Can you tell me how to get to the all-new HBO Sesame Street?

(image via Monkey Fighting Robots (c) Sesame Workshop)
(image via Monkey Fighting Robots (c) Sesame Workshop)


Yes Sesame Street, on air for 45 years on PBS, and a recognised leader in the field of children’s educational programming – not to mention the home of Big Bird, Ernie & Bert and Grover, is on the move.

Yes, the entire street!

For those of us that blanch at the idea of moving one house, the idea of shifting an entire street from one location to another, in this case from PBS to HBO, where new episodes will air from 16 January 2016 – PBS will get those episodes 9 months later as well continuing to be the home of older episodes – must seem positively horrifying.

But the good people at Sesame Workshop seem wholly unfazed the idea, since it will mean a whole lot of extra money going towards their vital goal of educating the world’s children.

Like any move though there will be some changes as Monkey Fighting Robots points out:

“With Sesame Street’s new half-hour format (On PBS they would run an hour long), several other changes will occur along with the show’s move to HBO.

“Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of a new cast member, Nina, a young Hispanic Woman. Cookie Monster will have a brand new segment where he fights crime with cookies. Elmo will move into a brownstone at 123 Sesame Street (which is a big step for Elmo) , Cookie Monster will move into an apartment above Hooper’s Store ( poor Alan), Big Bird will settle into a new nest ( Big Bird doesn’t handle change well) and Oscar will be in a new garbage can . Scheduled to appear in the first group of episodes are Gwen Stefani, Pharell, Alan Cumming, and Ne-Yo. The HBO version of Sesame Street will also feature a new theme song.”

That’s a whole of moving around but the same old Sesame Street and I predict everyone will settle in just fine.

Sesame Street will air all new episodes on HBO from 16 January 2016.


Poster me this! Collaborate or resist: Colony asks what your choice would be

(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)
(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)


From executive producers Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Ryan Condal (Hercules) comes USA’s newest, highly-anticipated drama COLONY. Set in the very near future, COLONY centers on one family’s struggle to survive and bring liberty back to the people of an occupied Los Angeles. SAG winner Josh Holloway (Lost) stars as former FBI agent Will Bowman and Satellite Award winner Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) stars as his wife, Katie, in the series which takes place in a dangerous world of divided ideologies.

While some choose to collaborate with the occupation and benefit from the new order, others rebel and suffer the consequences. After being separated from their son during the invasion, Will and Katie are willing to do whatever is necessary to be reunited with him. Thus, when the powerful Proxy Snyder (Peter Jacobson, House) offers Will a chance to get his son back if he will collaborate with the occupational government, Will and Katie find themselves faced with the toughest decision of their lives. They will have to go beyond whatever they thought possible, risking their lives and their relationship to protect their family (synopsis via official website (c) USA Network)

It usually only when the rubber well and truly hits the road, when the smallest of decisions come with potentially large, life-changing ramifications, that the average person finds out what they’re really made of.

Of course, we would all like to think we will unhesitatingly choose the better angels of our nature, and defer to the greater good but when push come right royally to shove, those idealistic aspirations don’t always come to fruition.

In Colony, the people of Los Angeles are faced with just such a diabolical choice – fight for their rights, the ones lost with their now-dead democracy, or look after number one and collaborate with a ruling dictatorship, which may or may not be backed by creatures not of this world.


(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)
(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)


(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)
(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)


Carlton Cust is at pains to point out, in this case to EW, that Colony is less about the invasion taking place and who may be behind it, and more to do with its consequences, and the invidious position it puts otherwise good people in:

“The story of colonization is really an espionage thriller with a sci-fi backdrop … If you look at the history of the world, almost every country has either been a colony or a colonizer. The social dynamic of one group of people having absolute power over another group of people is something we wanted to explore. We wanted to find a contemporary way to do that.”

The reality is that even though we’d like to think we we would stay true to our principles and ideals, the odds are that many of us would cave and fall in line with the prevailing powers that be.

It’s not a pretty scenario but as history has shown repeatedly, a sadly realistic one.

