March 10, 2010

Curiouser and curiouser

For the past few days, I've been listening to Blackstone Audio's recording of Alice in Wonderland. Blackstone is offering it as a free download until March 16, obviously in honour of Tim Burton's latest film.

Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson, known better by his pen name Lewis Carroll, took a rowing trip up the Thames with the Rev. Robinson Duckworth and Lorena, Alice and Edith Liddell, the three daughters of Henry Liddell, the vice-chancellor of Oxford University. To pass the time, he invented a story about a young girl named Alice who had some odd adventures down a rabbit hole.

The story is so famous it hardly needs description: basically, it is a work of literary nonsense, parodying mathematics and logic, children's school lessons, and familiar personalities around the Oxford community. Pubished for the first time in 1865, it was a smash hit, and counted even Queen Victoria amongst its fans. (According to one apocryphal story, Victoria contacted the publisher to request another book by the same author. They sent her his work on algebraic determinants.)

Alice is narrated by English actor Michael York (like Carroll, also an Oxford man). His mellow, but slightly manic, voice is perfect for this material: it's one of the best audiobooks I've heard, possibly second only to the classic reading of The Screwtape Letters by John Cleese. If you like classic children's literature, audiobooks, and Michael York, you won't want to miss this. Get it while it's hot.