Spotlight on Wonderland: The Dormouse


Feeling sleepy? You must be channeling the Dormouse, the drowsiest guest at the Mad Tea Party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice first encounters the Dormouse napping at the table, with the March Hare and Hatter using it as a cushion.  It initially sparks her sympathy as she approaches the scene:

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and the talking over its head. `Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; `only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’

Sympathy soon turns to frustration as Alice tries to keep up with the never ending nonsense of the March Hare’s tea party.  Throughout the mayhem, the Dormouse occasionally wakes up to assure the group that he wasn’t sleeping. He also tells a rather perplexing tale about three sisters who lived in a treacle-well.

`They were learning to draw,’ the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; `and they drew all manner of things–everything that begins with an M–‘

`Why with an M?’ said Alice.

`Why not?’ said the March Hare.

Alice was silent.

The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: `–that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness– you know you say things are “much of a muchness”–did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?’

`Really, now you ask me,’ said Alice, very much confused, `I don’t think–‘

`Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter.

As Alice abruptly leaves the tea party out of frustration, the Dormouse falls asleep again as the March Hare and Hatter try to stuff him into a teapot. Poor little guy!


Alice later crosses path with the Dormouse at the trials of the Knave of Hearts. He briefly wakes from his slumber to state the Queen’s tarts were made of treacle. His claim outrages the Queen, who calls for him to be collared and suppressed. It seems this slumberous creature can’t catch a break!

The Dormouse is staple in illustrations of the Mad Tea Party, often flanked on either side by the March Hare and Hatter. Since Tenniel’s original illustrations, artists have provided their own interpretation of this sleepy tea party guest. Many have singled out the Dormouse in their illustrations, shining a spotlight on a character so closely connected to (and perhaps overshadowed by) two of Wonderland’s maddest inhabitants.

Is the drowsy Dormouse your favorite Mad Tea Party guest?

Did you know?

  • Dormice were a popular pet in Victorian England. They are nocturnal, squirrel-like (and adorable) animals, small enough to be kept in teapots with a bit of hay.
  • Dormice are nocturnal animals, known for long periods of hibernation. The Latin word “dormire” means to sleep.
  • Treacle is a sugary, molasses syrup popular in Britain.

Visit the Maryland Room gallery in Hornbake Library from October 2105-July 2016 to explore the Hatter and the rest of the Wonderland cast of characters in the exhibit Alice 150 Years and County…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll: Selections from the Collection of August and Clare Imholtz.

Curator’s Pick: Favorite Item from the Alice 150 Exhibit

I haven’t counted, but I would guess that at least 10% of people who meet me ask if I play basketball. I haven’t. But when you are almost 6′ tall, that’s a fair question. Jabberwocky1

It might seem surprising then that someone who cannot dribble to save her life might choose  Christopher Myer’s Jabberwocky, the Classic Poem from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There as her favorite item in the Alice 150 exhibit. But I have my reasons. Myers’ brilliant recreation Carroll’s most famous poem as a pick-up basketball game is visually engrossing and thought provoking and his striking illustrations pulse with energy. Myers uses his original illustrations in tandem with Carroll’s original poem to create a “Jabberwock” who is the towering king of an urban basketball court…up until now! The oversize, oddly shaped and multicolored font sprawls across the page in between large, fiery-eyed players who seem as if they are somehow inspired to repeat Carroll’s poem.

And if I had to describe why I like this seemingly strange, nonsensical interpretation of a nonsense poem, it might be for the very same reason. Though Myers’ work seems like an incongruous and nonsensical pairing of the modern and the Carrollian, I still feel like I have learned something from it. This is a work meant to be experienced and not just read. There is something inspiring about the towering figures in their poetic intensity. Their fervor could, as a New York Times reviewer concluded,”make you believe that somewhere in Mount Cemetery in Surrey, England, Lewis Carroll is attempting a graceful spin move.”

And if Lewis Carroll can, then why can’t I?  If the library thing doesn’t work out, a second career as a WNBA star/poet could be a solid plan B. Curiouser things have happened.

Visit the Alice 150 and Counting exhibit in Hornbake Library to view more curious versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or explore our online exhibit.

Edith Sandler is co-curator of the Alice 150 Years and Counting exhibit in Hornbake Library and is Graduate Assistant for Instruction and Outreach at the University of Maryland’s Special Collections and University Archives. She will receive her MLS from UMD’s iSchool in May of 2016 and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of California at Los Angeles.


