1865 – 2015: 150 years of the Macmillan Alice
It’s sometimes said that Lewis Carroll’s Alice books were the origin of all later children’s literature, and I’m inclined to agree. There were books for children before 1865, but they were almost all written to make a moral point. Good children behave like this; bad children behave like that, and are punished for it, and serve them right. In Alice, for the first time, we find a realistic child taking part in a story whose intention was entirely fun. Both children and adults loved them at once, and have never stopped doing so. They are as fresh and clever and funny today as they were a hundred and fifty years ago.
This is an excerpt from Philip Pullman’s foreword to The Complete Alice by Lewis Carroll.
The story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland begins with its creator, Charles Ludwidge Dodgson. Charles was a natural storyteller who regularly invented new stories to entertain his friends. He knew that for the best stories to work, the child must be at the centre of the narrative so that their imagination could be led to marvellous and wonderful places.
Inspired by real events and a real child, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was dreamt up on a summer’s day in Oxford. The river outing with the Liddell family on 4 July 1862, from Folly Bridge to Godstow, is now famous for the Alice story to which it led. Charles L. Dodgson travelled downriver with the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford (the college at which Charles was a lecturer in Mathematics), and his family. Along the way, he told the family a story about a bored little girl called Alice who goes looking for an adventure. The family loved it and at the end of that day, the daughter, Alice Liddell, asked for the story to be written down. Charles L. Dodgson agreed and began writing the manuscript the next day. It eventually took him two and a half years to complete.
Charles L. Dodgson first met the publisher Alexander Macmillan on 19 October 1863. Macmillan loved Alice and agreed to publish it under Dodgson’s pen name, Lewis Carroll. This was to be the beginning of a long and very successful publishing relationship between the two men, although one that was not without difficulties: Lewis Carroll was a most particular author.
At the time, the arrangements were that Lewis Carroll paid for the printing. This meant he was entitled to call the tune. He sent instructions to the printers that they should let the pages dry for long enough before binding.
In the earliest known letter between Carroll and Macmillan that has survived, dated 11 November 1864, Carroll asks that his book be covered in “bright red” rather than the usual Macmillan “green” used for the cover of The Water Babies. Macmillan sent a copy of an earlier children’s poetry book, The Children’s Garland edited by Coventry Patmore (1862), as it was covered in “a red cloth such as I fancy you want”.
After a couple of alternative titles for Carroll’s story were rejected - Alice Among the Fairies and Alice’s Golden Hour - the book was published by Macmillan in 1865 as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The entire print run sold out quickly. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a publishing sensation, beloved by children and adults alike. Among its first avid readers were Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde. The book has never been out of print and has been translated into at least 176 languages.
How did Charles L. Dodgson become Lewis Carroll?
The pen name Lewis Carroll is closely related to Charles L. Dodgson’s real name. Lewis was the anglicised form of Ludovicus, the Latin for Lutwidge (Dodgson’s middle name). Carroll is an Irish surname similar to the Latin name Carolus, from which comes the name Charles. So ‘Charles Lutwidge’ translated into Latin as ‘Carolus Ludovicus’, and when translated back into English, it became ‘Carroll Lewis’. Finally, this name was reversed to make ‘Lewis Carroll’.
It’s not only Lewis Carroll’s words that captured readers’ imaginations; John Tenniel’s illustrations brought the story to life and remain in our collective consciousness to this day.
At the time, John Tenniel was already well-known as a lead cartoonist for the political magazine Punch. Carroll had also admired his depictions of animals in an edition of Aesop’s Fables so he approached him to illustrate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Tenniel agreed.
Printing Tenniel’s images required careful preparation. First, his drawings that had been done on paper had to be carved into woodblocks by engravers. The carvers chosen were the Brothers Dalziel, who were among the most skilled engravers of the Victorian age. Their woodblock engravings were then used as masters for making the electrotype copies; since metal is more robust than wood, these were made of metal for the actual printing of the books. The image below is of an early electrotype from the Macmillan archive and was used to print Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The original woodblocks are now held by the British Library.
Tenniel’s artwork gave us the original image of Alice. When his eyesight began to fail, he gave approval to Macmillan for Harry G. Theaker to complete sixteen colour plates for the 1911 one volume edition of the book. Today, when most people think of Alice with her blue dress, blonde hair and Alice band, it’s Tenniel’s illustrations and Harry G. Theaker’s colouring that they’re remembering.
Over the years, other illustrators worked with Macmillan to create new imagery for the much-loved classic. Many of the electrotypes for printing the images remain in the Macmillan archive; because of this exclusive access to the original artwork, the Macmillan edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains unrivalled in the quality of its images and in the magic of the illustrations themselves.
The Alice you see in this section is from The Little Folks’ Edition of 1907.
