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Lewis Carroll Observed

Edited by Edward Guiliano Crown, $12.95

By Eleni Constantine

ALICE IN WONDERLAND has been appropriated by grown-ups. This collection of critical essays analyzes the book and its author (both as Charles Dodgson, Oxford math teacher, and under his pen name, Lewis Carroll). The range of subjects and types of criticism reflects an alarming degree of adult interest in Carrolliana. If there is one book that should not fall victim to Lit Crit, it's Alice.

The eminent scholars of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America raise though-provoking questions that would enchant any professor composing an exam on the Carroll Oeuvre. On Alice: "In what sense is Alice funny?," "What poem does the Duchess' song parody?," "How have illustrators other than Tenniel approached Alice?." On Carroll: "How can he be considered a Pre-Raphaelite?," "Why did he adopt a pseudonym?" and, predictably, "What about all those pre-pubescent little girls?." Intriguing, as exam essays go.

But everyone who read the Alice books and the Snark and found pure pleasure there must shudder to read the Jungian dissection of Carrol's motifs, the parsing of Carroll's imagery, the analysis of his prose style.

Fortunately, any one of the pictures in Lewis Carroll Observed is worth a thousand of the words. From a facsimile of Carroll's first known nonsense poem (a mock epic) to his pictures of little girls (he was a surprisingly talented photographer) to his unpublished sketches for Sylvie and Bruno, the illustrations in this book are on a higher level than the coffee-table. But the weight of the text may confine the book there.

Maybe it is unfair to want to deny Carroll to critics. Clearly, they love him--none of the essays in this volume was solicited. And perhaps the Carroll cultists who observe his work here themselves find their approach just a bit ridiculous. One long essays ends: "The Hunting of the Snark is its own best and self-sufficient allegory." Exactly.

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