Ronald Reichertz, The Making of the Alice Books: Lewis Carroll's Uses of Earlier Children's Literature (McGill-Queens University Press, 2000)

What inspired Lewis Carroll to write his classic tales about that intrepid English girl, Alice? Contemporary readers may think his stories sprang full-blown from his brow in Zeus-like fashion. Others may focus their attention on the influence his work has had on such later children's literature as L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, in which another little girl finds herself in a fantasy land. But Ronald Reichertz details the origins of Carroll's Alice books, how they drew on familiar themes, situations and characters in the children's literature of his time, and how they sometimes parodied those familiar elements.

Reichertz argues convincingly that Carroll drew from a wide variety of sources, including nursery rhymes, fairy tales, didactic stories, and stories of the world turned upside down (stories or poems about nonsensical events). Much of Reichertz's The Making of the Alice Books consists of examples of earlier stories and poems from which Carroll drew inspiration. Among these examples is Charles Lamb's 1805 poem "The King and Queen of Hearts," a version of the famous nursery rhyme. In Lamb's version, the knave who steals the Queen's tarts is put on trial before the Queen, much as Alice is tried by the Red Queen. The books of William Pinnock, published in the 1820s and 1830s, taught mathematics and the sciences by using a question-and-answer format, a format Reichertz sees echoed in the conversations Alice has with herself. Reichertz finds possible literary forerunners for Carroll's "Jabberwocky" and talking flowers as well, and points out that Carroll parodies Jane Taylor's famous poem "The Star" (1806) when he has the Mad Hatter recite the line "Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!"

In the course of delineating the sources for the Alice books, Reichertz presents a fascinating history of children's literature of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Fans of Carroll will find much here to appreciate.

[Thomas Wiloch]