Burn the house down!

Last Sunday we met Bill, who goes down the chimney and comes up the chimney while Alice is stuck into the white rabbit’s house. Since the problem of a giant Alice could not be resolved by sweeping her up the chimney, here comes the next great idea. “We must burn the house down!” said the […]

Last Sunday we met Bill, who goes down the chimney and comes up the chimney while Alice is stuck into the white rabbit’s house. Since the problem of a giant Alice could not be resolved by sweeping her up the chimney, here comes the next great idea.

“We must burn the house down!” said the Rabbit’s voice.

This is of course rather unsettling, and has been central to the reimagination of lots of horror versions of Alice, most prominently American McGee’s Alice, a videogame in which the Liddel House in Oxford was burned down in a crucial event known as “the fire“, resulting in Alice being the sole survivor and her subsequent incarceration at Rutledge Asylum.

Disney focuses on the scene and shifts the responsibility of it towards the Dodo, probably not wanting to have the white rabbit as an unpleasant character. Very few illustrators too decide to depict the attempt at arson. We have Harry Rountree, with the smoke dividing the scene in two vertical portions.

Harry Rountree (1908)

There’s also some good sketches for the 1951 movie, with Alice sniffing the smell of burning wood moments before they try and set her feet on fire with matches. You can see a comparison between the sketches and the original here.

Among contemporary artists, there is some incredible work done by Kry Garcia, who has worked also on Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and you can see some nice enlargements on Behance. His works are highly surreal and in monochrome blue. You can also buy some of his works on Etsy.

Kry Garcia (2010s)

There’s also some nice work by Denis Kornev, in which the scene is given us from a rather unusual and interesting point of view.

Denis Kornev (2010s)

Seo Young, an artist from Korea, also focused on the scene and you can see some of her works here. It’s not really my cup of tea, it looks a bit like Alice in Candyland, but I like this one (colours aside) for the smoke looming across the sky.

Seo Young (2010s)

Alice shrinks down by eating one of the pebbles in the garden, which are magically turning into cakes.

“If I eat one of these cakes,” she thought, “it’s sure to make some change in my size; and, as it ca’n’t possibly make me larger, it must make me smaller, I suppose.”

Off she goes, then, in search of that same garden she saw through the keyhole of the small door at the very beginning of the story.

The last strange encounter we find in this chapter is the one with a puppy, which kind of serves the purpose to stress again the fact that she shrank down and still she’s not of the right size.

…while she was peering about anxiously among the trees, a little sharp bark just over her head made her look up in a great hurry.

An enormous puppy was looking down at her with large round eyes, and feebly stretching out one paw, trying to touch her.

Carroll himself decided to illustrate the scene in his original manuscript (it’s a little weird, but adds to the idea that the scene is there only to underline Alice’s size, a thing we’ll need when she meets the caterpillar shortly afterwards).

Lewis Carroll (1864)

He also did a stand-alone sketch that you can see here, alongside some other sketches featured at the Tate Gallery for a 2011 exhibition.

Lewis Carroll (1864)

She plays a bit with the puppy, throwing a stick, and some illustrators decide to show us this scene, including John Tenniel in the original edition.
The same scene is sometimes rendered in colour, both with orange dress and blue ribbon and a more typical blue dress.

John Tenniel (1889)

The scene is very popular, like lots of work by Tenniel, and was used for satire as in this instance that you can look up here.

William H. Taft Papers (Pall Mall Gazette, 1910)

Margaret Tarrant, in one of her delicate round-framed illustrations, also focuses on the scene and decides to put a lot of care and attention to one of the details Carroll gives us: the fact that Alice hides behind a thistle. It’s also nice how she keeps the stick to scale and how she uses, more as if Alice is trying to fend the puppy off. Which kind of makes sense.

Margaret Tarrant (1916)

A similar approach with the stick is taken by G.W. Backhouse, for an edition dated 1940. The artist seemed to specialize in animals, you can find some of the production on this page,

G.W. Backhouse 1940)

A chromatically interesting approach to the same scene is the one chosen by Gwynedd M. Hudson, usually so colourful, for her 1922 work. It’s an illustration more in the style of some frontispieces and title letters, in orange and black.

Gwynedd Hudson (1922)

Charles Robinson, after focusing quite a bit on Pat earlier in the chapter, also gives us a nice, long and narrow illustration of the feral puppy, around page 76 of the 1907 edition (you can see the whole page here).

Charles Robinson (1907)

Bessie Pease Gutmann gives us a stand-alone puppy too, looking quite sad and miserable.

Bessie Pease Gutman (1907)

The puppy should have appeared also in the 1939 Disney movie but, as it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose in a movie where the size of Alice should be clear just by looking at her, it was never furtherly developed nor was it included in the 1951 one. You can find a page on it at the Disney Wiki, along with some sketches at different levels of creepiness and with Alice in different attitudes.

Sassy Alice


Brave Alice


Shocked Alice


Running Alice


Among contemporary artists, Philip Mendoza gives us a giant puppy, quite literally, if you see it in comparison with the flowers. Which is, as we have seen, quite the opposite of what Carroll seems to mean. But hey, it’s Wonderland, anything goes.

Philip Mendoza (2010s)

Christian Birmingham, a British illustrator we already met for the pool of tears, also worked on the scene and I think he had some fun with the thistle and the rest of the grass. You can buy it here.

Christian Birmingham (2019)

Helen Oxenbury is an artist we never met, on the other hand, and she too focuses on the thistle but gives us a far more cheerful scene, with Alice and the puppy playing. She is a quite prolific illustrator and worked on lots of booklets for children (you can find a selection here), and she has her own Wikipedia page. The print of Alice with the puppy is on sale here.

Helen Oxenbury (2019)

If you’re looking for something different, there’s also a fairy-like, naked Alice trying to stop the puppy from going anywhere and it’s by Jonathan Lohn (you can see it on Artstation). It’s flagged as mature content. I mean… it’s just a butt.

Johnathan Lohn (2019)

If you’re looking for something a bit more abstract, I recommend this Alice vs. the Puppy by Meg Hunt (I believe): you can see it posted here. I’m not particularly fond of the style used for Alice, but he way she treated the flowers is amazing and it’s enough to have me love this illustration. The book she references in the post, on the other hand, is illustrated by Coralie Bickford-Smith, another artist who’s amazing with abstract patterns and flowery illustrations. She also unfortunately associated herself with a thing called “book for boys”, which makes me shiver, also considering that those were probably my favourite books as a child.

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