Who could have predicted that a seemingly silly story told to three sisters on a boating trip would become immortalised as one of the greatest creative works in literary history? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass remain cherished classics, adored by adults and children alike. Much like their narratives, the story of how these imaginative tales came to be is steeped in originality.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was a scholar and tutor at Christ Church, Oxford University. It was there he developed a friendship with Dean Henry Liddell’s daughters, one of whom became the namesake of the stories’ central character. During a boating trip down the River Isis, also known as the River Thames in parts, Carroll told the girls a fantastical tale about a little girl called Alice who went chasing after a white rabbit down a hole and ended up in a bizarre, subterranean realm. The real Alice begged Carroll to transcribe the story onto paper for her and Carroll obliged, initially naming the story ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’.
It took some time for Carroll to finish the creation and production of the manuscript, as he presented it to Alice two years later as a Christmas present. Remarkably, the original work didn’t contain some of the characters that are now inherently woven into Wonderland’s mythology, including the Duchess, the Cheshire Cat, the Hatter, and the March Hare. After showing the manuscript to several friends, Carroll was persuaded to publish it for the public to see. The story was published in 1865, although not before some tinkering and amendments to the plot, as well as a decision to release it under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll in order to protect the author’s privacy.
Making Sense of Nonsense
Carroll’s Alice books, with their seemingly nonsensical stories, have been quoted by logicians and philosophers, inspired physicists to speculate about mirror worlds and seized on as inspiration by the Surrealist art movement. The Alice stories helped inspire John Lennon to write books of nonsense verse and Carrollian language has even been used by the American grunge band Nirvana, which testifies to the books’ broad appeal.
Bringing the Story to Life
Carroll not only created the narrative for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but also tried his hand at illustrating it and bringing the characters to life. Dissatisfied with his work, he decided to approach Sir John Tenniel, a graphic humorist and political cartoonist renowned at the time for the cartoons he produced for Punch, a satirical magazine. The move paid off, as even though Alice and the tale has been reimagined throughout the years through a variety of media, including film, stage and television, Tenniel’s illustrations endure as iconic depictions of the narrative’s wonderfully nonsensical characters and events.
The immense popularity of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland spawned a sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, in 1871. Tenniel provided illustrations for this publication too, depicting original characters such as the contrariwise twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee through skilful etchings that add to the story’s uniqueness and originality.
Crafting a Creative Legacy
Carroll’s words weave endless possibilities for the imagination, and Tenniel’s unique sketches bring the mesmerising story to life. Just like The Royal Mint, you might say that they are original makers of their craft, who have successfully created a literary treasure that will undoubtedly remain adored by generations to come.
The Alice COLLECTION