Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I've been seeing and hearing a lot of things lately about the Alice movie, so I thought I'd do a little research. Not so much on the movie or the book, I was curious about the illustrator.

His name is Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914), and he was the illustrator of the books "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass," an English illustrator, creator of political cartoons in the late 19th century, with a long career in which he is probably best remembered for his illustrations in the books of Lewis Carroll. This is a self portrait from 1889.

He looks a little fierce, doesn't he? And he can definitely draw, don't you think?

Born in London, he was a student at the Royal Academy, even though he was accidentally blinded in one eye in 1840 while fencing with his father.

That would be any artist's worst nightmare, I would think, to be blinded, even partially. Makes me grab my safety glasses even quicker, and avoid fencing classes.

He was a caricature artist known for his humor in his art, but also a fine artist who exhibited paintings for the Society of British Artists.

He illustrated the first edition of "Alice in Wonderland" and the following edition, released in December of the same year became an immediate best-seller. The illustrations for the book are some of the best known literary illustrations ever made, created as woodblock prints carved into blocks of wood. The original wood blocks are preserved in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and were on public display in 2003.

Boy, I'd love to see those, I've done some woodblock printing and it's quite a challenge!

It's not all that well-known, but it is believed that much of Lewis Carroll's writings were political references, so the choice of Tenniel as the illustrator is interesting since he was a well-known political cartoonist of the time. Lewis Carroll's real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, writing "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" in 1865 under the Lewis Carroll pseudonymn, and the book is apparently full of allusions to his friends and colleagues.

The book was read by many on first release, such as Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde, and has never been out of print. I haven't read it in many years, maybe it's time to crack it open again.

I think an annotated version would be fun, to find out what Dodgson was thinking while he was writing. But most of all I admire John Tenniel for coming up with the iconic illustrations that we all instantly recognize.

If you see the movie, I'd love to hear what you thought of it...


Doreen said...

It looks like we've both been deep in Wonderland, Lynn. Your post is really interesting. I've been thinking about Wonderland too. I loved the movie!!! I just did a post on my blog about Alice in Wonderland here...

TesoriTrovati said...

I am amazed that I have never actually read the book, but I will have to pick it up now. I enjoyed it very much. Visually stunning. Well cast and acted. Best version I have ever seen. I just posted about it on my blog earlier this week. You can read about it here:

Enjoy the day!

EmandaJ said...

Hi Lynn, I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have read the annotated version (way back in the late '70s) yes, indeed, very interesting. Or shall we say, "curioser and curioser".