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Creating Alice in Wonderland Trivia

by John W. Perry

Being a longtime resident of Hawai'i, an island landfall Alice never visited, I mostly drink beer and read books and articles about Alice in Wonderland. Like Alice, I have always preferred books with pictures in them.

Alice sitting with Mock Turtle and Gryphon. A 1907 Wonderland illustration by Arthur Rackham.

The idea of creating a book devoted to trivia related to all-things-Alice occurred to me while researching (and drinking) my favorite draft beer, Guinness, an Irish, not an English, dark brew. In the 1930s and 1950s, advertising wizards hired by the Guinness brewery in Dublin used images of Alice and her non-beer-drinking acquaintances in their marketing literature. Like drinking beer, a book devoted to trivia about Alice and her worlds, both historical and modern, seemed to be a noble calling. In addition, the printed foundations of Alice's worlds, Lewis Carroll's two Alice books (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There), are a seemingly endless gold mine (or rabbit hole) filled with linguistic, historical, and social oddities and curiosities that have fascinated both juvenile and adult readers since England's mid Victorian period, 1860-1885.

Also, I knew that my interest in illustrated Alice books published in the United States prior to 1923, which are public-domain books, as well as post-1923 American and British Alice books in which the copyright has expired, would provide a rich archive of public-domain illustrations. I am especially partial to the Alice-related artwork by the American illustrator Blanche McManus (1870-1935) and the English illustrator Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). The artwork of these two long-dead illustrators is often used to illustrate selected text in the book.

As for myself, I have always traveled with Alice ticketed inside my head. She is a delightful travel companion: She stops for tea with weird characters (some insane); she eats and drinks whatever is handy and does so without complaint; she has admirable self-control when confronted with disturbing situations -- a talking cat, a mad queen ("Off with their heads!"), an imbecilic knight -- and is immune to travelers' panic attacks; she is never xenophobic (fearful of strangers); and she often chitchats with wayfarers regardless of their physical appearance, race, or species -- egg-man or insect, talking playing card or amphibian footman.

I remember the day more than 60 years ago when I first met Alice. It was a rainy summer's afternoon and she sat quietly on the bookshelf of a two-room public library inside a tiny Texas town's red-bricked volunteer fire station. I opened the book and there were drawings of weird animals and deck-of-cards people. "And what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?" asked Alice. What a curious girl, I thought. Yessiree, this is the book for me.

"Don't drop Miss Alice in the mud," said the librarian, entrusting a hardback edition of Alice's curious adventures to my care. "It's the only copy we have."

It is Alice who helped me in my immediate post-college years to opt for a life-altering adventure: the U.S. Peace Corps. On her first life's adventure, Alice went to Wonderland, while on my first life's adventure I went to a Pacific Ocean wonderland called Micronesia ("small islands"), where I served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Though the islands' tropical humidity and rain quickly ruined my paperback copy of Alice's adventures, happy thoughts about the girl-traveler's exotic escapades in Wonderland and Looking-Glass world lingered in mind.

They still do.

 About Us: A Teeny-Tiny Caterpillar-Sized Autobiography

John W. Perry (b. 1943) is a semiretired freelance writer and researcher who lives in Hawai'i. In his younger years, he wrote numerous magazine articles on a diversity of subjects, from European flower history to fantasy travel destinations, from contemporary travel in Micronesia, French Polynesia, Australia, and New Zealand to Malaysian, Micronesian, and Hawaiian history. Before moving to Honolulu in 1977, he lived in Washington, D.C., dividing his time between educational socialization in the bars on Capitol Hill and reading books, including the Alice books, in the Library of Congress, one of the world's great libraries. Recent books read in Honolulu: Seabirds of Hawai'i, Gauguin in the South Seas, The Great Beers of Belgium, and Daily Life in Victorian England (the fictional Alice's real-world time period).


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