It will be fascinating to see it play out in a contemporary setting, but as these beautifully-designed posters show, the basic principles of propaganda remain essentially the same.

They remind us that when it comes to making a choice in an impossible situation, there is really an easy or inconsequential answer.

Colony premieres on USA on 14 January 2016.


(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)
(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)


(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)
(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)


(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)
(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)


(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)
(image via Indiewire (c) USA Network)


And here’s the trailer to Colony … which side will you choose?



Ho! Ho! WOOF! MEOW! Merry Christmas from The Secret Life of Pets

(image via Screen Relish (c) Universal)
(image via Screen Relish (c) Universal)


Comedy superstars Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart make their animated feature-film debuts in The Secret Life of Pets, which co-stars Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Jenny Slate, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress and Albert Brooks. Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri and his longtime collaborator Janet Healy produce the film directed by Chris Renaud (Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2), co-directed by Yarrow Cheney and written by Brian Lynch and Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio. (synopsis via Screen Relish)

I have a niece who loves animals.


And after watching the original teaser trailer for The Secret Life of Pets, she is totally and absolutely in love with this film.

Being 6 years old, she is convinced that September 2016 when the film is due for release is a million years away; but she’s not alone – her mum and I are similarly wishing that it was tomorrow and not 9 months away.

To tide over we impatient Christmas-loving animation-adoring moviegoers, Universal has released a seasonal teaser trailer that features pets being made to wear all kinds of horrible ugly Christmas sweaters and pose for the obligatory festive photo.

Let’s be honest – we love having these photos taken way more than they do and the teaser trailer does a beautiful job of showing exactly how pets deal with all the poking and prodding and posing.

It’s absolutely gorgeous and I’m back to wishing September was like, well NOW.

The Secret Life of Pets opens 8 July 2016 in USA and September 2016 in USA.


They’re back! The Tenth Doctor (Who) and Donna Noble return in a series of audio adventures

The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) are back ... in audio form at least! (Image (c) BBC)
The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) are back … in audio form at least! (Image (c) BBC)


I try not to play favourites with my pop culture children …

Oh, who am I kidding? That’s all, and pretty all of us do!

So my delight at finding out that my favourite modern Doctor Who – and quite likely my favourite overall sorry Doctor #4 (Tom Baker) – has been unbounded, filling up the “it’s bigger on the inside than the outside” massiveness of the TARDIS with ease.

Big Finish, who specialise in audio adventures of many shows, are accomplishing this miraculous feat, taking us back to a time when Donna – SPOILER! – knew all about her adventures with the Doctor and David Tennant gave the expansively curious and mostly compassionate time traveller from Gailfrey a simultaneous sense of fun and substance.


(image (c) Big Finish / BBC Worldwide)
(image (c) Big Finish / BBC Worldwide)


Each episode will be an hour long, will apparently fit in with the established timeline and canon of the Tenth Doctor, thanks to the active involvement of BBC Worldwide, and will feature the original actors lending their voices to the three stories as io9 explains:

“The trio of stories—Technophobia by Matt Fitton, Time Reaver by Jenny T. Colgan, and Death and the Queen by James Goss—will all feature full voice casts. No other actors for the series were announced other than the fact that Tennant will reprise his incarnation of the Doctor, and will be joined by Catherine Tate, returning to the role of Chiswick-temp-turned-savior-of-all-reality Donna Noble for the first time since her brief reappearance in the 2010 story ‘The End of Time.'”

An added joy is because I have been less and less enamoured of Doctor Who of late with the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) failing to thrill, excite and delight like their intelligently-animated Tenth predecessor did, the return of my favourite incarnation of the character is liking meeting an old friend I thought I’d never see again (well in new adventures anyway).

Of course well have to wait till May 2016 for the release of Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures, but while we’re waiting not so patiently, we can listen to a clip from the unexpected outing at Radio Times (via io9), and watch the two actors talk about their return to the roles that endeared them to so many.