Scroll through the timeline below to see all those who were involved in the creation of the many different editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, from when it was first conceived of in 1862, to Macmillan Children’s Books The Complete Alice, published on 4 July 2015 to coincide with Alice Day.
Macmillan Children’s Books has produced a range of beautiful new editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or all ages and occasions. You can order any of these from panmacmillan.com.
Published on 4 July 2015 to coincide with Alice Day, this stunning anniversary hardback book reproduces every word of Lewis Carroll's masterpiece and its famous sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. With a foreword by Philip Pullman and Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations, coloured by Harry G. Theaker.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
For readers aged 7 – 11 years
Paperback books of the original text with John Tenniel’s original black and white illustrations.
The Macmillan Alice Colouring Book
For readers aged 7 - 9 years
This gorgeous colouring book features all of Wonderland's favourite characters – the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen and of course Alice herself - just waiting to be brought to life with colour.
The Little Folks’ Editions
For readers aged 5 – 7 years
Unique miniature hardbacks with gilded edges, abridged for younger readers with original colour illustrations.
The Nursery Alice
For readers aged 3 – 7 years
In Carroll’s own words: “to be thumbed, to be cooed over, to be dogs’-eared, to be rumpled, to be kissed...”. Abridged for younger readers, with gilded edges and original colour illustrations.
Busy Alice in Wonderland
For readers aged 1 - 5 years
Busy Alice is a perfect introduction, for young children, to Lewis Carroll's magical story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Push, pull and turn mechanisms bring the story to life.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Carousel Book
For readers aged 4 – 12 years
This gorgeous edition of Lewis Carroll's famous children's classic is a fabulous book that opens out into a carousel shape, showing Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in six visually enchanting 3-dimensional scenes.
The Hunting of the Snark
For readers aged 7 -9 years
Lewis Carroll's magnificent nonsense poem features an unlikely cast of characters drawn from the ‘Jabberwocky' in Through the Looking-Glass. This irresistible version is illustrated, and has an introduction by, Chris Riddell.
Discover more Alice in Wonderland books.
The image of Alice we are familiar with is that of her in a blue dress and white apron, but what colour dress did Lewis Carroll envisage when he wrote the story and prepared it for publication?
During the latter part of the nineteenth century, processes were being developed to make it cheaper to mass-produce colour images.
The very first coloured representations of Alice appeared not in the original books but in associated products and were printed using the chromo-lithograph process. An early example of this is a music cover for The Wonderland Quadrilles, composed for the pianoforte and published around 1872. This illustration, which was drawn by Tenniel and approved by Carroll, shows Alice in a red dress - you’ll find her in the top two circles in the picture below.
Alice appeared with a red dress on the front cover of the People’s Edition in 1887, however there was no colour inside this edition - the illustrations were all black and white. Red was also the colour that Carroll had wanted for the cover binding of the very first edition of Alice in 1865, rather than the usual Macmillan green.
The first colour to appear inside any of the books was that in The Nursery Alice. After Tenniel had redrawn and enlarged the illustrations into a more suitable format for nursery readers, the book was engraved and printed by Edmund Evans. Evans was the leading Victorian printer and had a reputation for improving the colour printing of children’s books. In that edition, published in 1889 and approved by Carroll, we see Alice in a yellow dress, a white apron with blue trimming and blue ribbon and stockings. This colour was also used in the postage stamp case invented by Lewis Carroll, which was produced by Emberlin and Son in the same year.
Alice’s initial appearance in a blue dress is in The Little Folks’ Editions of both Alice and Through the Looking Glass, published by Macmillan in 1903. Alice wears a blue dress and headband, white apron with yellow trimmings and yellow striped stockings.
In The Little Folks’ Edition of 1907, Alice appears in a red dress throughout the book.
Back to blue
After Carroll’s death in 1898 and by the beginning of the twentieth century, Tenniel’s eyesight was fading. Harry G. Theaker was commissioned to colour sixteen plates of the Tenniel illustrations for a one volume edition of Alice and Through the Looking Glass published in 1911.
The blue that he used for colouring Alice’s dress, together with the white apron and blue striped stockings, established the iconic dress colour that has remained in the Macmillan editions ever since. It was later adopted by Walt Disney for their 1951 film.
Other colour versions followed. John Macfarlane recoloured the illustrations for the 1927 Macmillan Children’s Edition, maintaining Alice in a blue dress but with a red trim to her apron.
In the 1990s, Diz Wallis was commissioned to add to the Theaker colourings to create a complete set of Alice images for both books.
So what colour did Carroll intend the dress to be?
We might say that it was the yellow dress that he approved for The Nursery Alice. It is the classic image of Alice in a blue dress with a pocketed white apron, blue “Alice band” and ankle strap shoes that is remembered and will be re-enacted in costumes at events around the world.
