Jansson’s Illustrated Alice

by John Holbo on July 31, 2010

Speaking of Tove Jansson: when I got home from vacation, a prize awaited me. Just before I left I scored a cheap 1st edition of Jansson’s illustrated Alice In Wonderland on Abebooks. (And – oh look! [UPDATE: you didn’t look quick enough] – there’s another one available for only $38. Which is quite reasonable, compared to the prices for all the other available copies.) Mine is an ex-library copy, of the sort disdained by collectors, particularly where children’s books are concerned. (Nasty things, with their sticky, mauling, foxing fingers! thinks the collector.) But it’s in good shape, and I appreciate how it came complete with an envelope-tucked library card, earnestly autographed by several young ladies – no boys – who I like to think will now go through life with quite un-Tennielish notions of these characters (not that there’s anything wrong with Tenniel, good heavens. But it’s just funny to imagine not being able to imagine the Hatter as looking like anyone but Snufkin) …

Do you think Snufkin makes a better Hatter than Johnny Depp?

There are a lot of nice illustrations, but somehow this is my favorite.

I hope many little girls enjoyed this book very much before the Toronto District School Board saw fit, in its wisdom, to sell it to me, via a middle man in Chicago, who only charged me $4.75 before sending it to Singapore. (Oddly, the $38 one on sale now is in Toronto. Coincidence, or is Toronto divesting itself of Tove Jansson illustrated Alices in more systematic fashion?)



noen 07.31.10 at 11:21 pm

“Do you think Snufkin makes a better Hatter than Johnny Depp?”

I think that Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter was exactly what I thought he would be. It was, meh… ok, I suppose, for children but I was hoping for a bit more imagination. The movie itself was horrible in my opinion.

I love the detail of the library card signed in pencil.

My guess is that around here in Minneapolis Tove Jansson might still be well known (I grew up on Pippi Longstocking). Perhaps the Swedish community in Toronto isn’t what it used to be. I’ve been to the Swedish Institute here a couple of times but I don’t recall seeing any of his works on display.

Ahhh… the great google sayeth that the public library has a copy of Jansson’s Moominland Midwinter. Nothing about his version of Alice.


Hob 07.31.10 at 11:45 pm

I’m also very fond of Jansson’s illustrations for The Hobbit, which are equally lush and idiosyncratic. She drew Gollum looking about 18 feet tall.


John Holbo 08.01.10 at 12:21 am

Thanks. I’ve been trying to lay hands on her Hobbit. Haven’t managed to do so at a reasonable price just yet.


John Holbo 08.01.10 at 12:29 am

I agree that the Burton film was horrible, noen. I actually watched it on the plane, flying home. It’s so disappointing that the most interesting thing he could think to do with it – or the most interesting thing he could talk anyone into funding – was a kind of awesome action fight scene at the end of it as the apparent point of making it. It’s “Alice” meets “300” plus “Clash of the Titans”. Or whatever. Actually it would have been funny to play that up. The card armies rushing at the chess armies. “For Sparta!!” becomes “For Jam Tomorrow!!” or something a bit more Carrollian.


noen 08.01.10 at 12:55 am

I thought Burton’s Alice was like Alice meets Narnia complete with Christian triumphalism undertones. Oh and the growing mushroom during the credits was… very phallic. It grows red and swells up and then bursts. Kinda creeped me out since it was supposed to be a kids flick. Maybe it’s just me.

But, the last thing the studios would ever do is allow a bunch of highly creative types free reign to make a kids film. The stars would fall from their appointed places, the sky would roll up and there would be no law. Can’t have that.


John Holbo 08.01.10 at 2:07 am

Golly, I turned it off before any phallic mushroom burst. I think I channel surfed over to watch that third Brendan Fraser Mummy film, which I somehow managed to miss when it came out.


Antti Nannimus 08.01.10 at 3:24 am


Somewhere there may exist a Swedish man named Tove Jannson.

However, for the record, the well-known novelist, painter, illustrator, and author of the “Moomin” books, Tove Marika Jansson, was in fact a Finnish woman. She was a member of the Swedish-speaking Finnish minority, and for that reason she wrote much of her work in the Swedish language. She had a studio in Helsinki, but she lived much of her life on an island near the Finnish town of Poorvo. She died in 2001.

Have a nice day!


John Holbo 08.01.10 at 3:30 am

Oh yes, I notice now that noen called her ‘him’. Well, yes: she is a she.


