Ever-perplexing Alice finds Daylight
"The mystery of Wonderland," says David Day, "is like the plot of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express."
October 26th, 2015
Alice in Wonderland is 150 years old. Literary sleuths remain baffled; readers remain delighted. David Day has celebrated with a new book.
The 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, now more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland, has been marked by the release of a lavishly illustrated new book by one of B.C.’s bestselling authors, David Day, who has ‘decoded’ the text by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the British mathematician, clergyman and Oxford don now more famously known by his pseudonym, Lewis Carroll.
As well, UBC Library held a month-long exhibit in October, The Illustrated Alice, a visual journey through 150 years of illustrations for the classic work, presented by UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre.
David Day’s 296-page new work is Wonderland Decoded: The Full Text of Lewis Carroll’s Novel with its Many Hidden Meanings Revealed (Penguin Random House 2015), in which Day supplies fascinating background material. He does not shy from conjecturing about the possibly scandalous relationship between Dodgson and his “dream-child” in real life, Alice Liddell, who inspired the work. No clear evidence has arisen to explain why her parents suddenly forbid Dodgson to see her.
David Day will be included in the forthcoming Literary Map of B.C. regarding his unusual childhood at Rocky Point in the District of Metchosin, Vancouver Island
His childhood home up to the seventh grade was located twenty miles west of Victoria, at the end of R.R. 1., in a forested, off-limits, national defence area known as Rocky Point at the most southerly point in Western Canada, not far from the last leper colony in Canada on Bentinck Island. The Day family of five lived in a two-bedroom bungalow with a total floor-space of 800 square feet. The house still stands (as of 2015).
“As a child I loved the place,” Day says. “Rocky Point was a curious neighbourhood. Besides essentially living on an ammunition dump with a leper colony to the south, we had a federal prison (William Head) across Pedder Bay to the east, the Beecher Bay Indian reserve to the west, and the Mary Hill military firing range to northwest.
“Nonetheless, Rocky Point is and was a remarkably idyllic nature sanctuary of protected forest and shore line filled with every kind of wildlife and a spectacular view of the Olympic Mountains across the straits of the Salish Sea.
“There were a dozen DND houses on the road and the gate to the entrance to the military reserve was a mile down the road, so it was somewhat cut off from the other farm communities. The nearest grocery was a very hilly five miles away. We had a very winding and not-well-kept 18-mile road with many stops on an armed forces bus for an hour-long ride to school in Belmont Park near Royal Roads. Many of the wives at Rocky Point compared it to Alcatraz.”
Offshore was Bentinck Island, the slightly more humane leper colony that in 1924 replaced the notorious Darcy Island colony. It remained operational until the death of the last leper in 1957. “Bentinck is a very small island that is just a stones throw off Rocky Point,” Day says, “although the strait between has a strong current, and on the southern side it is separated by an even stronger current by the famous ship-wrecking Race Rocks with its lighthouse, first built in 1861.”
Bentinck Island is now a military artillery testing and firing range. At Rocky Point, Day’s father was a fire lieutenant, then later fire chief. Rocky Point needed its own fire prevention service because the compound basically served as a Department of National Defence munitions factory and dumping port. “Fires there were frowned upon,” Day quips.
If asked to name B.C.’s topselling authors, few would cite Toronto-based David Day with his internationally successful books on Tolkien, vanished species and Lewis Carroll. “The books I write are far more profound than I am,” Day says.
Even though Day has published numerous successful books pertaining to the writings of Tolkien, he didn’t read Lord of the Rings until his late teens. He got the idea for an encyclopedia of an imaginary world while taking a bibliography course at UBC. To coincide with the release of three Peter Jackson films based on The Hobbit in 2012, 2013 and 2014, new editions of David Day’s six Tolkien-related books were republished, icluding The Illustrated Encyclopedia (Simon & Schuster 2012). According to publicity materials, Day’s six titles pertaining to Tolkien’s works have sold nearly three million copies in 20 languages since 1978. Reprinted by various publishers around the world, the first of these, The Tolkien Bestiary (Harbour 1987), could be the bestselling book ever first published from B.C. In 2012, Day reported it had been published in 120 editions in twenty languages.
David Day was born in 1947 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Victoria, and his first home, as an infant, was an army hutch in the Gordon Head Military Barracks in Saanich, now the University of Victoria Campus. Day edited his high school newspaper, contributed sports articles to the Victoria Times and worked on Vancouver Island for five years as a logger.
He travelled in Europe, staying mainly in Greece, where he wrote some of the poems that were included in his first book that arose from his timber camp journals, The Cowichan (Oolichan, 1975; Harbour, 1976).
He told B.C. BookWorld: “The material my first book, ‘The Cowichan’ came out of journals kept in the late sixties and early seventies in the Caycuse and Nitinat logging camps in the Cowichan Valley. Those journals were filled with the voices and stories of men who lived and worked on the edge of the massive primeval forests of the Pacific Northwest. Logging tales filled with the sound of diesel engines, chainsaws and falling timber became mixed with the native Indian lore about wildlife: eagles, bears, mountain lions and elk.
