It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about Alice in Wonderland that so catches popular imagination. For a children’s story first published in 1865 it has shown remarkable endurance, and is more popular today than ever. Over the years it has been rendered by a thousand different illustrators with (in my opinion) various rates of success. I thought I would help sort the wheat from the chaff and offer up my favourites.
1. Sir John Tenniel. What I always considered to be the ‘original’ illustrations, although apparently Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll) actually produced his own rather lacklustre illustrations first. For me these carefully rendered pen and ink drawings represent ‘classic Alice’ and are always what I think of first when I think of Alice in Wonderland. Even after all this time they are still charming, still funny and still amongst the best Alice illustrations out there.
2.As I can’t decide on an absolute favourite I suppose I’ll do this in chronological order, so next up would be Arthur Rackham. Diluted watercolour and pen and ink, produced in 1907. To the eyes of modern children these illustrations probably look quite old fashioned, but I’m attracted to the muted colours – it all looks quite sepia toned and romantic (although I wonder if I’m wrong here and maybe they were a hell of a lot brighter in 1907). Either way, you can’t fault Rackham’s penmanship; this is another quality affair. As you’ve probably guessed after my post on Harry Clarke I like my hand drawn/hand painted illustrations to be meticulously detailed so Arthur Rackham will do quite nicely for me. I did have a go at copying one of his illustrations but failed utterly, which makes me even more impressed on a technical level.
3. What a difference 60 years makes, next up is Salvador Dali’s illustrations from 1968. Given that Dali is the surrealist painter and this is the drug trip/dream masquerading as a children’s story, this is obviously a match made in heaven (and to top it all off it was even the ’60s!) The way to enjoy this is probably to sit down for a smoke and a read on a quiet summer afternoon. However, try as you might you just won’t get a copy of this unless you have a large amount of cash to spare. I’m amazed that a Dali illustrated edition of Alice is not in print because I would think there’s a large amount of cash to be made for someone; I certainly wouldn’t hesitate about snapping up a copy. The colours bleeding together here are absolutely astonishing; beautiful!
4. The very first copy Alice in Wonderland that I read at primary school was illustrated by Peter Weevers in 1989. These were the illustrations that first conjured up Alice in my imagination, and I’m still in love with this edition although I sadly don’t own a copy (another one out of print). The watercolours are dreamy and lovely, perfect for the feel of the story (and I have managed to copy these ones with some success, though nowhere near as good as Weevers’ mastery).