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An international selection of illustrated editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
ISBN 10: 0955834376 ISBN 13: 9780955834370
Publisher: Artists Choice Editions, 2013

Ours is an age of Freudian and Fundamentalist guilt and the growing emotional estrangement of the adult from the child. Now, when Alice looks into the mirror she will, as like, see 'through a glass darkly', her imagination constrained by the attempted politically correct cleansing of our society which acts as a cloak of darkness, excluding the spiritual grace of childhood.

Yes, perhaps, but Alice is often wiser than the self-proclaimed matrons of morality, and having passed through the dark reflection of a corrupt society into a world which is both innocent and fraught by the edge of nightmare (Edgar Allan Poe's lines 'It is not yet settled whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence' seem to hold more than a credence), then once more the child can be made whole again.

One of Alice's chief attractions is that she is the child of intellect yet also of wonder, so we, both reader and observer can identify with her ability to surmount the inconsistencies of situation. This child, the creation of Dodgson's genius, holds more than an essence of the self-portrait within her. There is rigour, vulnerability and a bruised innocence (as one observer also described the music of Edward Elgar). Elgar's incidental score for Blackwood's The Starlight Express (1915) and Barrie's Peter Pan (1904) also stand as equals to Dodgson's two masterpieces.

It is noticeable how often children's book illus­trations of the latter part of the twentieth century depict their heroes as monsters, a deliberate ploy no doubt, as they all cannot be ascribed to inade­quate draughtsmanship.

Alice and Dodgson's mirror have become the vehicle, the optical fragmentation of the Circus Side Show whose reflections are now sinister rather than purely fantastical. The baleful influ­ence of Picasso and the Paris School are the seed of this tare. There is no spiritual light within and thus the flowers of Pan's (and Dodgson's) universal garden flourish with difficulty. Tenny­son's 'Rosebud garden of girls' would make slow growth, Edward German's 'English Rose' wilt on the briar and so a tradition of female transmuta­tion as old as Babylon fades into the eternal night.

To draw a living likeness of a child needs an ability not far short of Holbein and in general most artists of the last decades have failed miserably. For where the grotesques and paraphernalia of Wonderland have proved fruitful in invention, Dodgson's beloved heroine has seldom taken on the importance of the cantus firmus within his great stories. Perhaps this judgement is too harsh, for we are often dealing with book illustration aimed at a commercial market and most publishers, for survival, must play to this aspect of mammon.

If I were asked to choose an artist who does the greatest justice to Carroll's vision I would have no hesitation in offering the masterly work of Mervyn Peake as the first contender: of the traditional painted picture series, Peter Blake's 1971 suite for Looking-Glass must take precedence. The list is long and varied and there are other distinguished artists, as also much dross. Often the best work can be found in the non-English editions; needless to say, these are seldom to be seen outside their own sphere other than in the hands of collectors.

Alice will adventure on as long as the culture that created her continues, but we must be aware of the possibility that the mirror world into which this child has entered can be shattered by the false prophets of morality. In so doing she may be lost to us all.

Graham Ovenden, Barley Splatt, Cornwall, 2012

Please note that this writer's modest contribution to the Alice phenomenon is mainly student work, being commissioned by his teacher Peter Blake in 1968 and completed in 1970.