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Winged Wonderland

The Vulture with the Wonderland Name


The griffin in Wonderland (called the Gryphon) is a mythological beast with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. Its real-world counterpart is a species of vulture called the Eurasian griffon or griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus). Like other vultures, this species of vulture is a scavenger that feeds on the carcasses of dead animals. The Gryphon in Wonderland makes cough-like sounds written as "Hjckrrh!" The real-world Eurasian griffon makes grunts and hisses while roosting or when feeding on carrion. This bird is mentioned several times in the biblical Old Testament, but today is nearly extinct in the Middle East's biblical "Holy Lands."  Source: AWT's natural-history files.

Illustration commentary: Top: A hand-colored engraving of the "Gryphon Vulture" by the French wildlife artist Edouard Travies (1809-1868), published in Paris in 1853 in a natural-history book. Travies was one of France's best 19th-century scientific artists and his drawings of birds are among the finest ever published. Bottom: A 1946 colored reproduction of the Gryphon of Wonderland, first drawn by John Tenniel, the original illustrator of the Alice books. Tenniel's mythical creature appears to be asleep, perhaps subtle humor as the gryphon is symbolic of guardianship. Source: AWT's illustrator files.


Scrapbook factlet: During her childhood at Christ Church, a college of the University of Oxford, the young girl that inspired the Alice books -- Alice Liddell (later Hargreaves, 1852-1934) -- collected images of gryphons (griffins) and other heraldic designs that decorated the letters received by her father -- then dean of Christ Church -- and kept them in a childhood scrapebook. Source: J.E. Jones and J.F. Gladstone, The Alice Companion (London, 1998).

Heraldic factlet: At the Univeristy of Oxford, two winged griffins (gryphons) flank the coat of arms of Christ Church, the college (and cathedral) where the author of the Alice books lived, taught, and worshiped for most of his life. Source: The Heraldry Society (website), 25 Apr 2013.

Television factlet: His head and shoulders encased in white feathers, the American comic actor Sid Caesar (1922-2014) plays the Gryphon in Hollywood's 1985 made-for-television film of Alice's adventures. Source: "Alice in Wonderland," DVD, 2010.

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