And here they are in a clip from their first full episode of Doctor Who. “The Runaway Bride” (Donna first appeared in “Doomsday”) …


The short and the short of it: Tokyo Cosmo’s flying pigs and monsters

(image via YouTube (c) Takahiro Miyauchi and Takuya Okada)
(image via YouTube (c) Takahiro Miyauchi and Takuya Okada)


Directed by Takahiro Miyauchi and Takuya Okada, Tokyo Cosmo takes us inside the home of a woman with a fantastic imagination. Her imagination is so powerful that a simple household nuisance soon becomes an epic struggle. Things get so crazy we even get to see a courageous flying pig, a city-destroying monster and a giant lightsaber. (synopsis via and (c) Mashable)

Who of us doesn’t sometimes, nay often, wish that the everyday, ordinary stuff of life would magically transform itself into something magical, fantastical and wonderful?

Hands up! Right so much pretty much everyone, just as I thought.

In Tokyo Cosmo, a delightfully animated short from Takahiro Myauchi and Takuya Okada, the protagonist has her wish granted when the stock standard parts of her life assume an all-together magical, otherworldly feel and she sets off a grand adventure that is most definitely not business-as-usual.

It’s the sheer imagination that fills the short that is captivating.

The creative team behind Tokyo Cosmo have gone for break, daring to imagine the most fantastical elements possible and bringing them to life in the most charming and beguiling of fashions.

This is a gorgeously-wrought pocket-sized piece of cinema that reminds us that the everyday can be way more magical than we might have thought possible.

Birthday movie review: The Crow’s Egg (Kaaka Muttai)

(image courtesy Fox Star Studios)
(image courtesy Fox Star Studios)


There is a temptation when telling the story of anyone from a disadvantaged background to gild the poverty lily somewhat; in other words, to cast the deprivations of life on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks in some sort of rose-tinted, we-have-no-food-but-we-have-love glow.

And while you can well understand the appeal of that kind of narrative approach, it doesn’t really serve to give us any sort of authentic insight into life for those at the lower end of the 99%.

But Kaaka Muttai or The Crow’s Egg, written and directed by M Manikandan, happily occupies the latter territory in telling the story of Big Crow’s Egg (J Vignesh) and Little Crow’s Egg (V Ramesh), two brothers who live with their mother and grandmother in a 5 acre Chennai slum squeezed between freeways and the growing affluence of the city’s business district.

So-named because they supplement their restricted diet of watery vegetables and rice with regular raids on crow’s nests where they gather up almost all the eggs – in an endearingly selfless twist, the elder brother insist the crow must get to keep at least of its eggs – and eat them, the two barefooted spend their days gathering coal to assist their world-weary young mother who is doing her best to keep the household afloat while her husband is in prison.

It’s not an easy existence in any way shape or form, and while the boys are a delight – the elder brother is more circumspect and serious but still capable of a smile while his younger sibling is far more mischievous and apt to celebrate the small fun parts of life, rare as they are – and there are some touching moments with their grandmother (Shanti Mani) particularly, life is brusquely defined by a hand-to-mouth timetable that leaves no real time for play or school.


(image via madaboutmoviez)
(image via madaboutmoviez)


Even so, as children always do, the two boys still manage to find enjoyment in their lives.

Whether it’s talking to their amiable railway worker friend “Fruit Juice” or stopping by to talk to their well-dressed, toy-and-food rich middle class friend who is never allowed to leave his gated compound (nor are the boys allowed to enter it), there are some small joys to be had.

But these are never presented as the be all and end all of the boys’ existence; rather that despite everything their spirit somehow remains diminished, and they approach life with the joie de vivre of two young people who are yet to fully appreciate that life doesn’t always give you everything you want.

This unspoiled-by-life optimism shows itself more dramatically when a government program to give away TVs at the ration store – an odd giveaway that smacks more of distracting people with “bread and circuses” that assisting them with any meaningful change – gives them entree into a world previously denied them.

One that includes ads for Pizza Spot, a fast food chain expanding rapidly throughout Chennai that appears to offer them Nirvana in the shape of a glistening slice of cheese-topped pizza.