Benedict@Large 08.01.10 at 7:12 am

Not recalling any particular aversion to “Alice” amongst myself and my boyhood companions at a time when library cards were still typed with typewriters that couldn’t get all the letters on a straight line, perhaps the explanation for the lack of male names on the library card is simply that your particular copy came from a girl’s school?


Ben Alpers 08.01.10 at 3:12 pm


Ben Alpers 08.01.10 at 3:12 pm

Ooops! Sorry for not closing that link!


Jay Conner 08.01.10 at 5:46 pm

Does anyone know where Tenniel’s illustrations for Twelfth Night can be found ?

I google every year or so to no avail. His Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek are delightful. I got copies years ago from an early library copying machine…


derino 08.01.10 at 11:43 pm

Isn’t The Hatter actually the Hobgoblin, not Snufkin?


John Holbo 08.02.10 at 1:36 am

“Isn’t The Hatter actually the Hobgoblin, not Snufkin?”

Good point. He IS more the Hobgoblin apart from the hat (well one of them). If he wore an actually Tenniel’s Hatter-like hat, this Hatter would be the very spit and image of the Hobgoblin.


Doug M. 08.02.10 at 9:50 am

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the Ralph Steadman Alice, which remains (1) the gold standard for unique, idiosyncratic Alices, and (2) damn’d hard to find.

Doug M.


belle le triste 08.02.10 at 11:31 am

I actually saw the Steadman on sale at Pordage’s just before xmas, while I was writing a piece about Alice on film, but sadly couldn’t afford it. There was an (absurdly tiny) exhibition of non-Tenniel illustrators at the V&A round about the same date — we walked past it twice before we realised we were in it.


belle le triste 08.02.10 at 11:42 am

OK I mean Pordes, when that^^^ comes out of moderation


Chris E 08.02.10 at 1:45 pm

“I agree that the Burton film was horrible, noen. I actually watched it on the plane, flying home. “

The framing story in the Burton film was actually more interesting than the story itself, and that wasn’t testimony to the strength of the framing story.


Randy 08.02.10 at 2:38 pm

The best filmed Alice has to be the BBC version from 1966 (yes, it’s on DVD). As with a lot of BBC productions from those years, it was filmed on the cheap but it had an incredible cast (Peter Sellers as the King of Hearts).


Doug M. 08.02.10 at 5:27 pm

I have to say, the Janssen illustrations for the Hobbit leave me underwhelmed. Yes, a couple of them are excellent –Smaug’s attack on Lake Town in particular. But some of them are little more than doodles, and… well, Bilbo is bald, blobby and androgynous; Smaug has a variable number of legs, between six and eight; the Mirkwood spider looks fuzzy and friendly, like a lovable plush toy rather than a blood-drinking monster; and Gollum, dear me. Gollum is a hairy giant, ten feet tall or more, rowing around on a frickin’ Viking boat. I’d say that goes a little beyond “idiosyncratic”.

Doug M.


roac 08.02.10 at 5:29 pm

noen @ 5; I have been forcing myself to replay the Burton film in my head, and damned if anything sets off a this-is-like-Narnia alarm. I was however quite turned off by the fact that the title character manifests her Empowerment by, in effect, signing up for an MBA program. (Not that that was why I hated the movie, it was mostly the utter formulaicity of it all. Plus Burton’s determination to give Depp free rein, which previously ruined what was otherwise a pretty decent adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.)

Also, a question for Antti Nannimus: In a decade or so of interacting with various Finns on various websites, I have been struck by the apparent lack of ill-feeling between those who speak Finnish and those who speak Swedish. A seeming counterexample, if accurate, to the right-wing view that linguistic diversity leads inevitably to political dysfunction at best and mass gravesites at worst (“any time now in Canada, you just wait!”) I would be interested in any comment.


John Holbo 08.02.10 at 8:28 pm

Steadman, eh? Didn’t know about that one. I don’t much like Steadman’s stuff but I would still be curious to see it.


8 08.02.10 at 9:50 pm

Why, Steadman’s Alice, like…Grace Slick’s Alice…may be one of the most exquisite renderings–. What’s Alice in W-land sans a bit of ..chemical enhancement.


