A beautifully compiled book, The Annotated Alice features
both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking-Glass
and What Alice Found There, as well as the original illustrations,
several introductions, essays, an excised chapter, and hundreds of annotations.
It's wonderfully comprehensive.
The editor has a clear goal: to present Carroll's books
in their original context, so contemporary readers can appreciate them
as much as they were when first published. It's a sad fact, but today
few young children, Alice's primary audience, can comprehend Carroll's
rich sense of humor or incredible in-jokes and allusions. This book aims
to change that, letting readers appreciate the 19th-century, upper-class
British society that Alice called home.
It makes a big difference with many common questions.
What is a dormouse? (A British squirrel - now endangered.) A chimneypiece?
(We call it the mantel.) What does catching a crab mean? (It's a rowing
error - the oar sticks in the ground, then pops out and hits the rower.)
Why is a raven like a writing-desk? Beyond these, another
of the major tasks of the annotator is including all of the several dozen
original songs and poems that Carroll satirizes in the books - references
that would have been as clear to Victorian children as Weird Al spoofing
Puff Daddy today. Two of my favorite parts of the book are the play-by-play
annotations describing Looking-Glass's chess moves, and Sir John
Tenniel's artwork - reproduced faithfully and clearly, and including
several original sketches.
This task of clarification is an admirable goal. However,
the editor understandably eliminates a lot of conjecture into the psychological
undertones or thematic implications of the Alice stories, other
than the most obvious concepts. This is unfortunate for adult readers
looking for insight into Dodgson's life (and, of course into his - by
modern standards decidedly scandalous - relationship with a beautiful
girl twenty years his younger), or into the psychological issues that
reveal themselves through the books. But these issues have been analyzed
so thoroughly elsewhere that they could not possibly be included in any
brief way. Thankfully, the book includes a detailed bibliography of both
biographies of Dodgson and analyses of his books.