My first encounter with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had nothing to do with physical books. My father had been a printer and guillotine operator in a London printworks in the 1970s and we had a house full of books as a result—but Alice wasn’t one of them. I was a voracious reader from a very early age and eventually built up an enormous library, now sadly dispersed across the British Isles and France. But for whatever reason, I never had a copy of Alice in my library. My discovery of Lewis Carroll’s extraordinary novel was a very 1980s experience. One day my father came back from Coolock public library with a box of audio cassettes. I generally listened to books on tape—The Hobbit and David Niven’s autobiographies were my favourites—on a portable tape recorder each night before going to sleep. Alice was a strange one and nothing like the stories I was used to, but I listened to it dozens of times all the same and had learned whole sections off by heart before we had to give the cassettes back.
The lack of detail in Carroll’s descriptions coupled with my ignorance of Tenniel’s illustrations at that time meant that I developed very personal mental images of Alice and the different characters she meets. These images have proved powerful enough to remain intact after exposure to both the industrial awfulness of Disney and Tim Burton, as well as to the magic of Tenniel’s drawings; they have inspired the illustrations in this special edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Illustrating Alice was never high on my to-do list, but when I learned that my good friend and prolific publisher of Carrolliana Michael Everson had been invited to give a talk to the Grolier Club in this 150th anniversary year, I thought this would certainly be a very interesting context in which to reacquaint myself with Wonderland. During 2015, then, I had my daughter Aoife and the most patient of my friends pose for me around Oxford, and I tried to capture on paper some of those mental images I’d been carrying around in my head for three decades. Many of the scenes were imagined in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens, in the gardens of Blenheim Palace, and in the grounds of Carroll’s own Christ Church College. The models for some of the animals and birds can be found in Oxford’s Natural History Museum, home of the famous Oxford dodo. I hope you have as much fun looking at these illustrations as we did creating them.
Oxford, 21 September 2015