In the illustrations to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Sir John Tenniel adopts a very precise method of drawing the animals Alice encounters. Rose Lovell-Smith describes Tenniel's unique style regarding birds and beasts:

Where few of Tenniel's successors have been able to resist the temptation to turn the animals in Alice in Wonderland into cartoon or humorous creations, though, it is Tenniel's triumph that he drew his creatures straight, or almost straight: the Times review of Alice in Wonderland (December 26, 1865) particularly noted for praise Tenniel's truthfulness . . . in the delineation of animal forms. [395]

The importance of this natural aspect is readily apparent in the order of illustrations, since the first illustration is of the white rabbit (as opposed to the opening scene in the text which focuses on Alice and her sister). Tenniel seems to place this illustration on an equal level to the text below it, since it is not bordered—the eye flows easily from illustration to the chapter heading and initial paragraph.

The reader is confronted with the anthropomorphic rabbit, equipped with vest, coat, watch and cane (and, in the text, a capitalized proper name), slightly before this fantastic creature is developed in the actual narrative. On the level of the story, our surprise may not be equal to that of Alice when she first sees the white rabbit, but our curiosity becomes wrapped up in hers as we expect an explanation of the peculiar creature. Tenniel, through his precise depiction of the white rabbit, does an excellent job of aligning Alice's process of observation with that of the reader. To compare his technique to the text, consider Carroll's description:

the White Rabbit

Suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" . . . but, when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet. [7]

The reader, like Alice, feels there is nothing remarkable about the actual rabbit when looking at Tenniel's illustration. Its fantastic nature comes about through the stop-watch: the human hand that holds it and the human eye that bulges at its time. The matter of the rabbit speaking, which Alice glosses over (it is likely that such an imaginative child often "hears" animals talk), fits nicely with the impossibility of emphasizing speech in an illustration. Tenniel thus enhances actual features of animals with human characteristics to distill a visual sense of otherworldly fantasy from Carroll's writing.


1. In several illustrations from chapters two and three, Tenniel documents how Alice changes in size by juxtaposing her with animals. How do these unusual relative sizes in the illustrations add layers of meaning to the text for the reader?

2. Looking at the way Tenniel anthropomorphizes his animals (as seen in depictions of the white rabbit, the march hare and the lobster), what implications does this treatment have for the conception of humanness in Alice?

3. In chapter 3, Carroll makes a visual and verbal pun out of the mouse's tale/tail (p. 25, Norton edition). Compare this integration of text and image with that found in the white rabbit's proclamation in chapter 11 (p. 87).

4. In the introduction to Lewis Carroll and His Illustrators, the editors write that "Dodgson absolutely insisted on precise placement [of his illustrations within the text] in every case, even if it meant rearranging or rewording the text or redrawing the picture entirely to achieve his goal" (xxiii). How does the author's insistence upon the integration of text and image affect the reading process, especially when he makes direct references to that relation in the text, as he does on pages 73 and 86 of the Norton edition?

Related Material


Lewis Carroll and His Illustrators: Collaborations and Correspondence, 1865-1898. Eds. Morton N. Cohen and Edward Wakeling. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell UP, 2003.

Lovell-Smith, Rose. "The Animals of Wonderland: Tenniel as Carroll's Reader." Criticism 45.4 (Fall 2003): 383-415.

Victorian Web Overview Victorian Illustration John Tenniel

Last modified 24 October 2004