Alice in Wonderland, the sixth best-selling novel of all time, may owe its very existence to a serendipitous canoeing excursion.
Henry Liddell (the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and Dean of Christ Church): arrived at Christ Church, Oxford University, with his wife and family in 1856. The family became close friends of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematics professor at the college.
During the years that followed, Dodgson often took the Liddell children on canoeing excursions. On one such outing, July 4, 1862, Dodgson invented a story to entertain the 3 young Liddell girls who were aboard. It was about going down a rabbit hole and entering a world where logic gets turned on its head.
Alice, the middle girl, begged Dodgson to write it down and he did, presenting her with a handwritten, self-illustrated version he titled: Alice's Adventures Under Ground, and dedicated as: "A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer's Day"
But while writing it, Dodgson also showed the manuscript to his mentor, Scottish fantasy writer George MacDonald. MacDonald's children loved it and MacDonald encouraged Dodgson to take it to a publisher. And Dodgson did. Macmillian. MacMillian loved it. Dodgson expanded upon the story adding chapters like the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Tea-Party. And he got illustrator John Tenniel to do the illustrations.
On July 4, 1865, 3 years to the day it was first conceived on that little canoeing excursion, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published under Dodgson's pseudonym, Lewis Carroll.
It has never been out of print since then.
Dodgson was an astute mathematician and wrote several scholarly books on the subject. He was also a sharp wit and most of the songs and poems included in Alice were parodies of contemporary works.
Scholars and specialists have long appreciated Alice as a parody of the Victorian era to which it was born.
Most modern readers might not appreciate that aspect of the book nor the mathematical references woven into the story but they still find a wealth of relevance and humor in the underside down world of wonderland.
At least 98 illustrators published editions