True to the story of the Macmillan Alice, each edition we have published to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, sees Alice in the original colour she appeared in for each book: yellow in The Nursery Alice, red in The Little Folks’ Edition and blue in The Complete Alice.
I have always had a soft spot for tricksters, outsiders, and those who survive outside the normal rules. They can be dangerous friends, of course, with their motley of helpfulness and mischief, but they see things that others do not.
Perhaps it is no surprise that when my youthful imagination tumbled headfirst into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I was particularly enchanted by the Cheshire Cat.
The Cat is not exactly a comforting presence. He has “very long claws and a great number of teeth”, and possibly the will to use them. But he is good-natured in his fashion, if treated with courtesy, and a guide in a world of strangeness.
The Cheshire Cat is a law unto himself, even by the anarchic standards of Wonderland. I always admired the way that he goes where he pleases, disappears at will, fears nothing and meets all disapproval with a grin. He is aware of the madness of the world and his share in it, but it does not bother him.
Even the domineering, execution-obsessed Queen of Hearts is helpless in the face of the Cat. How do you decapitate a floating head?
“A cat may look at a king.” The Cheshire Cat tells us that we can peer at the powerful, make up their minds about them, criticise their faults and mock their follies. And sometimes the kings, queens and rulers of the world are more frightened of a mocking grin than anything else...
Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland almost reads like a catalogue for some of literature's all-time most fascinating and memorable characters. As we travel through the world of Wonderland at Alice’s side, each creature or person she meets seems more fantastic than the last. From the twitchy, waistcoat-wearing White Rabbit to the hookah-smoking, poetry-spouting Caterpillar; from the quirky (and sometimes downright rude) Hatter to the curiously wise Cheshire Cat with his incessant grin.
But while I have loved the characters of Wonderland since childhood, one always stood out to me as one of those characters that is so much more than meets the eye - the infamous, hot-tempered Queen of Hearts.
Her catchphrase—Off with her head!—might be one of the most well-known lines from any book in history, and yet we know surprisingly little about her from her brief run-ins with Alice. We know that she is easily enraged and apparently vain (at least, where her skills at croquet are in question). She has ten children—a full suit—and yet her relationship with the King hardly seems like the stuff of fairy tales. She does not tolerate white roses.
And she bakes. Quite well, one might discern, from how the Knave is willing to risk his head in order to steal a batch of her homemade tarts.
When I set out to write Heartless, my origin story for the Queen of Hearts, taking stock of all these little details felt like gathering clues. Why is so she so angry, so fast to call for someone’s head? What does she have against white roses? And really, what’s with the tarts? I set out to answer all these questions and more in telling her backstory. I took my fair share of liberties with Wonderland, of course, but ultimately I wanted to write Heartless in a way that didn’t contradict anything in the original Alice, but could rather shed light on some of the most baffling elements of the world, and the Queen’s character in particular. I wanted to show who she might have been, many years before Alice fell down the rabbit hole. I hoped to write the story, not of a rage-filled queen, but of a girl with much bigger dreams and passions. A girl wholly unaware that fate had its own plans for her.
Though Heartless is written as a prequel to Alice, and starts the Queen on her path toward infamy, I hope that it will rewrite the Queen’s narrative in some way. Cast a new light on who she is, and who she was, and make sense of some of those baffling details that Carroll gave to us.
I hope that after reading Heartless, readers will feel like I have for so many years—there is indeed so much more to this queen than we thought.
the White Rabbit,
by Chris Riddell
Before I knew a thing about him, John Tenniel was a hero of mine, or rather, I should say, his white rabbit was. As a child I copied Tenniel’s illustrations from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland obsessively, particularly his drawing of the White Rabbit in waistcoat and frock coat, umbrella tucked under one arm and a pocket watch in paw, a look of suppressed panic in his eye. I loved analysing the shading, intricate lines of cross-hatching, the folds of the sleeve, the tilt of the head, that wide-eyed rabbit stare. Tenniel was one of the reasons I became an illustrator.
Later, I began to notice old Punch cartoons with that familiar cross-hatch style, and a particular look to the figures. The British lion, Britannia, a forlorn Bismarck getting off a ship – they could all have stepped out of the pages of Wonderland. Then I saw in the corner an elegant monogram: “JT”.
Born in 1820, Tenniel began his career as a painter – one of his murals, Saint Cecilia, adorns the House of Lords. But in 1850 he joined Punch as the magazine’s principal political cartoonist, a post he held for 50 years. It was this work that caught Charles L. Dodgson’s eye and led him to approach Tenniel to illustrate his book Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. Published subsequently by Macmillan as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with 34 exquisitely engraved line drawings, the book became a classic that eventually eclipsed Tenniel’s work as a cartoonist.