It soon becomes their obsession to get this mysterious new food for themselves and they devote a considerable amount of effort to sourcing the considerable amount of money to buy a pizza, and the new clothes needed to make them “worthy” enough to enter an eating establishment clearly geared only to India’s burgeoning middle class and their newly-disposable income.

But an unfortunate incident when they try to enter the establishment they have so long treated as the promised land makes them wonder if they can ever have all the good things that glisten almost unattainably out of reach on the road across from their slum.


(image via LinkedIn)
(image via LinkedIn)


The Crow’s Egg is, for the most part, an absolute joy to watch.

The boys’ irrepressible spirit in the face of a host of reasons that should have well and truly beaten it down, the warmth of their relationship with their exasperated mother and melancholic grandmother, and their willingness to do whatever it takes, short of breaking the law (they may bend it a little) endear them almost instantly to an audience.

The film’s only downside is that it spends far too long in the second act taking the action off the boys and placing it on the villains who seek to take advantage of the boys situation, and the Pizza Spot owners who don’t have much of an appetite for Little and Big Crow Egg’s desire to join their middle class brethren in junk food heaven.

They have a role to play in the film, and the finale, ripe with ironic amusement, would not succeed without them but far too much time is spent on the set-up and not enough on the delivery, leaving the boys, who are the heart and soul of the film out of the action for far too long.

But this one narrative misstep aside, The Crow’s Egg is one of those whimsical joyous films that still manages, despite an authentically grim setting, to impart a sense that even in the most dire of circumstances the human spirit can still find a way through, even if life doesn’t offer up the rarely-glimpsed fairytale ending.



“Welcome a-Bird!” Big Bird tries his hand at comedy writing

(image via YouTube (c) Funny or Die)
(image via YouTube (c) Funny or Die)


Working out what you want to do when you grow up can be kinda hard.

After all there’s so many possibilities.

Especially if you’re Big Bird and you’ve lived on Sesame Street all of your young life, where your told every day you can be and do anything you want.

That kind of anything is possible mindset if probably dear sweet Big Bird announces to the comedy writing team at Funny or Die that he wants to be all kinds of things when he grows up.

“I want to be a comedy writer when I grow up! And a fireman. And an astronaut.”

The final two are eminently doable but the final one?

Well he has got a great can do attitude and is a whiz with crayons – his first sketch however doesn’t quite meet Funny or Die’s definition of the word alas – but he may not quite have what it takes to make in the world of comedy.

Oh yeah and he may a little too young to be an intern.

But hey you have to admire his optimism and chutzpah.

I think he’ll do well once he gets the whole sketch thing down.


He is not like us: The emotionally powerful mystery of Midnight Special

(image via Hitfix)
(image via Hitfix)


In the sci-fi thriller Midnight Special, writer/director Jeff Nichols proves again that he is one of the most compelling storytellers of our time, as a father (Michael Shannon), goes on the run to protect his young son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), and uncover the truth behind the boy’s special powers.

What starts as a race from religious extremists and local law enforcement quickly escalates to a nationwide manhunt involving the highest levels of the Federal Government. Ultimately his father risks everything to protect Alton and help fulfill a destiny that could change the world forever, in this genre–defying film as supernatural as it is intimately human.

Let’s face it – despite all of our more sterling qualities, and current affairs notwithstanding we do have some, one thing humanity does not do very well is play nice in the sandpit with those who aren’t exactly like us.

Or if we do think they could be useful to us or our agenda, we have a nasty habit of treating those different from us as commodities to be acquired rather than people to  be interacted with.

All of our best and worst qualities come into play in Midnight Special where a father risks everything, and I mean everything judging from the trailer, to save his son from those who fear his difference and those looking to use it for their own dubious ends.

But it’s not just humanity on display here; there’s also an intriguing supernatural element woven into the story as the director Jeff Nichols explained to Entertainment Weekly (quote via Hitfix):

“The son happens to have unique gifts. It’s a weird word to use, but his gifts are, um, supernatural. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T., Starman, they were my inspirations – very propulsive journeys that work when you can’t predict what’s going to happen next. This is my sci-fi chase film.”

