January 27, 2016 — It is the birthday of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, far better-known by his pseudonym, Lewis Carroll, the man who wrote some of the most influential and best-known children’s books of all time.
The two most famous, of course, are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There. The two stories are nonsensical fantasies that have enthralled children (and adults) since their publication in 1865 and 1871, respectively. Their madcap plot lines and glorious imagery — enhanced by the exquisite and wild drawings by illustrator John Tenniel — have been extraordinarily influential. Plays, movies, cartoons, television shows, musicals, parodies, songs, merchandise and artworks based on the plots and main characters of the two books continue to flourish approximately a century-and-a-half after the original publication dates. It would be difficult for anyone growing up in the English-speaking world to exist without knowledge of Carroll’s masterworks. And not only the English-speaking world; the books have been translated into at least 100 languages, although it is difficult to imagine how Jabberwocky, the famous nonsense poem first presented in Through the Looking Glass, can actually be translated (what is Swahili for “brillig”?).
The appeal of the books is indisputable. Their madly entertaining stories and weird characters remain irresistible to most children. Despite his Victorian upbringing, Carroll’s children’s books depict children doing what they are told not to do, using their own capabilities to work through their difficult situations, behaving as if parents do not exist and consorting with an extremely inappropriate group of companions — which may explain part of their continuing appeal.
In compiling a list of the 100 best novels in the English language, The Guardian placed Alice in Wonderland at #18, coming in just after Moby Dick.
Dodgson (Carroll), born in 1832 in Northwest England, was not just the author of some of the best-loved books in the English language. He was also an extremely talented mathematician, a gifted photographer, a teacher and an inventor.
Among the many film versions of Alice Through the Looking Glass, the 1998 movie, starring Kate Beckinsale (Total Recall), Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder), Ian Holm (Lord of the Rings) and Ian Richardson (House of Cards), is certainly one of the best.
Throw a “mad” tea party and watch Alice Through the Looking Glass in honor of Lewis Carroll’s birthday.