniel's work however the story is slightly changed, claiming that the engraved wood blocks made were to act as a type of masters from which 'electrotype' copies would be made thus lowering the quality of the printing.

In 1985 the original wood engraved blocks were discovered in deed boxes belonging to Macmillan, the original publishers. Jonathan Stephenson at the Rocket Press was awarded the prestigious job of printing 250 sets from the blocks (the first time that they had been used) for worldwide distribution. No further sets will be printed.

More from Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot :
When the second and last Alice in Wonderland book, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, is published in December 1871 Carroll is nearly forty.

Once again the story is illustrated by John Tenniel, despite the artist's reluctance after his experience with the first book. Carroll has to badger him for months before he agrees. This time is takes him three years and his patience with the exacting Carroll wars extremely thin.

Perhaps by way of revenge, he argues Carroll into editing out a whole sequence, Wasp in a Wig, claiming that a drawing of the character is inconceivable and that the writing is below standard.
Lost for over a hundred years, the missing chapter turns up in an auction at Sotheby's and is published for the first time in 1977. Though there remains the possibility that it's a forgery and the original is lost forever.

Tenniel never illustrates another book...despite the immediate success of Looking Glass and the popularity of his drawings which are of pure genius.

Alice works in some ways that are very similar to the comic strip. Carroll's descriptions are minimal and sometimes non-existent. The words and pictures come together to form a whole.
For example, the only description of the Mad Hatter is his name. Our image of him and the surrounding dreamworld comes straight from Tenniel.

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