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Alice's Journey Beyond the Moon

"annotated and edited" by by RJ Carter illustrated by Lucy Wright

(Telos, £6.99, 91 pages, paperback, also available in deluxe, signed and numbered hardback edition priced £30.00 published August 2004.)

Review by John Toon

Fictional accounts of Alice's Third Adventure are not exactly hard to come by, and the great variety of style and content available cover scanmeans that we can pick and choose to please ourselves. There are faithful homages for the traditionalists and promiscuous reimaginings for the neophiles. So, just to get this out in the open, I'm a neophile, and Alice's Journey Beyond the Moon is one for the traditionalists. It's so traditional, it's rather preciously presented as Lewis Carroll's lost manuscript "annotated and edited by RJ Carter". It's so traditional, Carter acknowledges the help of a member of the Lewis Carroll Society in ironing out "temporal anomalies" in his text, which I take to mean biographical details.

Biographical what? You heard. This is where Alice's Journey distinguishes itself from its peers--in the depth of its research. The text is peppered with covert references to events in the lives of Carroll and his muse, Alice Liddell, even to the tiniest trivia. Yes, it's a very clever homage. But like too many deeply researched books, Alice's Journey trumpets its cleverness in bragging displays of erudition that detract from the story itself. Perhaps it's Carter's intention specifically to mimic the annotated editions of Carroll's works, who knows? And granted, the alternative would have been to have only the scholars in the audience notice the sly nods and in-jokes. But isn't this just as bad--a game for scholars that then tries to explain the joke? A footnote on every page painfully detailing some throwaway phrase you ought to recognise, boy, if you'd only done your homework?

The original tales, of course, can stand on their own merit irrespective of whether or not you notice the social, mathematical and game-related allusions. Shorn of its footnotes, Alice's Journey is something of a mixed bag. Characters of Carter's own creation are few but, on the whole, entertaining; better still are his Carrollian parodies of nineteenth century children's verse. On the downside, Carter seems compelled to shoehorn in as many characters from and gratuitous references to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass as he possibly can, to the detriment of his own story. It soon becomes a tiring checklist which, coupled with the relentless in-your-face research dumping, kind of saps all the fun out of the enterprise. Credit must go to Lucy Wright's illustrations for their valiant effort to maintain some sort of levity during this otherwise cumbersome read.

In conclusion, ponderous. Alice's Journey should have striven, like its forebears and like many of its fellows, to entertain first and instruct second. I feel that Carter's done the opposite, and wrong-footed himself in doing so.

 


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