There is an intensity and emotionality to those kind of films which is very much present in Midnight Special, which reminds me of the very best of the movies Nichols references, and the very best, and alas worst, of humanity.

Midnight Special opens in USA on 18 March 2016; no date for Australia yet specified.


Andrew turns the big Five-O: The 50 favourite singers and songs of my life

Andrew 50th birthday 50 favourite songs MAIN

I can’t imagine a time when music wasn’t a major obsession.

Granted I never took up the guitar or drums and joined a band, and my efforts to learn the paino were dismal at best (right Mrs. Noble?), but as a listener I was devoted beyond all reason.

It didn’t matter if it was rushing up to buy every ABBA single and album ever released – I set land speed records to get “Voulez-Vous” in 1979 – or spending untold hours listening to the top 40 on the radio and taping on cassette – yes cassette! – all the songs I liked (I could never quite stop the announcers’ voices appearing at the beginning and end of songs), I was besotted.

And that love affair has continued on down through the years as ABBA gave way to disco and ’80s New Wave and then Contemporary Christian Music and latterly all the indie music, and there’s a LOT of it, flowing through the digital wonderlands of the interwebs.

Music is an integral part of my life and the soundtrack to everything I do and there’s a healthy likelihood that will never ever change.

Here’s to music and it’s power to alter the look and feel of any moment.

1. ELBOW“The Birds”

2. KIM HILL – “Round and Round”/”Stop My Heart”

Braveheart, the album from which these two songs are taken is quite simply one of the best albums I have ever heard. Released in 1991, and widely considered one of the best Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) albums released that year, it contains everything from rock stomper classics like “Round and Round” which bristles with existential emotion, and “Stop My Heart” which is delicate and intense all at once. An emotional feast set to music.



3. ABBA – “That’s Me”/”Elaine”/”The Visitors”/”Should I Laugh or Cry”

I loved ABBA from pretty much the first time I heard them sometime in 1975 when they broke free of post-Eurovision hype and found success on their own terms. Songs like “SOS” and Mamma Mia”, and of course “Dancing Queen” are well known to everyone, but for reasons known only to my contrary soul, my favourites have always been the obscure/B-side tracks.




5. COLDPLAY – “Clocks”

I have loved this band ever since I heard a 15 second snippet – yep, that’s all it took – of “Yellow” on a CNN world music wrap-up in 2000. This set off a search for their incredibly hard-to-find debut album and a love of the band which culminated in “Clocks” (from second album A Rush of Blood to the Head) and continues to this day.



6. MASSIVE ATTACK“Teardrops”

7. KATE BUSH – “Wuthering Heights”

The first time Mrs. Derrett played Kate bust in our year 7 or 8 drama class, I fell instantly, headlong in love withKate Bush. Her music was so otherworldly, so beautiful and emotional that you couldn’t help but be swept up in it. I remain happily and rapturously in love with her.



8. BLUR“Song No. 2”

9. GWEN STEFANI“What You Waiting For?”

10. KEANE“Fly to Me”

11. DIDO – “Take My Hand”

I was in Vancouver visiting my dear friend Sandra in 1999 when Dido (brother of Rollo from Faithless) had just released her first solo album. I was walking around the now sadly-closed Virgin megastore on Robson Street when this song began playing and I was magically transported to somewhere utterly beyond words. I played it nonstop for days and it remains one of those rare songs that can stop me in my tracks and whisk me away to parts unknown.



12. ROISIN MURPHY“Overpowered”



15. AMII STEWART– “Knock on Wood”

I was massively into disco in the late ’70s (wasn’t almost everyone?) and this is one of the standout songs from the period. The song, the energy and the psychedelic clip all come together to make a truly memorable song. Hilariously, I told an 18 year old hairdresser a few years back that I remembered when this was on the charts and she looked at me like I’d just walked out of Noah’s Ark with my pet T-Rex on a leash. Hilarious and the first time I really felt “old”.