“Writing was a means of making this wilderness known to me in a deeply personal sense. The landscapes of my waking and dreaming life became one. A kind of personal mythology came into existence as the creatures of the forest came to inhabit my dreams.
“Curiously, Wordsworth’s dictum that poetry “takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity” is reasonably demonstrated in the composition of The Cowichan poems. Although the logging camp journals were the basis for this first book, most of the poems only began to emerge form those pages as finished works over the next year and a half of living on the Aegean island of Paros in Greece.
“While in Greece, I sent a dozen poems to Robin Skelton at the Malahat Review in the hope that he might choose one, and was astonished that he took the lot, editing them down to one long seven-page sequence, entitled Logging: Cowichan Lake. Upon returning to Victoria, I entered U-Vic’s creative writing program.
“At this time, Gary Geddes was putting together Oxford University Press’s first anthology of B.C. literature, Skookum Wawa and chose a couple of my poems. He then recommended me to Ron Smith who just starting Oolichan Books who published The Cowichan in 1975. Over the next year, Ron and I had something of a falling out, and Howie White at Harbour Publishing generously offered to publish and second edition with sepia archival photographs.”
In the year he graduated from the Department of Creative Writing at UVic, David Day completed a non-fiction assignment for the Provincial Archives called Men of the Forest (1977) and he co-edited Many Voices: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Indian Poetry (J.J. Douglas, 1977) with Marilyn Bowering.
That ground-breaking anthology included George Lezard of the Okanagan, Mary Augusta Tappage of the Cariboo, George Clutesi, Eleanor Crowe of Summerland, Sarain Stump, Gordon Williams of Vernon, Skyros Bruce, Benjamin Abel of Westbank, Edward John of Fort St. James and Jeannette Armstrong Bonneau of Penticton.
As an author, Day has uniquely combined death, fantasy, environmentalism and idealism. He has achieved sales of several million books with ecological titles such as The Doomsday Book of Animals (Toronto: Wiley, 1981), selected as Book of the Year by Time magazine, as well as The Whale War (D&M, 1987) and Eco Wars: True Tales of Environmental Madness (Key Porter, 1989), an encyclopedia of ecological activism. It cites the deaths of Chico Mendes (murdered, Brazil, 1988), Dian Fossey (murdered, Rwanda, 1985), Fernando Pereira (murdered, New Zealand, 1985), Hilda Murrell (murdered, England, 1984), Valery Rinchinov (murdered, USSR, 1981), Joy Adamson (murdered, Kenya, 1980), Karen Silkwood (murdered? USA, 1974) and Guy Bradley (murdered, USA, 1905).
Other environmental titles include The Encyclopedia of Vanished Species (Gallery Books, 1989), Noah’s Choice: True Stories of Extinction and Survival (Penguin, 1990), The Green Booklist (Viking-Penguin, 1992) and The Complete Rhinoceros (Environmental Investigation Agency Press, 1994).
Illustrated by four wildlife artists, Nevermore: A Book of Hours (Quatrro $20) is a bestiary and a book of remembrance, updating his Encyclopedia of Vanished Species from 1989. He links the fates of extinct animals to human characters—Julius Caesar to the Aurochs, Jacques Cartier to the Great Auk, Samuel de Champlain to the Passenger Pigeon, Vitus Bering to the Stellar’s Sea Cow, Daniel Boone to the Black Bison, Charles Darwin to the Antarctic Wolf.
His Tolkien-related titles are The Tolkien Bestiary (Harbour, 1978), The Hobbit Companion (2000), Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (2000), The Tolkien Companion (Mandarin-Mitchell-Beasley, 1993) and Tolkien’s Ring (Harper-Collins, 1994).
Tolkien’s Ring is illustrated by Alan Lee, the Oscar Award-winning artist and art director for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Hobbit films. Castles (McGraw-Hill, 1984) was the first of Day’s five collaborations with Alan Lee, followed by Lost Animals (1984), Gothic (1986), Tolkien’s Ring (1994) and Quest For King Arthur (1995).
Day told B.C. BookWorld in 2012: “My first encounter with Alan Lee was the result of a curious set of coincidences. In 1981, I was in Toronto, a couple of years after the publication of ‘A Tolkien Bestiary’ and was on my way to New York to promote my ‘Doomsday Book of Animals’ when Jack Jensen, who I had met through Earle Birney, suggested I get in touch with Ian Ballantine while I was in New York. As Ian Ballantine was the legendary founder of both Bantam and Ballantine Books, I thought this was rather presumptuous, but I was assured he was very approachable; and as the publisher of the recent best-sellers Gnomes and Faeries, would be interested in meeting me.