Alice 150 Featured Item of the Month: May

Alice 150 Years and Counting…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll: Selections from the Collection of August and Clare Imholtz is an exhibit highlighting the timelessness of Alice in Wonderland and the life and work of Lewis Carroll (1832-1898). Each month, a new item from the exhibit will be showcased.

In May, visit the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery in Hornbake Library to view a delightful pop-up book designed by Czech architect and artist Vojtěch Kubašta (1914–1992). The cover
of this book has an oval die-cut hole in the center that gives the illusion of Alice falling
down the rabbit hole. The various characters on the inside of the first pop-up can be seen through the hole in the cover of this cleverly designed book.

View all the featured items of the month on our online exhibit Alice 150 Years and Counting…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll.

Heavy Metal Parking Lot and the Jeff Krulik Collection

When aspiring filmmakers Jeff Krulik and John Heyn visited the Capital Centre parking lot on May 31, 1986, they had little more in mind than to document a fan scene at full peak. What they ended up creating was a cult film now considered among the greatest rock documentaries of all time. Just under 17 minutes long, Heavy Metal Parking Lot features local heavy metal fans expressing their enthusiasm for Judas Priest before the band performed in concert that night. Thirty years later, the film continues to resonate with fans around the globe.

HMPL Judas Priest banner

The University of Maryland is proud to honor both the legacy of the film and that of its co-producer. Jeff Krulik, a lifetime Marylander and graduate of UMD (B.A. English, 1983), is an independent documentarian, videographer and cultural preservationist who has built a distinct career tapping into the rich ore of local culture in the Maryland/D.C. region. In 1996, the Washington Post noted that his esteemed documentaries “demonstrate a loving eye for Americana and eccentricity.”

Krulik, Maryland Alumni Magazine, Spring 2001, photo by John ConsoliThe Jeff Krulik Collection, acquired by Mass Media & Culture collections within the UMD Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives in November 2015, includes research files and source tapes for more than a dozen documentaries, as well as photos, catalogs, magazines, guides, posters, ephemera and audiovisual materials that represent a lifetime fascination with the offbeat and unusual. The collection is currently being processed, and will be available to researchers within the next two years.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Krulik’s most iconic film, the exhibit “Heavy Metal Parking Lot: The 30-Year Journey of a Cult Film Sensation”, opening next month in the Gallery at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, illustrates the film’s unexpected path from bootleg copies to international fame. Additional items from the Krulik Collection will also be on display.

Please join us for the opening reception in the the Pavilion of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on May 27 from 6-8:30pm. This lively event will feature short presentations by film scholars, a screening of the film and a Q&A session with Jeff Krulik and John Heyn.

Click here for more information.


Curator Pick: Favorite Item from the Alice 150 Exhibit

For my turn at curator’s pick, I choose two of my favorite illustrated editions on display in the Alice 15o Years and Counting exhibit: Ralph Steadman’s Alice in Wonderland and John Vernon Lord’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Steadman and Lord are both contemporary British artists, known for their book illustrations and art. Each bring an unique perspective to Carroll’s classic tale, presenting the world of Wonderland in refreshing and unexpected ways.

Ralph Steadman (born 1936 in Wallasey, England) is perhaps best know for his collaboration with Hunter S. Thompson and the birth of Gonzo journalism. He worked freelance for several publications, including Punch magazine- a connection shared with original Alice illustration Sir John Tenniel, who worked for Punch nearly 100 years prior. Steadman’s explosive and raw style envisions Carroll’s Victorian children’s story with a modern twist. His characters are engaging, crazed, and absolutely fitting for the madness of Wonderland.

In the introduction to his illustrated edition of Alice in Wonderland, Steadman describes his vision of Lewis Carroll’s unforgettable characters. He reasons that the White Rabbit is “today’s commuter”…”sane within a routine, slightly insane but more engaging when the routine is upset.” The Duchess meanwhile, is “an ex-starlet who married an aristocrat. A high class tart gone to seed.” And the Cheshire Cat “makes an ideal TV Announcer whose smile remains as the rest of the programme fades out.”

