Reinventing Old Friends

I read a post tonight about Alice in Wonderland by C. M. Rubin, which someone had retweeted. It made an interesting point regarding the reader’s imagination and illustrated books.

“The other thing that we have actually focused a lot on in the exhibition is that when the original manuscript was created, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) included pictures. The pictures were an integral part of the story. There aren’t actually a lot of descriptions of the book’s characters including Alice. Instead, on the first page of the original manuscript, there is a picture of Alice. It doesn’t tell us that Alice wears this kind of a dress or has this kind of hair. It leaves it very open for generation after generation to reinvent Alice. In our exhibition there are Alices from the 1930’s, Alices from the 1960’s, and even more contemporary Alices. Each generation has been able to reinvent Alice in the style of that generation. This says something about the richness of the book too. Each generation finds it appealing and wants to contribute something new.”

This is an interesting point for me personally, since the project that I am currently working on is a re-working of a turn-of-the-century children’s story. The original (or at least the version that I have) was illustrated by Herbert Paus in a watercolour Art Deco-ish style – lovely, but a bit dated for today, and the illustrations were essential for the story.  I know that there may not be a market for illustrated books today (at least you know in advance that you are greatly stacking the deck against yourself if you are trying to market one), but it really needs the art to accompany the story. What I would really love to do is slightly animated panels done with HTML5, where trees and grass and clouds move. Perhaps one day I’ll do it – I would love to see see it on an iPad. :)

But anyway – back to the article. Since I’ve taken a children’s book and updated it to an alternative-reality Victorian London, with other fairy tales woven into the original story and all of the scary or disturbing bits emphasised more than you could have done for Victorian-era children, I’m very much in favour of updating old tales while remaining true to the essence of the story. That was the most difficult thing during the bulk of what I wrote, actually – keeping true to the core story while twisting it. I’d fallen in love with it as a child, and I didn’t want to show it disrespect in my rendition of the tale. Time will tell if I succeeded, I suppose.

Is the little girl with the blonde bob in 1913 still the same girl that lives in my story, even though she is now several years older, of mixed race, and quite capable of defending herself against anything from rough men on London streets to giant black wolves and the Queen of the Unseelie Court? I very much hope so.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *