Author Spotlight: Lewis Carroll

I still remember the illustrations from when I first read Alice in Wonderland. They were done in beautiful gouache, and the book was so big that I had to prop it up on my knees to read it. I spent many, many summer afternoons pouring over this book, and when I finished, I moved on to other books by this author with the same relish. When I was a junior in high school, the school library weeded out a substantial anthology that claimed to have everything the author had written. Even better, it was illustrated by John Tenniel, whose Alice will always be the definitive one for me. And while I will freely admit that I never sat down to read the book cover-to-cover, I will say that it has occupied a place of honor on my shelf ever since. If you are looking for something similar, we do have a copy of it in our collection! My edition was a bit different (it was taller and had a picture of Alice standing by a door), but regardless of appearances, the content of both these books is the same.

If you’d prefer something a bit more portable (or if these massive anthology is checked out), you can also check out some of these other titles by Carroll. Think of it as a “best of” list or even just a good place to start.

Any list you write about Lewis Carroll needs to include Alice in Wonderland. Young Alice is bored of sitting outside while her sister reads (poor Alice has nothing else to do!) so she ends up chasing after a strange white rabbit (in a waistcoat, no less!) and tumbles down a hole into the mysterious and magical world of Wonderland. There, she meets all manner of unusual, welcoming, and sometimes even frightening creatures, from the Cheshire Cat to the Mad Hatter and March Hare to the Queen of Hearts. This is the classic adventure that started them all, and a personal favorite of generations of readers.

Now, there are some readers who end up combining Alice in Wonderland with the next book on this list: Through the Looking-Glass. (Many times, movies will show them as one big story, so it’s no wonder people get confused!) In this librarian’s humble opinion, this sequel is in fact the better of the two books, and I have always enjoyed these stories immensely. Alice is bored again when she discovers that she can go through the mirror into another world. Of course, now that she’s there, she’s not entirely sure how to get back home, but there is so much fun to be had that it really doesn’t matter. As with Alice in Wonderland, Alice has a run-in with a whole host of interesting characters, including the White Knight and the Red and White Queens. A chess theme runs throughout the entire story, and it’s great fun to read it through to its conclusions.

If you’re feeling very ambitious, you can also check out The Annotated Alice which contains both books in one convenient, annotated book.

Jabberwocky is one of Carroll’s great nonsense poems, and probably his most famous. The story is about a brave young warrior who sets out on a quest to slay a monster known as the Jabberwock. His father warns him before he goes that the beast is dangerous and deadly, but gathering up his courage (and a very special sword), the young man sets out on his quest. This edition is beautifully illustrated by Charles Santore, really bringing the poem to life for a new generation of readers.

And speaking of nonsense poems, we have The Hunting of the Snark (an agony in eight fits). Like Jabberwocky, The Hunting of the Snark is another strange work to slowly unwrap. The story is a little confusing (being a nonsense poem, after all!), but it tells of a group of ten on a quest to find the Snark. But, the narrator warns, there is a likelihood that the creature they are tracking might not be a Snark at all, but the highly dangerous Boojum. And if that’s the case, then they are all lost. Whether it turns out to be a Snark or a Boojum will be left for the reader to discover.

And we’ll wrap up this list with another poem: Phantasmagoria. This collection contains a selection of other poems as well. Phantasmagoria is the longest of Carroll’s poems, more so than both Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark, and is a favorite amongst Carroll fans. The poem focuses on a man named Tibbits (bit of an odd fellow) who decides to have a candid conversation with the ghost that has been haunting him. Amusingly, the two strike up a conversation when Tibbits asks outright why the ghost is haunting him in the first place. And the ghost, in turn, explains why it is that the dead haunt the living. But, don’t worry–it’s not as sinister as you would think. The poem is actually quite fun.

Erin

I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.