Steadman’s affinity for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is unmistakable. He wrote in 1986:

It was all so familiar when I picked it up and read it for the first time in 1967. For the first time, as I thought, but don’t you ever get that strange sensation that what you are reading or watching is something you already know? Something that is in your mind already? Bells of recognition ring as you welcome an old friend. All good ideas are like that. You already know them. The familiarity is part of the enjoyment. The words someone has taken the trouble to write down merely reveal the contents of your own mind. The picture someone has struggled to create is something you have already seen, otherwise how would you recognize it’s content?

alice-module3-aaiw1973steadman_13His illustrations are imaginative, humorous, and deranged. Beautiful in their insanity. Familiar, yet completely different. I always smile when I come across the scene where Alice encounters playing cards painting the roses red. With Steadman, the cards have become surly British workers, complete with union numbers stamped on their card face, carelessly sloshing paint about and ready for a brawl.

Steadman’s unrestrained art offers the reader a new experience with the world created by Carroll and Tenniel- one unmistakably hatched from the mad genius of an artist who feels a genuine connection to the original. As he wrote in 1967: “My only regret is that I didn’t write the story.”

Standing in stark contrast to Steadman’s visceral and unpredictable black ink drawings are the colorful, meticulous, and bold illustrations by John Vernon Lord, (born 1939 in Glossop, England).

Like Steadman, Lord also found familiarity in the characters of Wonderland. In his introduction to the 2009 illustrated edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he writes:

The disturbing characters that permeate the book seemed to be similar experiences to those I found in real life in the classroom and in the school playground…To a young child much of the behavior and conversations of adults seemed to me to be similarly irrational, bossy, and supercilious to many of the Alice characters.

alice-module3-aaiw2009lord_15In Lord’s edition, the madness of Wonderland is illustrated with delicate precision. His illustrations carefully thought out, including their placement in the overall book design. Lord offers not only full page illustrations of familiar scenes like the Mad Tea Party, but he also illustrates smaller vignettes integrated flawlessly throughout the text. Some are drawings of the puns/jokes in Carroll’s text, such as the raven and the writing desk at the beginning of chapter 7. The close placement of text and illustration is the result of Lord’s intention to emphasize the “claustrophobic”, dreamlike quality of the story. According to Lord, “it seems to me that dreams move from one situation to another seamlessly. So, in the book, the chapters butt against each other without any gaps.”

One of the most unique aspects of Lord’s illustrated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is the absence of the Alice herself. Deliberately choosing not to picture the title character, the reader experiences the story from the perspective of a dreaming Alice. Lord writes:

You rarely see yourself in dreams, indeed you rarely see yourself at all! I wanted Alice to be somewhat disembodied whilst she lies asleep among the the field of daises in the state of a dream.

Throughout the book, Alice’s words are highlighted in bright blue lettering. Her face may not appear, but the highlighted text ensures her presence is still a visual element throughout the book.

There is an touch of madness in Lord’s illustrations of Wonderland, although perhaps a bit more subtle than Steadman’s frenzied style. Introspective and precise, Lord’s detailed artwork is mesmerizing. His illustrations hold unexpected details as well. For the cover, Lord choose to illustrate exclusively words starting with the letter M, a nod to Carroll’s Tea Party scene:

They were learning to draw,’ the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; `and they drew all manner of things–everything that begins with an M–

There’s the obvious mousetrap, moon, and March hare, but Lord also includes abstract concepts like memory, illustrated by infinity symbols and a brain. This thoughtful approach to illustrating Carroll’s text lends itself superbly to the humor and wordplay throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And that is exactly how Lord sees it: “one always hopes that illustrations may enhance the experience of reading and help the reader to see, especially to see familiar texts differently.”

Ralph Steadman and John Vernon Lord’s unique illustrations highlight just how well Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland lends itself to the creative expression of illustrators and book designers. And that is what lies at the heart of the Alice 150 years and Counting exhibit. Lewis’ Carroll’s classic tale has been transformed again and again over time, by artists from across the world- spanning diverse cultures, artistic styles, and time periods. Picking up a different illustrated edition is like discovering the Wonderland all over again.

Whether it is the unique characters, the appeal of Alice’s story, the wit in Carroll’s text, the artwork on the page, or any combination of the elements that went into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Tenniel and Carroll were able to capture the magic of illustration and storytelling in the Alice books that continues to captivate new audiences today. As Lord wrote: “if we all know the successful recipe why certain books and illustrations become popular, we’d all be able to create classics. There lies the enigma, thank goodness.”