Chris Riddell, Children's Laureate 2015 - 2017, is an accomplished artist and the political cartoonist for the Observer. He is also the author and illustrator of the Goth Girl and Ottoline series for children. Several of his books have won awards, including the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Costa Children’s Book Award.
As well as celebrating the heritage of The Macmillan Alice, we also wanted to bring Alice, her curiosity and her friends to a new audience. What better way to do that than ask the next generation of designers over at YCN creative network to interpret the story themselves and come up with a new cover? Watch the video below for a behind-the-scenes look at the wonderful entries and the twelve winners.
by Vanessa Tait
Vanessa is the author of The Looking Glass House. Published by Atlantic Books, it is a novel informed by family treasures and stories of the real Alice, her great-grandmother, Alice Liddell.
There are actually two Alices: the one who fell down a rabbit hole and is stuck at the age of seven and a half, and the other one, the “real” Alice, who grew up, left Lewis Carroll behind and became – eventually – my great-grandmother.
The confusion between the two is understandable, even though the fictional Alice grows still more famous every day and the real Alice lived out her life in relative obscurity. Lewis Carroll told the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to the real Alice on 4 July, more than 150 years ago, on a boat trip, and it’s easy to see the character of the little girl shine through: she is by turns imperious, inquisitive, rude and endearing.
The Alice that lives on in my family is akin to that. My mother remembers sitting on her knee as her beloved only grandchild and being fed sugar (Alice’s other two sons were killed in WWII). Her letters to her husband are full of affection: "My Dearest, I think you would have laughed to see your wife skirmishing about this afternoon like a little one," she writes, before describing games of stag and blind man’s buff.
And then there is the imperious Alice who was turned by the years into something harder: she forbade Caryl, my grandfather, a career as a concert pianist, for example. And she stopped another son from announcing his engagement by kicking him under the luncheon table – because his fiancée had the temerity to be American!
Caryl cannily saved everything of Alice’s: her brown taffeta dress, her opera glasses, all the photographs Lewis Carroll took of her as a girl. When I was a child I used to go upstairs and pull on her gloves, flick through her cheque stubs. It transported me – and it is a testament to the power of the book that the next phrase has grown hackneyed – down the rabbit hole. I would become Alice for a little while, transported to the foreign country of the past. And I still feel a connection: I look like her – the real Alice that is – and she has also inspired so much in my creative life.
Alice Day, when Alice was dreamed up
Alice Day in Oxford, 4 July, all day
To commemorate the famous boat ride that inspired the book, the city of Oxford hosts all manner of Alice in Wonderland events, including tea parties, croquet, storytelling and workshops.
What better way to celebrate all things Alice than throwing your own Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. This helpful guide contains tips on decorations, food and activities… everything you need to throw your own Alice-themed party.
Make your own bunting using this template. Just print it and cut the triangles out carefully and then stick them to some string. You can make the bunting as long as you like. Make sure an adult helps you with the cutting out.
Make a Mad table cloth. Buy a plain tablecloth and decorate it by using stamps, paints or sticking on pictures of characters.
Scatter playing cards or shapes like hearts and clubs on the table.
Food & Drink
Attach Drink Me and Eat Me labels using ribbon or string to bottles, teacups, bowls, plates and anything else that holds food or drink.
Remember, nothing matches on the Mad Hatter’s table so use an assortment if different sized cups, plates, bowls, even teapots – anything goes.
Decorate the cocktail sticks for your sausages or cheese and pineapple with Alice designs. All you need to do is print out pictures of Alice and her tea party companions, or clubs and hearts, and glue them to the ends of the sticks.
Bake cookies or mini cupcakes and write Eat Me on them in icing. You can also bake cookies in the shape of the letters Eat Me or teacups, rabbits, or shapes from playing cards.
If you are feeling adventurous you could even bake a cake in the shape of a mushroom or a teapot.
Activities & Games
Find the White Rabbit
Gather a lot of teacups and put them upside down on a table. Hide the White Rabbit (or any other suitable Alice character) underneath one of them.
Guests take turns and lift one cup per turn – you can shuffle the cups after each turn if you’d like. The winner is the one who finds the White Rabbit.
Get your guests to paint some hard-boiled eggs to look like Humpty Dumpty, the best one wins a prize.
Queen of Hearts Says
Everyone has to follow the orders of the Queen of Hearts or it’s ‘Off With Their Heads’. Play this game like Simon Says; if you don’t do what the queen says then you are out. The last one standing is the winner.
Good parties need good costumes. You and your guests can cut out and colour this Mad Hatter mask.
For more ideas on decorations, costumes, games, food and drink, click here.