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“My Alices”: Writer John Crowley shares his connection to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

By Harry Ransom Center

John Crowley, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, is an American author of fantasy, science fiction, and mainstream fiction. He published his first novel, The Deep, in 1975, and his 14th volume of fiction, Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, in 2005. He has taught creative writing at Yale University since 1993. A special 25th-anniversary edition of his novel Little, Big will be published this spring. Below, he shares how Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland influenced his own work.

 

A critical (best sense) reader of my work once wrote an entire essay about allusions to and quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland books in a novel of mine called Little, Big—a very Alice sort of title in the first place. Some of the quotes and allusions, while certainly there, were unconscious; the turns of phrase and paradoxes and names in those books are so ingrained in me that they simply form part of my vocabulary. I first heard them read aloud: my older sister read them to me when I was about eight years old. I don’t remember my reaction to Alice in Wonderland—except for absorbing it wholly—because for certain books read or heard at certain moments in childhood, there is no first reading: such books enter the mind and soul as though they had always been there. I do remember my reaction to Through the Looking Glass: I found it unsettlingly weird, dark, dreamlike (it is in fact the greatest dream-book ever written). The shop where the shopkeeper becomes a sheep, then dissolves into a pond with Alice rowing and the sheep in the stern knitting (!)—it wasn’t scary, but it was eerie because it so exactly replicated the movements of places and things and people in my own dreams, of which I was then becoming a connoisseur. How did this book know about such things?

 

Another profound connection I have with Alice I only discovered—in delight—some years ago in (of all places) the Wall Street Journal. In an article about odd cognitive and sensory disorders, it described “Alice in Wonderland syndrome:” “Named after Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, this neurological condition makes objects (including one’s own body parts) seem smaller, larger, closer or more distant than they really are. It’s more common in childhood, often at the onset of sleep, and may disappear by adulthood…”

 

I have tried to describe this syndrome to people for years, and never once met anyone who recognized it from my descriptions. In my experience it’s more odd a feeling than this, and more ambivalent: I feel (or felt, as a child, almost never any more) as though my hands and feet are billions of miles distant from my head and heart, but at the same time I am enormously, infinitely large, and so those parts are in the same spatial relation to myself as ever, or even monstrously closer. It was awesome in the strict sense, not scary or horrid, uncomfortable but also intriguing. I wonder if Carroll (Dodgson, rather) had this syndrome. I’ve thought of including it on my resume: “John Crowley was born in the appropriately liminal town of Presque Isle, Maine, and as a child suffered from or delighted in Alice in Wonderland syndrome.”

 

The Ransom Center’s current exhibition Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is on view through July 6.

 

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Now open: “I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America”

By Jennifer Tisdale

The exhibition I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America opens today at the Harry Ransom Center. Running through January 6, 2013, the exhibition explores the life and career of American stage and industrial designer, futurist, and urban planner Norman Bel Geddes (1893–1958).

Read what T Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and Metropolis magazine have to say about the exhibition and Bel Geddes.

More than 300 items in the exhibition reflect the broad range of Bel Geddes’s interests and work and demonstrate how he shaped and continues to influence American culture and lifestyle. A polymath who had little academic or professional training in the areas he mastered, Bel Geddes had the ability to look at trends and the contemporary environment and envision how they could affect and alter the future.

“When you drive on an interstate highway, attend a multimedia Broadway show, dine in a sky-high revolving restaurant or watch a football game in an all-weather stadium, you owe a debt of gratitude to Norman Bel Geddes,” said exhibition organizer Donald Albrecht, an independent curator and curator of architecture and design at the Museum of the City of New York.

All materials in the exhibition except two loaned items come from the Norman Bel Geddes archive at the Ransom Center.

Futurama car. Photo by Pete Smith. Image courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation.
Futurama car. Photo by Pete Smith. Image courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation.

Helen Moore shares insight about Oxford and the making of the King James Bible

By Jennifer Tisdale

In April, Helen Moore, Fellow and Tutor in English at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford, spoke about the history of the King James translation at the Harry Ransom Center. The talk is now online on YouTube.

Moore was lead curator of Manifold Greatness: Oxford and the Making of the King James Bible, an exhibition held at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford in 2011. Her illustrated talk addressed the role played by Oxford in the translation of the King James Bible, the methods used by the translators, and some of the items displayed at the Oxford exhibition.

The event was co-sponsored by Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford and The Wall Street Journal.

The Ransom Center’s related exhibition The King James Bible: Its History and Influence is on view through July 29.

Scholar discovers missing bassoon line in Ravel manuscript

By Elana Estrin

While studying the 1911 manuscript of Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose” ballet suite, housed at the Ransom Center, scholar Arbie Orenstein discovered the largest error in all of Ravel’s scores: a bassoon line that’s been missing from the published edition for the last century.

Orenstein’s discovery comes just in time for the centennial of “Mother Goose,” which premiered in Paris 100 years ago this Saturday.

“The first time I looked at that bassoon part, I thought, ‘What on earth is this instrument doing here?’” Orenstein told Cultural Compass. “But it’s perfectly written, complete with dynamics and phrasing, and it makes absolute sense according to all the rules of orchestration. I said, ‘Wow, this is really something.’”

The “Mother Goose” manuscript is housed in the Ransom Center’s Carlton Lake collection, which also includes manuscripts by Claude Debussy, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Igor Stravinsky.

In addition to the bassoon line, Orenstein, Professor of Music at Queens College, found other discrepancies between the 1911 manuscript and the widely used 1912 published score. Orenstein plans to publish a new edition this year presenting all of the differences between the manuscript and the published score. Philadelphia Orchestra librarian Clinton F. Nieweg will help communicate the changes to orchestras around the world.

While preparing the new edition, Orenstein consulted with musicians from the New York Philharmonic, and the Philharmonic became the first orchestra to incorporate Orenstein’s changes in a concert on December 28, 2011.

“It was quite exciting to hear that bassoon part for the first time in 100 years (not that I’m 100 years old!),” Orenstein wrote in an e-mail after the performance.

Though the “Mother Goose” manuscript contains more errors than any other manuscript he’s ever worked with, Orenstein says he doesn’t criticize Ravel. Ravel had his mind on the new ballet he’d already begun composing, “Daphnis et Chloë,” the manuscript of which is also housed at the Ransom Center. On top of that, Stravinsky was composing what would become his seminal ballet “The Rite of Spring” and playing it for Ravel.

“All of these exciting things are happening. He just may not have given his fullest attention to ‘Mother Goose,’” Orenstein said. “It’s a battle for perfection which you can never win. Ravel said the same thing: ‘My goal is technical perfection. I can strive unceasingly, but I know I’ll never be able to achieve it.’”

Nevertheless, Orenstein is doing what he can to help Ravel achieve perfection posthumously.

“The greatest battle of any composer is that of wrong notes. That’s why these new editions based on the manuscripts are so important. If you’re going to interpret the music, you have to do what Mahler said: read between the notes. But you have to have all the right notes.”

Working with music publisher Ernst Eulenburg Ltd., Orenstein plans to continue publishing new editions of Ravel’s major orchestral works, some of which are housed at the Ransom Center.

“The point of departure is the Harry Ransom Center. Without that, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” Orenstein said. “There’s a tremendous amount that needs to be looked at, sorted out, and new editions made. There will be plenty more coming out of Texas, I can tell you that.”

Learn more about Orenstein’s discovery in a Wall Street Journal article by reporter Anne S. Lewis.

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