Friday, March 05, 2010


A Week of Alice: Rodney Matthews

Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll

Illustrated by Rodney Matthews

This edition is nothing short of gorgeous. It starts with a thick, sturdy, slipcover beautifully decorated with the White Rabbit framed in a stone heart, two inset gleaming blue hemispheres, gilded letters in writing that speaks of fantasy, and a front edge that cuts back to reveal a bit of the fully illustrated cover. This all adds up to a pretty strong announcement that you should expect something special inside.

The cover itself, too, opens out into a painting of part of Matthews' conception of Wonderland, replete with all the arches, towering mountains, and ringed moons you would expect from a noted painter in the field of fantasy. he adds thoughtful details, though, in card suit-shaped trees, heart motifs sprinkled everywhere, and an Alice standing, looking at the terrain she is about to enter. Gorgeous.

A foreword by the illustrator explains his fascination with Alice and his history of painting scenes from her for calendars and prints, making this book released in 2008 by Macmillan and in 2009 by Templar Press in the US a culmination of sorts. It is clear, too, that Wonderland is somewhere he has spent some time in his imagination, and he fills it with loving touches, such as small insects playing music among the foliage and about a million tiny instances of hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs hidden among the images.

He is one of the few illustrators who has really managed to pick some different scenes and moments, as well as the classics we are used to seeing, making this a great treat because it pulls you back to the text a little more. In the Pool of Tears, for example, we see not only the small mouse swimming, but also a wonderful crocodile grinning wide underwater as he beckons the wee fishies closer and breather out heart-shaped bubbles.

The feeling of the whole certainly shows Matthews own usual style in the forms of landscapes and buildings alike, as well as putting on display a strong sense of humour. The tea party, for example, features a strikingly rabbity-looking house, while in the same picture, a tree bears a kindly smile, and a stag beetle holds a skein of yarn for a spider as she spins. On the whole, the illustrations are fun, wonderfully imagined and planned out, and rendered in either a softish black/white for the smaller decorations or the most stunning colour for the full-page or double-page spreads. The ivory pages and large format only serve to further the feeling that what you have in your hands is something well more than your ordinary edition.

I must admit that of the many new versions of Alice out this past year, this is definitely my favourite. Now to see whether Tim Burton's Wonderland can compete with this visual treat, as he's known for a few gorgeous details, himself. I'll report back!

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