Friday, August 14, 2015

The Complete Alice, by Lewis Carroll

On a hot summer's day in July 1862, two reverend gentlemen rowed three little girls in a jolly boat down an Oxford river. To pass time one of the  gentlemen, mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, told the Liddell  girls a charmingly nonsensical tale about a young girl (he later called Alice) who fell down a rabbit hole and had the most amazing topsy-turvy adventures.  It was the middle girl, also called Alice, who was so taken with the story that she begged him to record it all for her. So, in 1864, Dodgson presented the girl with a handwritten copy entitled Alice's Adventures under Ground, of which he'd meticulously written and illustrated himself.

A year later, after adding two new episodes featuring the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter, and with black-and-white illustrations by Punch cartoonist John Tenniel, the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published, with Dodgson using the pseudonym "Lewis Carroll" - the Latin forms of his Christian names.

One hundred and fifty years later, Carroll's "little dream-child" and her companions have become a part of our cultural fabric. My daughters utterly love this book because of its whimsical nature and the sheer chaos of the ideas behind it.  Carroll makes no attempt to even construct his chapters - they just effortlessly exist.  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has never been out of print, captivating generations of readers, child and adult alike. It has also apparently been translated into more languages than any other book except The Bible.

One of the reasons for the book's amazing success is that Carroll's main aim was to delight children rather than to educate them. So its awash with parodies of well-meaning cautionary verses, and the usually self-deprecating Carroll thumbs his nose at the moralising tone which was common in books for children at the time. His zany, over-the-top characters,  from the nervy White Rabbit, to the bombastic Queen of Hearts and the hyperactive Mad Hatter,  are all fantastically realised inventions of an obviously clever and creative mind.

The 150th anniversary is spurning a plethora of versions of this much-loved children's book, including the impressive The Complete Alice, published by Macmillan, the original publishers. From its elegantly embossed white front cover, to the shiny miniature hearts above the page numbers and the hand-coloured reproductions of John Tenniel's illustrations, this is a beautiful and highly collectable tome.  And I love the red gold leaves that give it a real sense of special.

As the title suggests, it's a collection of all the adventures : Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the sequel Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1872). The Complete Alice also includes an introduction by Philip Pullman, author of the fantasy series His Dark Materials, along with a selection of letters and introductory pieces written by Carroll for earlier editions. Also featured are the magnificent plates and vignettes of Tenniel's illustrations, coloured by Diz Wallis and Harry Theaker.

Artists been drawn to this classic tale, including surrealist Salvador Dali in 1969. His stylised silhouette Alice floats through a fittingly psychedelic interpretative landscape. But it is invariably John Tenniel's original illustrations, with his contemplative and beautifully drawn Alice, that most people see in their mind's eye when they think of Alice and her adventures. 

The book has also inspired some modern children's classics, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum, Ethel Pedley's Dot and the Kangaroo and Norton Juster's highly imaginative The Phantom Tollbooth. It has been reinterpreted for stage, television and film, including a silent film in 1903, the classic animated Disney version in 1951, and Tim Burton's darkly exuberant 2010 film, starring Canberra's own Mia Wasikowska as Alice and the inimitable Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. No doubt there will be more.

So perhaps now is the perfect time to revisit this classic children's book, sing a verse or two of Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat or recite Jabberwocky, and help celebrate the wonderfully wacky, nonsensical, joyous world created by the sometimes controversial but ultimately enduring Lewis Carroll.  I know that my 6 year old has snapped up this edition and insists on reading a chapter a night, such that she treasures the pictures, the stories and the characters.  I asked he why she loves it and her only reply was - "because I might have thought of these".  Carroll definitely has found his way into the hearts and minds of children, unlike any other author.





The Lives of Colonial Objects - Edited by Annabel Cooper, Lachy Paterson and Angela Wanhalla

Around my house I have a selection of objects from my grandparents and my parents.  Like my mother's whistle.  She was a teacher who began her career in the outback of Australia.  The whistle was for a number of reasons, including if your were caught in a sand storm.  Blow the whistle to attract the rescuers attention. It's objects like that that have these amazing stories about real people, and their adventures that I love.  Historic objects invite us into the past through their very tangible and immediate presence.  What they have say sheds a thousand beams on how we lived, how we related to each other and how we respected and treated the natural environment.

