Adventures down the rabbit hole

© Photo by the British Library

The British Library is taking its visitors down the rabbit hole this winter, as it brings Wonderland to the heart of London with a temporary exhibition and various events, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

From 20 November 2015 to 17 April 2016, the British Library in association with Pan MacMillan, publishers of Alice since 1865, is hosting an exhibition exploring how Alice captured the imagination of people around the world for so many years and gave birth to multiple adaptations.

Helen Melody, the lead curator of the exhibition, explains: ‘We wanted to focus on the enduring power of Carroll’s original story by looking at the way in which the story has remained remarkably true to Carroll’s book even after decades of re-interpretation, adaptation, re-illustration and parody’.

And she adds: ‘I think that the popularity of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland comes from the strength of the original book with its whimsical episodic story and eccentric characters. (…) The richness of the book means that it has entered our cultural and literary consciousness. It is one of those stories that people feel that they know even if they haven’t actually read the book. You can say that someone is grinning like the Cheshire Cat and you don’t need to explain where the reference comes from’.

For this free exhibition, the original Lewis Carroll’s manuscript, with its John Tenniel’s hand drawn illustrations, returned from New York to the British Library, and will be displayed alongside some other editions by Mervyn Peake, Ralph Steadman, Leonard Weisgard, Arthur Rackham, and many others.

On the opening night, a group of Alice enthusiasts will be in discussion between 6:30 pm and 8 pm and will explore the landscape around this masterpiece. Chaired by broadcaster, writer and co-funder of the-pool.com Lauren Laverne, this talk will feature author and screenwriter Frank Cottrel Boyce, new Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell and debut novelist Vanessa Tait — the granddaughter of Alice Liddell, Carroll’s inspiration for Alice.

On 20 and 21 November, the British Library will also have special late-night events, co-curated by Ark and entitled ‘Fairy tales and Wonderlands’. Both nights will be the occasion to explore Alice’s fairy tale world; through cabaret, storytelling, live music, films and DIY workshops, accompanied by food and drink, the British Library has many entertainments in store to celebrate Alice’s birthday!

Among the diverse shows, visitors will be able to attend creative workshops, led by artist Chloe Spicer, to create their own edible fairy tale book to read and devour; they will also have the opportunity to join the Mad Hatter’s table and enjoy a tea party by a troupe of international actors’ side; they will get to listen to Betty Steeles’ music, notably featured in the film Malice in Wonderland; and they will have the opportunity to attend an immersive story show — Literally Fantastical — around the hidden corners of the library, where they can read Ross Sutherland’s rewrite of a fairy tale in the spirit of Lewis Carroll, hear an audio story about a pigeon and a fetish, listen to fairy tale inspired songs, and many more.

In celebration of Alice’s 150th, the British Library has opened its first Alice in Wonderland Pop-Up Shop, inspired by the earliest drawings of Alice in Wonderland and her friends. Located in the entrance hall of the library and running up until 31 January 2016, this shop has a lot to offer, from stationery to accessories, as well as clothing and home products. It also features the winning products from the library’s Redesigning Alice competition with Etsy and notably includes laser-cut jewelry by London-based designer Rentaro Nishimura.