Amber Kohl is co-curator of the Alice 150 Years and Counting exhibit in Hornbake Library, and Special Collections Services Coordinator in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland. She received her MLS from UMD’s iSchool and MA in History from the University of Connecticut. Her interests include the history of radical thought/revolution, book illustration, and book design.


New Exhibit: Alice in Punch-Land


Sir John Tenniel (self portrait), 1889.

Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914) was already a well known artist when Lewis Carroll approached him in 1864 to illustrate his upcoming book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Although he would later become celebrated for his iconic Alice illustrations, at the time, Tenniel was highly regarded for his work in Punch, a British weekly magazine devoted to political commentary, satire, and humor.

Tenniel worked as an painter and illustrator before becoming a political cartoonist for Punch in 1850. He contributed over 2,000 cartoons for the magazine over the next 50 years. His work covered domestic and international affairs with biting wit. Tenniel was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1893 for his artistic achievements. He officially retired in 1901.

It was Tenniel’s technical skill, the high quality of his work, and his reputation at Punch that caught Carroll’s eye as he was searching for an illustrator for Alice. The two worked closely together in the year it took to illustrate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with Tenniel receiving meticulous notes from Carroll throughout the process. Carroll’s respect for Tenniel was unmistakable. He famously rejected the initial printing of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, partially due to Tenniel’s concerns over the quality of the printed illustrations (which bled on the page).

Several years later, Carroll convinced Tenniel to illustrate his sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, published in 1871. Carroll omitted a chapter from the book , “A Wasp in A Wig”, many believe due to  Tenniel’s objections. Tenniel wrote in a letter to Carroll in 1870:

Don’t think me brutal, but I am bound to say that the ‘wasp’ chapter does not interest me in the least, and I can’t see my way to a picture. If you want to shorten the book, I can’t help thinking – with all submission – that this is your opportunity.

Since Tenniel was working for Punch at the same time he illustrated the Alice books, it is no surprise to see Wonderland characters pop up in his illustrations. For example, early drawings of Alice, Humpty-Dumpty, and the Lion and the Unicorn by Tenniel appear in the magazine before the Alice books were published.

As the popularity of Alice grew over the years, Punch utilized Alice references and parodies as a way to poke fun at politics. For example, Tweedledee and Tweedledum personified a Franco-Russian alliance in 1899, and the text to ‘How Doth the Little Crocodile’ was rewritten to parody of international affairs in 1887. Amusingly, the editors at Punch often included the line With Apologies to “Alice” in the captions for these cartoons.

Visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to explore some of these early Alice-related illustrations in Punch. While there, stop by the Alice 150 Years and Counting: The Legacy of Lewis Carroll exhibit to discover more about John Tenniel, Lewis Carroll, and the Alice books.

You can also explore more illustrations from Punch, available in the Special Collections and University Archives, in our online Flickr album.

Spotlight on Wonderland: The March Hare


March is here, and so is the madness! Time to butter our pocket watches and drink too much tea, as our good friend the March Hare has been known to do. When Alice first meets him, she sits down at his large tea party without being asked, much to his irritation. In a rather passive aggressive way, he makes Alice aware of her breach of etiquette.

“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all around the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. “I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.

“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.

“Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,” said Alice angrily.

“It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,” said the March Hare.”

Touche, you snarky little hare. On top of this, he and the Mad Hatter eventually try to stuff the poor sleepy little dormouse into a teapot.


What do you think of the March Hare’s manners? How do they stack up among the mad characters in Wonderland?

Did You Know:

  • Tenniel drew straw in the March Hare’s hair to show that he was mad. In England, hares were thought to go mad in Spring. Straw was a symbol of madness.
  • In The Nursery Alice, Carroll wrote, “that’s the March Hare with the long ears, and straws mixed up with his hair. The straws showed he was mad–I don’t know why. Never twist up straws among your hair, for fear people should think you’re mad!”
  • The March Hare’s house, often seen in the background of illustrations of the Mad Tea Party, features chimneys shaped like rabbit ears and a roof thatched with fur.

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Visit the Maryland Room gallery in Hornbake Library from October 2105-July 2016 to explore the White Rabbit and the rest of the Wonderland cast of characters in the exhibit Alice 150 Years and County…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll: Selections from the Collection of August and Clare Imholtz.