This utterly brilliant book, The Lives of Colonial Objects, is a series of biographies, of fifty objects from our collective past.  They are explored, thought about and ultimately revealed.  At the very beginning we meet Te Haupapa, the last of 12 canons from the Maketu.  Paora Tapsell traces the history of this little cannon and the adventures of its materials, its brothers and the destruction it cause in the Maori wars, it also the legacy it leaves - including a park, now in memorial to the people of the region.  Also another early taonga, a putorino (nose flute) that currently resides in the US' Peabody Museum, is the possession of an early colonial trader who collected objects from all over the Pacific to take back to Salem, of all places  How it got there is the tale of the artefact, and only one example of the amazing stories in this sumptuously illustrated, and highly readable collection.

Each artefact receives its own chapter, written by a wide raft of historians and journalists and a companied by a full-page colour photograph and a short essay.  Every  author, historian, archivist, curator and Māori scholars has some kind of personal link to the object and that makes their writing both personal and alive. 

Apart from canons and cloaks, the more obvious choices, there are also everyday objects, like billies, children's toys, diaries and scrapbooks - all with histories quite distinctively different from their initial intended purpose.

The only regret is that these are pictures and the delight to be had from touching and holding these things, sucking in the power of their past, smelling their aura, is denied.  Alas, they are catalogued and off limits.  But not all, like the cannon, which lives with the elements in a park, for small boys to play with.  And I like that.  Like Rome's Black Peter hands and time will distort the shape and definition. 
Some of the objects featured are treasured family possessions such as a kahu kiwi, or a stunning music album or a grandmother’s travel diary.  I have my own mother's diary around somewhere, so I know how these collections a really special insights into such feats of travel.  Then, on a grander scale there's the tauihu of a Māori waka, a Samoan kilikiti bat and, believe it or not, a flying boat - all telling their secrets of travel, a common thread in the book.  Not housed in a museum are a cottage and a country road (yes, a road), Katherine Mansfield's Hei Tiki from her trip to the Urewera's, slippers with a Maori flax pattern and my favourite, a home made brass plaque of dog wonder Rin Tin Tin, crafted by a Japanese prisoner of war.  These artefacts are all poignant reminders of our unique past.  
I absolutely loved delving into this book.  The Lives of Colonial Objects offered me a creative, innovative approach to history and not only a rich resource but a brilliant conversation starter, too.
Annabel Cooper is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work at the University of Otago. Her edition of Mary Lee’s The Not So Poor and her contributions to Sites of Gender: Women, men and modernity in southern Dunedin explored gender, place and poverty in nineteenth-century New Zealand. 

Lachy Paterson is a Senior Lecturer at Te Tumu: School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies, and a member of the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture at the University of Otago. He has published the only monograph on Māori-language newspapers, Colonial Discourses: Niupepa Māori 1855–1863

Angela Wanhalla teaches in the Department of History and Art History at the University of Otago. Her most recent book, Matters of the Heart: A history of interracial marriage in New Zealand (Auckland University Press, 2013), won the Ernest Scott Prize for best book in Australian and New Zealand history in 2014.

Face to Face Paul Moon & Jane Ussher - Penguin

Historian Paul Moon is a regular at Groove, having written two fantastic books about early contact: Encounters: The Creation of New Zealand. A History. Auckland and The Voyagers: Remarkable European Explorations of New Zealand.
However, if you Wiki him, you'd learn that he's produced about 22 books coving topics as varied as Aussies Fitzroy and that tyrant bastard Rob Muldoon.  So for a photo biography book on prominent Kiwis he's the perfect person to take on the challenge.  In Face to Face, Moon accompanied by award-winning photographer Jane Ussher who takes very simple but iconic images.

The result is a stimulating, humorous and sometimes controversial, sometimes revealing set of portraits of twelve remarkable Kiwis.  Recently, I asked Paul why he chose these twelve instead of others.  No politicians currently in the House, he replied.  And no one who's already been covered - like Colin Meads - no disrespect.  The cover has Brian Timothy Finn staring vacantly out to space, a white top of his tousled trade mark locks trickling down his forehead.  It's any easy image to feature because it's so photogenic, and a little obvious.  More down to earth is Hone Harawira in his Warriors kit, or Michael Houston in his performance tux, or looking older but definitely in possession of a Lear Jet, Bob Jones smoking his pipe in defiance to his nay-sayers. 
Sir Richard Hadlee provides plenty of insides as an icon himself, on his life and where cricket is going.  Hone gives us a softer, more surprising view to his Warrior presence.  The Mother of our nation is really Alison Holst and she gives us what is perhaps her last candid interview,, to leaders in their fields such as public law specialist Mai Chen, concert pianist Michael Houston given her on setting Alzheimer's.  It's a gentle but fascinating reconstruction of a life in food and her ambitions to teach Kiwis to cook and appreciate food.  Sir Miles Warren has always been presented in architectural films as an underachiever but finally he gets to really expound his ideas and his visions - he is quite a visionary. 
Perhaps the best interview is of or most over achiever - Mae Chen, who is now all over the media, advocating for the Chinese Community and challenging constitutional law at all levels.  Her Taiwanese upbringing and Southern location was a real revelation, at least to me.  but a definite explanation to why she is who she is today.  And that is the lesson from this book.  in the context of these portraits, away from the one eyed spin of our daily assassinations we can learn what others have learned and why they are who they are.  That is the real taonga of this book.
Dr Paul Moon is Professor of History at Auckland University of Technology. Among his
twenty-five published books are This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional
Maori Cannibalism, New Zealand in the Twentieth Century: The Nation, The People,
biographies of Governors Hobson and FitzRoy, and the Ngapuhi chief Hone Heke, and
Encounters: The Creation of New Zealand, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Ernest Scott
Prize in History.

