First selection from the new “Great Books” series is a look at 1860s tales “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and, briefly, “Through the Looking Glass.” Episode offers thin attempts at interpretation of the books and, on the other hand, informative and insinuating remarks about their creator, Lewis Carroll, nee Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Today’s tabloids and talkshows would wallow in what’s suggested.
Writer-producer Eugenia Vink scrambles surmises and facts in an attempt to finger what beguiled Oxford mathematician Dodgson about young girls, particularly 4-year-old Alice Liddell, one of the daughters of the dean of Christ Church, Oxford. However, it isn’t immediately apparent from the show what difference it makes.
Vink invites Grace Slick, who penned the ’60s anthem “White Rabbit,” to air her positive views on the books. Hour flips through Dodgson’s influence on other writers and artists, and some interviewees suggest the possibility of hallucinogen use by Dodgson and the little girls, as well as among his characters; they’re not persuasive.
Spec, telling of Dodgson’s longtime friendship with young Alice, examines how he came to write “Alice,” offers samples of his drawings, and tells how he found political cartoonist John Tenniel to illustrate his work when it was published in 1865.
A gifted amateur photographer, Dodgson’s portfolio is represented here only by sensuous stills of young girls, including a nude. The implications (as well as those in much of the program) aren’t subtle: Dodgson is being branded a pedophile.
Interviews with artists, a Dodgson biographer, the president of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America and other specialists contribute various shades of enthusiasm. Historical photos, drawings, computer animation and Oxford lawn scenes add to the flow of the hour.
The “Great Books” series (no relation to the St. John University curriculum) will continue with “War of the Worlds” and “The Art of War” in June.
Vink’s production looks bright and moves at a good clip. But modest, shy, religious Dodgson, who has given so much joy, stands defamed by innuendo; something’s sadly upside down.