16. PATRICK HERNANDEZ“Born to be Alive”

17. THE BUGGLES“Video Killed the Radio Star”

18. M“Pop Muzik”

19. DANDY WARHOLS“Bohemian Like You”

20. VETERANS – “Ain’t No Age For Rock and Roll”

I LOVED this song when it was out. There’s something about quirky European pop that attracted me then, and attracts me now. What’s most remarkable about this song is I mis-remembered the title for 30 years, only finding it for this post when YouTube helpfully, and at long last, threw it up as an option. Hello my musical Moby Dick, I have found you!



21. ROYKSOPP – “Happy Up Here
22. ROBYN – “Indestructible
23. DURAN DURAN – “Hungry Like a Wolf
24. CAPE LION – Jennie
25. SUPERTRAMP – “It’s Raining Again”

This is one of those distinctive songs that I remember taping off the radio – sorry radio industry but every teen in the late ’70s and ’80s did it – and playing over and over again, especially when it rained. There was something intensely emotional that I related to, similar to the way Annie Lennox in the Eurthymics made me feel. Sad and yet not, all at once.



26. MIKA“Grace Kelly”
27. METRIC – “Youth Without Youth”

I love the sheer wall-breaking, in your face, defiant power of this song. Need a dreary commute lifted? Put this on and the train doesn’t seem so drab after all.



28. BONEY M“Rasputin”, “Rivers of Babylon” 
29. RICKIE LEE JONES“Chuck E’s in Love”
31. UNDERWORLD – “Two Months Off”

I love the energy and melodic inventiveness of much of the music this endlessly-creative British electronic band creates but this song in particular captures my soul like nothing else. I’ve always imagined it to be the closing credits song to the unmade movie of the novel I’ve written but haven’t yet found a publisher for, and if you want to see me dancing like a madman with complete abandon, then this is the song to make that happen.


32. NARCOTIC THRUST – “When the Dawn Breaks
33. Bhangra Knights vs. Husan – “Husan”

I spent the first 5 years of my life in Bangladesh where my parents were Baptist missionaries, and my love of the food, culture and music of the sub-continent has never left me. Discovering bangra music, a mix of traditional Indian sounds and Western electronica made my decade and this song in particular, which comes complete with a fun video clip, was the song I most fell in love with, becoming a staple on my the soundtrack that accompanies my morning exercise.



34. CHAIRLIFT – “I Belong in Your Arms
35. SPLIT ENZ – “Six Months in a Leaky Boat
36. NENA – “99 Red Balloons”/”99 Luftballoons
37. CYNDI LAUPER – “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”

Girls and gay men in the closet in the ’80s! I loved this song from the moment I heard it back in uni and as I got to know the irrepressibly wonderful talent that was and is Cyndi Lauper I fell in love with her too (strictly platonically, of course!). She is that offbeat personality I always wished I could be.



38. THE POLICE – “Don’t Stand So Close To Me
39. EURTHYMICS – “Sweet Dreams”

What an amazing twosome were Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart – so much talent and such a stellar roster of evocative songs. “Sweet Dreams” remains my favourite of all the brilliant songs they created – so much energy and emotion in such a perfect pop song.



40. IRENE CARA – “What a Feeling
41. THE GOGO’S – “Our Lips Are Sealed
42. LADY GAGA – “Poker Face/Telephone
43. BONNIE TYLER – “Total Eclipse of the Heart
44. SANTIGOLD“Radio”
45. CARIBOU“Silver”
46. CAT POWER“Ruin”
47. PINK – “Are We All We Are” / “Delirium” / “Get the Party Started”

What a powerhouse artist. Very much her own woman, with a strong sense of self and distinctive artistic vision and one of the finest in your face performers I have ever seen. There is nothing I don’t LOVE about P!NK.





48. KOSHEEN“(Slip and Slide) Suicide”
49. LITTLE DRAGON“Shuffle a Dream”
50. AMY GRANT – “Lead Me On”/”Baby Baby”

After ABBA and my late ’70s obsession with disco, Amy Grant was the next big artist to completely occupy my musical attention. Granted for many years she was a big thing only in Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) circles but I loved her songs, her persona and her concerts (they were the first I saw as a “grown up” at university. I even stuck by her when she went “mainstream” since she made good music and that’s all that matters right?



