Trippy, surreal and innovative, Lewis Carroll’s world offers escapism in spades.
The 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland still has people the world over enchanted, well into adulthood.
And it all started in Oxford. The story was reputedly dreamed up by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson on a boat trip along the Isis from Folly Bridge to Godstow, inspired by Alice Pleasance Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church.
Tourists still swarm to Oxford’s Jabberwocky trail of the hotspots – such as Binsey’s treacle well and The Old Sheep Shop (now the Alice Shop) in St Aldates. On July 6, the sixth and “delightfully scroobious” Alice’s Day rolls into the city, conjured up by The Story Museum (Visit storymuseum .org.uk for details).
More than 20 historic sites will take part (including the Ashmolean Museum, the Bodleian Library and Christ Church) and there’s a Mad Hatter’s tea party, street events and a whirlwind of free events. The theme this year is Nonsense, and this is part of the enduring appeal of the classic, reckons Betsy Benn, award-winning homewares entrepreneur based in Cheltenham’s Royal Crescent.
Among Betsy’s wonderful wares are her popular handmade Alice prints, framed in Oxford, below right. “Alice in Wonderland is just such a fantastic tale – where nothing needs to make sense and everything is possible,” says Betsy. “We don’t get that so much in literature now, even with wonderful books like Harry Potter – maybe we are much more cynical readers, or we expect our authors to have all the answers – who knows!
“The riddle of the story was never intended to be answered. I think maybe that’s the allure – it’s unfinished, open to interpretation and naivety. “That’s why we designed our print not to be a replication of the story, but pick out the highlights and present images and snippets of the feel of the stories. Of course it helps that it has had so many film interpretations...”
The world beyond the looking glass has proved fervent breeding ground for creatives ever since, not least on the music scene, including Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 White Rabbit hinting at the hallucinogenic powers of those mushrooms... not to mention that smoking caterpillar.
Literary experts fervently deny that Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll) was fuelled by drugs. But there are a whole host of homewares on offer which allow you to bring a little of that... magic home – whether that means something bright and bonkers or perhaps more subtle.
And, as these page show, there’s stuff for all budgets so you can afford a slice of Wonderland even if your budget is more Alice in Sunderland than Alice in Wonderland.
Curioser and curiouser.
Mad Hatter's tea party...
- For pretty tea party crockery, try Ansari, in the Clarendon Centre and Covered Market ansariboutique.com
- Maite Alegre near North Leigh holds vintage cream tea furniture painting workshops – the next one is April 24, 10am–5pm. Visit maitealegre.co.uk
Magical ideas... and prizes
For weird and wonderful gifts along the Wonderland theme, look no further than the O3 Gallery in Oxford Castle Quarter and the shop at The Old Fire Station, Gloucester Green. The Literary Gift Company and Oxford University shop also have quirky bookworm gifts.
And HOTcraze (HOTcraze.co.uk) offers gadgets and gizmos to entertain the big and little kid in all of us.
HOTcraze is offering Oxford Times readers an exclusive promotion code – H&G10% to use online. There are also five of these cutely surreal mushroom mini vacuum desk cleaners up for grabs to lucky readers who send their name and email address to competitions@HOTCRAZE.co.uk (subject ‘Homes and Gardens/Mushroom’), by Thursday. Happy shopping!