The Tenniel Illustrations to the “Alice” Books

Michael Hancher

“The Times, the chief newspaper of Victorian England, first reported the existence of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland toward the end of an unsigned omnibus review that appeared the day after Christmas 1865. . . . For the Times reviewer, as for other contemporary readers of Alice’s Adventures, it was not Carroll’s text but the set of illustrations by John Tenniel that made the book worth noticing. Three days earlier the Pall Mall Gazette had praised the story as well as the illustrations, but it emphasized the illustrator’s name, not the author’s. Later the children’s journal Aunt Judy’s Magazine would begin its review of the book with a concise and telling statement of priorities: ‘Forty-two illustrations by Tenniel! Why there needs nothing else to sell this book, one would think.’

“In the [20th] century, Carroll’s fame as the author of the two Alice books has eclipsed that of his artist-collaborator. For a mix of reasons, Lewis Carroll, like Alice herself, has become a creature of popular legend. And yet Tenniel’s own contribution to the books is probably as well known as Carroll’s—perhaps more widely known, for there must be thousands of persons (children and adults alike) who are familiar with reproductions of some of the drawings, despite never having actually read the text.

“Despite, or perhaps because of, the paucity of scholarship on Tenniel, over the decades much legendary tradition has accumulated around several illustrations, and I have tried to give it a thorough and critical hearing.

“I think of this as a first book on the subject, not the last.” —from the introduction

1985   152 pp. This title is no longer available.