The children’s book that’s really for adults

For books that are all about surprising transformations, it should perhaps be no real surprise that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are among the most frequently adapted and reinterpreted stories ever written. Alice falls down a rabbit hole, and steps through a mirror, into worlds where anything can happen, where even the sense of self is transformed: where a drink can make you shrink and a mushroom can make you grow; where babies turn into pigs and a little girl can become queen; where flowers and animals and playing cards all speak but logic and learning slip out of grasp. …

But from its very first publication, Alice broke the bounds of “children’s literature”, to the extent that The Nation newspaper was able to suggest the book was more for adults than children, really. Carroll knew what he was doing here: he’d made the canny decision to have it illustrated by John Tenniel, who was not associated with children’s books – rather, he was famous as a Punch cartoonist, sending up political figures. Tenniel was the more powerful in the relationship – he was so unhappy with the quality of the initial print run that he insisted it be redone at great cost. The publication of Through the Looking-Glass, meanwhile, took so long because Carroll had to wait for his schedule.

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