Book Hunting Adventures: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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The story of how I found two editions of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll in his hometown, Oxford!

While in England for the first time in the fall of 2015 with my mom, we split up for a day. She stayed in London and I went off to Oxford, home of Lewis Carroll. 150 years earlier Carroll's Alice in Wonderland was published and while I hadn't gone to Oxford with the intent of purchasing not one but two more copies of the novel that is what happened. After seeing where the real Alice and the Mathematician who wrote for her and her sisters lived at Christ Church College, I went to Alice's Shop. It is not only a shop that sells only Alice merchandise, but is in fact the shop that Alice Liddell herself would buy candy in. It is also the model for John Tenniel's drawing of the “Old Sheep Shop” in Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. 
Alice's Shop and St. Philip's Book Shop next door.

He drew it as if it was in a mirror so it was all backwards. Being there felt like being in a strange world where I was in the looking glass myself, but one where Alice was still a book. Every where I looked in the small shop I saw Tenniel's art, everything you can think of was there including a small, blue paperback copy of Alice that was the 150th Anniversary edition. It was only £5 and it was light so I didn't think twice before buying it with some other souvenirs.

The story of buying Alice in Oxford should have ended there, if I had not followed a sign that said “books” down an arch covered alley and up a flight of small stairs next door to Alice's Shop. Honestly, that's how most of my adventures happen, accidentally following signs. St. Philip's Books was a lovely crowded shop. I noticed that English independent shops are different than ours here. It is hard for me to explain, but the workers seem to be in a constant state of cataloging the shop's collections at small tables overflowing with books. The atmosphere was studious and calm. Upon walking in the one of the first books I saw was a yellow cloth edition of Alice and Through the Looking Glass that had an illustration I did not recognize.

 From the 1930's, it was illustrated by J. Morton Sale. A slightly rare edition that they were only asking £10 for it, so what could I do but buy it? It still intrigues me to this day because of the illustrations because Alice appears more like a scantily clad teen than a seven year old! While paying for Alice I noticed a glass fronted cabinet that contained first edition Inkling books, including many of Tolkien's. The woman who was helping me saw my gaze and said “You're free to look through them, but I'm going to be honest you probably can not afford them. We've priced them properly and thus ridiculously high.” I was sorely tempted, but did not take up her offer. I had plans to see if I could find cheaper Tolkien works at another shop I had on my list!

Until next time,
keep hunting those books,