I had not read Lewis Carroll’s classic stories until one of my sisters was kind enough to get me The Annotated Alice, by the late and great Martin Gardner, who was fascinated with Carroll and his stories, and who became perhaps the pre-eminent Carrollian of our age. I am glad that I waited until I got The Annotated Alice; it makes reading Carroll a particularly enjoyable experience.
Gardner supplements the text, and the classic illustrations by John Tenniel with copious margin notes that help explain a tremendous amount of the background behind Carroll’s stories, both in terms of cluing us in on social mores and historical events that drove the writing of the stories, as well as helping us understand various private jokes inserted by Carroll into the tales he wrote. The notes are very informative, even though one has to leave the story for a significant period of time in order to take them in. I suppose that it may make for somewhat clumsy reading to switch back and forth from the notes to the text, but Gardner made it worthwhile, thanks to the wealth of information that he imparted to the reader. His work is a supreme labor of love, and it is easy to appreciate and catch the enthusiasm with which he happily obsessed himself with Carrolliana. As a bonus, readers will be able to read “The Wasp in a Wig,” which was supposed to have been a chapter in Through the Looking Glass, but got cut out.
This is a very highly recommended work. Those looking for Christmas/Chanukah presents for friends and loved ones in need of intellectual stimulation would be well-advised to get it.