Introduction to Wonderland

Event: The Enoch Pratt Free Library sponsors a program to celebrate Lewis Carroll's birthday.

January 28, 2001|By Joy Green | Joy Green,SUN STAFF

One June night in 1968, Ellie Luchinsky stayed up late to read "The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll," a birthday gift from her sister. Before she fell asleep, she had finished the book and fallen in love with Carroll's fiction.

Now the head of the fine arts department of the Enoch Pratt Free Central branch library and a member of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, Luchinsky takes pleasure in introducing young people to Carroll's works.

Yesterday, she helped lead "Alice In Libraryland," a program sponsored by the children's section of the Pratt Library to celebrate Carroll's birthday and two of his best-known works, "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass And What Alice Found There."

The event at the Cathedral Street branch in Baltimore included Luchinsky's recitation of "Jabberwocky"; original storytelling in a style similar to the one Carroll used; and "Alice"-inspired activities such as croquet and a scavenger hunt.

Nearly eight different editions of the books were displayed, and some of the participants dressed as characters from Carroll's works.

Luchinsky especially enjoys Carroll's use of language.

According to Luchinsky, Carroll's command of words contributes to the elevation of his works beyond children's novels into classics of English literature.

"It's the hallmark of the books, how he played with language," says Selma Levi, the Pratt Library's chief children's librarian.

Luchinsky says Carroll found it easy to amuse children. However, he had a stuttering problem so severe it was nearly impossible for him to speak in front of adults.

According to Luchinsky, his speech problem probably led to Carroll's gift of being able to manipulate the language.

Luchinsky sees three reasons these books have transcended children's literature: "One is the fact that in the context of their time, children's literature was very different. It was very moralistic. His works made the break from not concentrating on a moral and just being funny. The second is the depth of the two stories. He was a man of many sides and almost all of them show in the books. And also I think the John Tenniel illustrations [the original illustrator] had a lot to do with it."

Another member of the Lewis Carroll Society, August Imholtz of Beltsville, agrees. "They [Carroll's works] are classic works of literature. They have wonderful appeal across all groups and interests."

Luchinsky says making up stories came easy for Carroll. "He was the oldest boy of 11 children and they lived in a very isolated area and so they didn't have a lot for entertainment, so he was the entertainment."

"Alice in Libraryland" was the second major event celebrating Carroll that Luchinsky has participated in during the 23 years she has worked at the library. The first was a 1990 exhibit in honor of the 125th anniversary of "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland."

Levi says when she was in college, "I had a teacher who told me that the three most quoted books in the world are the Bible, Shakespeare and `Alice in Wonderland.' Lewis Carroll is a genius who cared about children."

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