Wednesday, September 7, 2016

On advice from a caterpillar

Alice's adventures in Wonderland after falling through the rabbit hole gave us wonderful and enduring characters like the cheshire cat, the caterpillar, the mock turtle, the pig-baby, the mad hatter and of course so many nonsense verses, and endless discussions about the parallel world of mathematical concepts of space and time being alluded to.

While Lewis Carroll or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson illustrated the first manuscript himself, he approached illustrator John Tenniel to create the drawings for the first published version. I do think those first illustrations contributed hugely to how we visualised these characters. Here is one of the grinning Cheshire cat for example from the 1869 publication. This cat has a will of its own!

The original Alice (Alice Pleasance Liddell, who was 10 years old when Dodgson cooked up this story for her) the inspiration behind the story apparently had dark hair, but different illustrators have generally shown her with golden hair.

Here is one by Leonard Weisgard (1949).

The Princeton University Press brought out recently a special 150th anniversary edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with rarely seen illustrations by Salvador Dali. I particularly like the Caterpillar illustration:

I do think Dali's Caterpillar has the right hallucinated and wise appearance!

The Caterpillar Alice encounters in Wonderland is exactly three inches high and smokes a hookah. Which sounds absurd of course, but seems perfectly in place with all the goings-on at Wonderland.

The Caterpillar is also very logical, though he may sound rude to some.

For example, when asked who she was by the Caterpillar, Alice in her confused state stammers, "I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, Sir, because I'm not myself, you see." The Caterpillar retorts "I don't see," leaving no room for confusion.

It is also at the Caterpillar 's command that Alice delivers one of the most delightful poems in the book:

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
     "And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head-
     Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
     "I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
     Why, I do it again and again......."

The Caterpillar gave Alice a parting advice: "Keep your temper." Alice was surprised, "Is that all?"
"No," said the Caterpillar wisely.

Alice in Dali's illustrations, appears as a wispy shape of a little girl (with a skipping rope?) with her shadow in all the illustrations. Dali created an illustration for each chapter of the book, apart from a frontispiece.

I find Alice's figure in Dali's illustrations to be like an observer in a dream. Particularly in this one, drawn for the chapter 'The Caucus Race and a Long Tale' about all the animals swimming through the 'pool of tears' created by Alice, and trying to come out dry from it! The little-Alice figure is hardly to be seen at the right bottom corner.

If you want to see more, you can have a look at the other Dali illustrations at

or see the video about the Dali illustrations at