Book review: The Story of Alice – Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

(image courtesy Random House)
(image courtesy Random House)


Like many of us, Lewis Carroll, born Charles Lutwidge Johnson, was a rich study in contrasts.

Born to a moderately well off middle class family in the isolated Cheshire parish of Daresbury, Carroll was to all appearances a shy, studious man, more given to the pursuit of religion, mathematics and the established order of things, than wild rabbit-initiated chases through an imaginative underworld.

Mark Twain described him as the “stillest and shyest grown-man I’ve ever met”, which neatly captured the social reticence of a man more given to musings on the world that he imagined existed just outside the realms of our reality.

Carroll’s imaginative musings were evidence that beneath the love of order and an avowedly conservative disposition and social outlook, was a man who had held onto childhood long past his peers and delighted in subverting the very things he held so dear.

This picture of a man given to flights of contradictory imagination is beautifully captured in Oxford-based academic Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s entertainingly detailed book The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland.

“Whatever he writes about, in fact, Carroll uses the page like a filter to make the world around him look intriguingly strange (P.43)”

Beginning with a chapter on the young 8 year old girl Alice Liddell who inspired the world-famous story, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of its publishing today, The Story of Alice explores in accessible exhaustive detail the yin and yang of Carroll who in many other respects didn’t exactly distinguish himself throughout his life, preferring a quiet, uneventful though culturally and creatively-rich life.

Except, of course, in one quite important, culturally significant respect, as the writer of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), first published as Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, and its successor Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871).

Here the many countervailing influences that came to bear on Carroll came to gloriously anarchic fruition, from his love of writing, of parlour games and photography, and his fascination with the way the innocence and open-mindedness of childhood soon gives way to the rationalisation and unadventurous nature of adulthood.


(image courtesy Belknap Press)
(image courtesy Belknap Press)


In many ways Carroll never really left his childhood behind, asserts Douglas-Fairhurst.

It evidenced itself in many ways from his near-obsession with making the acquaintance of young girls, an acceptable undertaking in the Victorian age in which he lived but one which smacks of pedophiliac overtones to our modern sensibilities – the author is quick to assert that this love of children was less sexual than “sentimental” – to his willingness to entertain the sorts of flights of fantasy that a man of his standing as an Oxford Don at august Christ Church may not ordinarily be expected to be predisposed to.

It emerges again and again that Carroll adored upending the expected order of things, even as he did his utmost to uphold it.

So well does Douglas-Fairhurst make his case in this regard, pulling out salient many salient details from Carroll’s life that it’s possible to understand how many of the nonsensical elements in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland came to be.

“Beginning with a rabbit that disappears and then reappears, like a magic trick that has somehow infiltrated real life, Carroll’s narrative quickly generates a genuine dream’s mixture of vagueness and vividness.” (P. 124)

Carroll was, for instance, habitually late, always vowing in his diaries that he must do better; he was also a man who set himself an impossibly long list of interests and hobbies to pursue from learning languages to photography, of which he became quite adept, photographing Alice Liddell on more than one occasion, and pondering always how to make the real world bend to his wilder, childlike impulses.

Of course, as with any biography, and the understandable lack of availability of the author himself to speak on his own behalf, conclusions must be drawn from the source material at hand such as Carroll’s diaries, some of which have been intriguingly censored by his family, and Douglas-Fairhurst does an impressive job of not drawing the bow too long in his pursuit of the man behind the insanely over the top tales of Alice.

He also succeeds in helping us to understand how Alice Liddell, later Hargreaves, managed to deal with being both a real woman and the forever-trapped-in-childhood, Carroll’s vision of a perfect childhood where the mock turtle, the caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat were all manifestations of a child’s attempt to make sense of an often all too dull but complicated world.

The Story of Alice is an engaging, immersive feat, that rare biography which manages to give us both a deeply well-articulated sense of the man but also the way in which his many contrasting influences gave rise to a book both silly and dreamlike, and insightfully thoughtful, a crowning achievement which continues to influence generations of new readers long after the author’s death to hold onto childhood and wonder anew “Who in the world am I?”