Antti Nannimus 08.03.10 at 1:42 am

Hi roac,

It would be presumptuous of me to try to speak for the contemporary Finns regarding their feelings toward each other since I am a Finno-American three generations removed. However I can tell you that historically there were some hard feelings between these different language groups because of the historical dominance of Sweden over Finland for many centuries, and the economic differences between the respective language populations as a result of that. The Finns experience of being dominated in later years by the Russians following the Swedish domination probably did a lot to moderate their views of each other by comparison. Finland is actually offically a tri-lingual country today, with both Swedish and Sami-speaking people constituting significant minorities. It’s my impression that contemporary Finns are now actually quite proud of that ethnic and language diversity. There are, however, long-standing cultural differences and issues among them, even if they don’t ordinarily rise to the level of genocide, or even overt hostility. In recent decades it compares perhaps to the gentle rivalries between Minnesota and Iowa. or maybe even Wisconsin.

Go Gophers!

Have a nice day,


roac 08.03.10 at 2:18 pm

Thanks, Antti. What you say is consistent with what I suspected: Significant cultural differences necessarily imply a certain level of potential conflict, but a shared ethic of good manners can damp the expression of the conflict down to where it never becomes a problem.


roac 08.03.10 at 2:19 pm

BTW, I thought it was North Dakota that Minnesotans made jokes about . . .


homunq 08.03.10 at 8:41 pm

When I was a kid, we had a 3-volume boxed paperback set of the Lord of the Rings with no interior illustrations, but illustrations on the cover which, in retrospect, make me think of Jansonn’s style. I remember them because I was always fascinated by the way the illustrations lined up across the spines if you put the books in the right order, yet disturbed by what I then saw as the innappropriately-cartoonish Nazgul.


Antti Nannimus 08.03.10 at 9:41 pm


Well, in Minnesota we believe the primary reason the winds prevail from west to east is because…wait for it…
Wisconsin sucks!

I suppose they say the same thing about us in NoDak, and even in SoDak, for that matter.

Today the “tall ships” left Duluth, MN headed for Green Bay, WI, so I guess those prevailing winds are working in their favor for the moment.

Have a nice day everywhere,


zamfir 08.04.10 at 10:10 am

What I hear from people who work in Finland, relations do have some strains. Don’t take me as an expert however.

The big problem seems less between the large groups of Swedish-speakers and Finnish-speakers, but more with the wealthy and powerful of the country, who are still often Swedish speakers.

Again, this is a second-hand impression, but it looks as if the relations are more like British class than like inter-state rivalry.


ike 08.04.10 at 12:57 pm

Re #29, I’m not an expert either, but as a (Finnish-speaking) Finn living in Finland I’m a bit puzzled about this talk about tension between the two linguistic groups in Finland. Apart from the periodic heated public debates about whether or not Swedish should be a mandatory subject in schools, and some debates concerning government fund distribution between linguistic groups (about e.g. how many Swedish-language public TV or radio stations should there be vs. Finnish-language ones), I don’t seem to recall any major controversies from recent times. The absence of public controversy of course doesn’t prove that there aren’t tensions under the surface, but I’d be hard-pressed to identify any such tensions. But I may of course just be ignorant – I have relatively few interactions with Swedish-speaking folks (that I know of).

Regarding’s zamfir’s comment at #29 about wealth and power, although the Swedish-speaking minority – a whopping 6% or less of the total population, btw – do have a higher average income level, the difference isn’t all that dramatic and can mostly be explained by factors such as educational level. So although there is certainly an amount of “old money” around amongst the Swedish-speaking minority, the idea of the wealthy Swedish-speaking minority is a bit of a caricature. It could be argued that they have disproportionate power in national politics, the Swedish People’s Party being practically guaranteed a seat in the government regardless of their electoral outcome (in the past 60 years they haven’t once gained even 10% of the total vote, but have still been part in almost all government coalitions). Despite this it’s probably safe to say that the Swedish People’s Party is not a major political player.

I’d guess the peaceful relations between the two groups are explained at least partly by the existence of well-established institutions that guard the interests of the Swedish-speaking minority: strict laws mandating service provision in all official languages, Swedish-language universities, the aforementioned nearly-guaranteed representation in government, and various other governmental and non-governmental arrangements and organizations. I don’t know if this falls into the category of “good manners” mentioned by roac in #25. The likelihood of any significant ethnic conflict is also lessened by the relatively small numbers of the Swedish-speaking population and the fact that they are mostly scattered along the coastline.

FWIW, the fully Swedish-speaking autonomous region of Åland/Ahvenanmaa is a whole ‘nother thing.


Antti Nannimus 09.13.10 at 2:02 am


I rest my case.

Have a nice day,

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