Jane Ussher is one of New Zealand’s foremost portrait photographers. For 29 years she
was the chief photographer at the New Zealand Listener, after which she took up a career as a freelance photographer. Her work has featured in many books, including collections of her own photographs. Her landmark book Still Life, which documented Scott and Shackleton’s historic huts in Antarctica, was a finalist in the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Coast: A New Zealand Journey, which she co-produced with writer Bruce Ansley, won the Illustrated Non-fiction category of the same awards in 2014. In 2009 Ussher was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to photography.

The Griffith Review 49: New Aisia Now.

The Asian century is in full swing, generating unprecedented economic and social power. In coming decades this will profoundly change the world, and the lives of all those living in the world’s most populous region.
Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now showcases outstanding young writers from the countries at the centre of Asia’s ongoing transformation. They write about the people and places they know with passion, flair and insight.

All born after 1970, the contributors are cultural agenda setters at home who explore issues of identity and belonging in the new world that is unfolding.
Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now, co-edited by Julianne Schultz and Jane Camens, takes a journey through the region’s diversity, featuring a new generation of literary stars who will shape the way we understand the complexities of culture, politics and modernisation.

Sheng Keyi serves up a very poignant and moving short story about the cruel politics of unwed mothers and illegitimate children in a modern China that has forgotten the traditions of the Concubine.  In many ways, Keyi's tale is brutal and unforgiving, and a plague on Chinese society.

Murong Xuecun writes of the real revolution in modern China.  We are bombarded by the xenophobic fears of rich Chinese taking over our farms, our real estate and, God forbid, our roads.  Xuecun puts all this back into perspective looking at what an oppressive society China still is.  The essay is a focus on how the internet is slowly changing the behemoth that is the People's Republic.  It's fascinating to learn about how backward social media (as it stands) s in China but of how it's quietly undermining a society that puts the interests of the Party before those of its citizens.

With the spectre of the TPP looming around us we are right to mistrust our leaders for their secrecy and sneakiness on this.  Miguel Syjuco's essay investigates the monopolies, nepotism, tax evasion, protectionism and the personal relationships between business and policy makers in puppet economies like the Philippines.  He also reminds us that while the Marcos empire has long gone we should not put this part of the world out of our minds, the very real threat of corruption into our backyard is still there.  This is a country that could easily become a superpower in the Pacific, almost by stealth, and one to watch.

Mind you, Asia's middle Class is now roughly twice the size of the population of the United States, so the spending power is definitely there.  In the next year, argues Cameron Muir that number will multiply five-fold.  He takes a look at the clash between mining and agriculture as greedy Australian multi-culturals scour out the landscape in the name of commerce. 

Dewi Anggaeni writes a very surprising piece about how she rejects her cultural roots and Islam, in the face of fundamentalism, and how she found her way back through forgiveness and understanding of other cultures. 

Another surprise s Romy Ash's short story of a widower who takes a cathartic tour of Japan.

Another piece of interest is Sally McLaren's observations on how the Japanese government has adopted various pop culture icons in an attempt to be hip and cool and to make their policies and messages attractive.  Perhaps John Key could learn from a Hello Kitty interpretation of the upcoming Flag Referendum.  Or the RMA could be explained by Super Mario Brothers.  Perhaps not.

And perhaps to bring us back down to earth, Moht Parikh writes of a thief in his uncle's rich neighbour's house, and a night of adventure and mayhem.  Sometimes 1st world problems happen in the third world.  Reminding me, at least that I do not live in a unique place after all.

Asia now is a treasure trove of writing. I must confess I'm only half way through because I want to savour the experience as long as I can, for those train journeys to and from work, to nurture my soul and remind me of other worlds, many close to home.  some are already here and I must embrace them, because denial that Asia is coming is useless.