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Lewis CARROLL (1832-1898)
Alice in Wonderland (1865)
Alice through the Looking Glass (1871)
Abridged by Adrian Farmer
Sir John Gielgud (reader)
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouthshire, U.K., March 1987 and May 1991
NIMBUS NI 1723 [4 CDs: 59.42 + 57.55 (Wonderland); 63.19 + 73.16 (Looking Glass)]

Experience Classicsonline

One of the fabulous creatures Alice encounters during her sojourn in Wonderland is the Mock Turtle. “I don't even know what a Mock Turtle is,” she says to the Queen of Hearts, who replies, naturally enough, “It's the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from.” One supposes that Alice, as well as those children, her contemporaries, who read or were told her story, did know, at least, what mock turtle soup was. I don’t, and neither do my own children, latterly transformed into giants towering over their father. They have never encountered Sir John Gielgud either, and I wonder what they would make of the passage in this reading where he assumes the Mock Turtle’s singing voice in a spirited rendition of Turtle Soup:

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!


It was at this point in Wonderland that my suspicion that this might all be a bit too whimsical for children today became a firm conviction.

Both books are read in abridged versions, whole chapters omitted being preferred to condensing the text, though there is a little of that too from time to time. Alice in Wonderland begins with a reading of the poem which forms a kind of preface, All in the Golden Afternoon, and which recounts how Carroll first had the idea of inventing the story during a boat trip with three young charges, one of whom was called Alice. Extracts from six of Mendelssohn’s string symphonies are used as interludes between the chapters of Alice in Wonderland, and also to accompany the reading of this poem. This is undeniably atmospheric music, but it didn’t seem to me particularly appropriate to the text, though more so than the William Boyce symphonies which are put to the same purpose during the reading of Through the Looking-Glass. All the music is taken from Nimbus recordings, beautifully played by the English String Orchestra conducted by William Boughton.

It was a pleasure, after many years, to come back to these two books. They have both been subjected to much analysis, but in truth there seems to be little hidden meaning or moral intended. I was particularly struck by the quality of much of the poetry. ‘You are old, Father William’ is delicious stuff, and Jabberwocky is a masterpiece. The Walrus and the Carpenter is marvellous too, though perhaps slightly overlong. The story of Alice in Wonderland is more varied than that of Through the Looking-Glass, and the characters more droll, but I do think that the distance in time which separates us from Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) is now so great that today’s children will have difficulty identifying with Alice or wishing to accompany her on her adventures.

Sir John reads these two works in – the expression is chosen with care – inimitable fashion. His voice is instantly recognisable, and his admirers will know what I mean, I think, when I say that he brings each character vividly to life without ever losing sight of his own. In no way does his voice ever become that of Alice, the Queen or Humpty Dumpty. Delightful though it is in its way, I think it much more suited to an adult audience than to one of children.

The four discs are accompanied by a handsome booklet in which each chapter recorded is illustrated by one of the beautiful original drawings by John Tenniel.

William Hedley


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