A major figure in Victorian literature, Lewis Carroll is renowned for his fantastical poetry and fiction, particularly his perennially popular tales of the young heroine Alice and her exploits in the magical realm of Wonderland. He was initially on track to become an Anglican clergyman, but his inquisitive nature led to his employment as a mathematics tutor at Oxford. Also an amateur artist, photographer and inventor, he initially garnered attention for his poetry, but found wider fame and recognition for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), which introduced both his ever-curious protagonist and her strange home away from home. The book quickly became a success, and Carroll was suddenly and quite unexpectedly famous. He returning to his scholarship but later published a poetry collection and subsequently unveiled the long awaited Wonderland sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). A few years later, Carroll published his last highly regarded work, the poem The Hunting of the Snark (1876). He died in 1898, and has been consistently cherished by generations the world over for his exceedingly clever way with words and uniquely warped imagination.
Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in the English county of Cheshire, Lewis Carroll was brought up in a religious household, one of many children of esteemed Anglican priest Charles Dodgson and his wife, Fanny. Home-schooled during early childhood, Carroll was a voracious reader and excelled in his studies, eventually going on to attend Oxford. Though ordained as an Anglican deacon, he gravitated towards scholarship and eventually found work as a math lecturer at his alma mater, the Oxford college of Christ Church. Prone to various ailments and afflicted with a stammer, he nonetheless became a well-known scholar and ran in artistic social circles, developing friendships with poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Scottish fantasy writer George MacDonald, among others. During the mid-1850s, Carroll adopted his pen name and started gaining repute as a poet, with his work turning up in several British publications. Around this time, he also developed a fascination with the recent innovation of photography, taking photos of artistic peers, including Rossetti, and family friends, most notably young Alice Liddell, daughter of his Christ Church associate Henry Liddell.
Though Carroll's relationship with Alice has been the subject of largely unfounded speculation, it is quite likely that she was the primary inspiration for his first novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Eager to escape boredom, the spirited Alice follows a watch-wearing rabbit down a hole, leading to a series of bizarre encounters with talking animals and other odd characters. Marked by inventive wordplay and unbridled absurdity, the story initially featured Carroll's own artwork, but veteran cartoonist John Tenniel provided illustrations for the published version, giving the book its bold signature look with detailed wood engravings. Alice's Adventures was warmly received by readers upon its release, and the author received a surprising amount of attention. Keeping his day job at Oxford, Carroll later wrote Phantasmagoria and Other Poems (1869) and finally returned to Wonderland in 1871's Through the Looking-Glass, a worthy follow-up that featured more weird misanthropes such as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, as well as the nonsensical verses of "Jabberwocky."Five years later, Carroll offered up the extended poem The Hunting of the Snark, the tale of a mysterious beast and those out to catch it. Sporting quirky art by Henry Holliday, it nodded to many elements of "Jabberwocky," but didn't feature the timeless characters of his Alice stories. In 1889, the first part of Carroll's third novel, Sylvie and Bruno was published, and though it was a fantastical tale in the vein of his Alice stories, it was not well received. The second volume did little to further its reputation, and it remained mostly forgotten in later eras.
Giving up on photography in the early 1880s, Carroll continued to work at Oxford in the field of mathematics and published a number of books on the subject. He also dabbled as an inventor, coming up with a method of nighttime note-taking called "nyctography" that used a device of his own creation. Publishing no further fiction after the last half of Sylvie and Bruno, Carroll contended with various health issues during the final years of his life, with many scholars and historians believing he suffered from migraines and/or epilepsy. He died in January 1898, just shy of turning 66, and mere months away from the 20th century. Carroll's death coincided with the end of the Victorian era, which only furthered his reputation as a significant writer of the period. While some of Carroll's works were overlooked in subsequent years, his Alice tales continued to enchant readers.
The ongoing draw of Wonderland also led to many adaptations of Carroll's enchanted adventures. During his lifetime, a play entitled "Alice in Wonderland" ran in London, making its debut in 1886, with several revivals in the following decades. After the turn of the century, a few silent films focused on Alice and her journeys, with varying degrees of faithfulness to Carroll's work. In the 1920s, young animation innovator Walt Disney developed a series of short films that mixed a live-action Alice (played by Virginia Davis and later Margie Gay) with cartoon backdrops and characters. Though the shorts were based on Carroll's writing primarily in concept only, they perpetuated the popularity of the Alice mythos and led to Disney's future ventures into Wonderland. Paramount Pictures unveiled its take on Alice in 1933, with supporting turns by W.C. Fields, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper. In 1936, Disney released "Thru the Mirror," an animated short starring Mickey Mouse that found the jaunty rodent wandering into a magical realm in unmistakable Looking-Glass style.
Disney's best-known iteration of Carroll's Alice stories arrived in 1951, with the full-length animated extravaganza Alice in Wonderland. Featuring Kathryn Beaumont as the voice of Alice, the lively and colorful movie drew from both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Though many literature-loving critics took issue with the film, noting that it rounded off many of the edges of Carroll's prose and removed a lot of its inherent British-ness for American audiences, the movie did find a better reception in later decades. In 1967, the psychedelic hit "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane heavily referenced both Alice books, and Carroll's dream-like writing met with an eager audience in the era's drug-fueled counterculture movement. The 1970s found more Alice adaptations, including a star-studded British film musical that featured Peter Sellers as the March Hare, Dudley Moore as the Dormouse and Michael Crawford as the White Rabbit. In 1977, writer/director/Monty Python member Terry Gilliam adapted Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" into a darkly comedic fantasy of the same name that went to become a cult curiosity.
Due to the open-ended licensing of Carroll's writing, countless interpretations of his work have appeared in almost every media format over the years. Other notable adaptations include Jan Svankmajer's eerie stop-motion film "Alice" (1988), a 1999 TV movie with many British and American acting luminaries and the 2002 Tom Waits album Alice, which features songs for a theatrical production. In 2010, filmmaker Tim Burton's effects-laden live-action take on "Alice in Wonderland," starring Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp, wound up being a massive hit, yet again proving that the legacy of Carroll's work endures, albeit often in radically altered form. In fact, Carroll's wonderfully weird prose and poetry have had endless influence on international pop culture, notably laying the groundwork for C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" series, Hayao Miyazaki's anime classic "Spirited Away" (2001) and many, many otherworldly adventures. Few of Carroll's artistic ancestors, however, have managed to rival his sheer wit and creativity, leaving his collected writings as a truly extraordinary literary achievement.