Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter Writing
I adore Lewis Carroll’s work. From reading Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass as an elementary schooler to collecting his complete works as an adult, I am undoubtedly influenced by Lewis Carroll in my writing and artistic styles, touching on themes of coming of age, dreams, semantics, and with a style that enjoys the charming, the absurd, and word play. Ithas taken me up until the end of my MFA here at USC to find the works of Lewis Carroll that I feel most called to and to adapt them in my own voice and hand.
I am submitting two entries to the Wonderland Award:
1) A ten-minute play adaptation of the long poem Phantasmagoria
2) A single-page mini-zine adaptation of the essay Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter Writing
In adapting these texts, I want to call attention to Carroll’s other works, showcasing the same whimsy and word play that infuses his more popular works. I also want these entries to be easily accessible and distributable to an audience.
I was attracted to Phantasmagoria’s themes of loneliness, friendship, rules, and play and felt that this poem held enough dramatic language, imagery, and conflict to be turned into a performative piece. For example, conflict arose in the first stanzas of a ghost invading a man’s house, and the man subsequently trying to understand who the ghost was and to befriend it. Imagery of the two of them sitting for supper, the ghost throwing an object at the man, and descriptions of the ghost as a blue light are well-suited for translating to the stage. And finally, I strove to include some of Carroll’s original puns and language –“Knight-Mayor” and “Inn-spectre” are truly worthy of chuckles or groans.
I printed out copies of the text and highlighted sections that struck me as intensely emotional or theatrical. I also listened to Victorian era vaudeville music and researched Victorian parlor games to get a feel for the culture and context around the poem that could inform dramatic spectacle. As it appears this poem was dedicated to a child, it is unsurprising that the final play adaptation would also be appropriate for children, and I am pleased to add this work as another children’s play in my dramatic writing portfolio.
Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter Writing has charmed me for some time, but as it is instructional in nature, a zine appears to be a suitable format for an adaptation. I have several friends with whom I have mail-based correspondence, and we occasionally send letters, zines, comics, and cartoons to each other. I also wanted the zine itself to be easily mailed (thus encouraging more letter writing) and so decided to make it from a single 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper.
I searched the Cassady collection for examples of Lewis Carroll’s signature sign offs, printed out copies, and taped them into the zine. I also included the Alice in Wonderland illustration of the fish footman giving a letter to a frog as a reminder of Lewis Carroll’s other works and the imaginative playfulness of letters. I made several drafts of the zine in ballpoint pen and No. 2 pencils, experimenting with word placement and cartoons in the different folded grids. I created the final draft by hand with a non-photo blue pencil, then inked it with medium and ultra-fine black flair pens. Finally, I scanned a copy of the draft in black and white to eliminate the pencil marks and then folded the paper into the resulting mini-zine. In the future, I hope to bring this zine to zine festivals and encourage more letter-writing and enjoyment of Lewis Carroll’s works.
Submitting to the Wonderland Awards has been a joyful and creative experience for me –I am excited to have a new play and zine that I can share with other audiences, and I am excited for these creative works to live in the USC Archives.