“With nothing much to lose I made the call while in New York. To my astonishment, he arranged a meeting that same day at Bantam Books. To my further astonishment, he stated he knew who I was and then sat by amused as he played me a tape in which his designer David Larkin was having a conversation with the illustrator Alan Lee. Two minutes into the tape, Lee was stated the illustrations were going fine, but the concept of the book and its text was a major problem for him. Ideally he would like to have someone like that author of A Tolkien Bestiary, a Canadian writer named David Day work with him on the project!
“A few months later, Ballantine had flown Alan Lee and me to New York, and then taken us up to his up state New York home in the village of Bearsville in Woodstock. There we sat around a table with the designer David Larkin and brainstormed the project that eventually became the book Castles. That was the beginning of a friendship and series of collaborations with Alan Lee that has lasted for over thirty years.”
Day’s numerous children’s books are also published worldwide. Illustrated by Eric Beddows, Day’s first children’s book, The Emperor’s Panda (McClelland & Stewart, 1986), is the story of the first panda the world has ever seen and a shepherd boy named Kung in a land called Sung Wu.
Illustrated by Richard Evans, his children’s picture book The Swan Children (Doubleday, 1989) is based on an Irish folk tale about an embittered queen who transforms four stepchildren into swans for 1,000 years, until they are liberated by tolling of church bells. Realizing the age of magic has ended, the swans return to an underwater kingdom. “What interested me,” Day said, “was the confrontation between the pagan world and the Christian one… with the result that the pagan world went underground but still existed.”
For young readers he has also published The Sleeper (Doubleday, 1990), The Walking Catfish / or The Big Lie (Macmillan, 1992 or Piccadilly, 1991), Aska’’s Animals (Doubleday, 1991), Aska’s Birds (Doubleday, 1992) Tippu (Piccadilly Press, 1993), King of the Woods (Little Brown, 1993) and Aska’s Sea Creatures (Doubleday, 1994).
Other David Day titles include The Burroughs Bestiary (London: New English Library, 1978), Castles (McGraw-Hill, 1984) and The Search for Arthur (D’Agostini, 1995), plus three more volumes of poetry: The Scarlet Coat Serial (Press Porcépic, 1981), The Animals Within (Penumbra, 1984) and Gothic (Exile, 1986).
Day has lived in Toronto, London, Spain, Greece and Victoria, including a stint working for McClelland & Stewart in Ontario. Early in his career David Day wrote for Punch in England. He has also written columns for Britain’s Daily Standard and Evening Standard. The Whale War was the basis for a BBC television film of the same name. Eco Wars was published in the United States as The Environmental Wars. The Emperor’s Panda was adapted and performed by the Young People’s Theatre of Toronto. Gothic was adapted as a stage performance by magician Simon Drak at the Royal Victoria Museum’s Magic, Shamanism and Poetry Festival in 1987. His 100-part television series Lost Animals, narrated by Greta Scacchi, has been translated into 18 languages.
In the mid-1980s, David Day brought Britain’s poet laureate Ted Hughes to B.C. to read in Victoria and Vancouver; and later with Linda Rogers he organized the Spirit Quest Festival in Victoria. Since 2007, Day has lived in Toronto but makes annual summer migrations to B.C.
In 2012, Day’s reading tour to promote his newest book, Nevermore: A Book of Hours – Meditations on Extinction (Quattro $20), coincided with his father’s 88th birthday and a totem pole-raising ceremony on the grounds of the Lieutenant Governor General’s mansion in Victoria by his old friend, Kwakiutl Chief Tony Hunt.
Illustrated by four wildlife artists, Nevermore: A Book of Hours is a medieval bestiary—part natural history, part human history, part mythology, and part literature and poetry—as well as a book of remembrance, updating his Encyclopedia of Vanished Species from 1989. Day links the fates of extinct animals to human characters—Julius Caesar to the Aurochs, Jacques Cartier to the Great Auk, Samuel de Champlain to the Passenger Pigeon, Vitus Bering to the Stellar’s Sea Cow, Daniel Boone to the Black Bison, Charles Darwin to the Antarctic Wolf.
As a tribute to a multitude of strange and astonishing species which have literally ‘gone the way of the Dodo,’ the book begins with the historic first encounters with the unjustly maligned Dodo’s extinction in 1680, and marks the beginning of ‘Globalization’ and the monetization of species that rapidly resulted in many extinctions at the hand of man.
Day says the highlight of his literary promotion was a reading at the Old Fire House in Duncan, in the Cowichan Valley, where his logging camp journals were written, giving rise to his first book, The Cowichan.
In February 2015 he received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Victoria, prior to the appearance in October of his study of the life and works of Lewis Carroll, Decoding Wonderland, to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
BOOKS [according to his website]
The Cowichan (1975)
Many Voices: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Indian Poetry (co-editor) (1977)
The Scarlet Coat Serial (1981)
The Animals Within (1984)
The Visions and Revelations of St. Louis the Metis (1997)
Just Say ‘No’ to Family Values (1997)
Natural history and ecology
The Doomsday Book of Animals (1981)
The Whale War (1987)
The Eco Wars
True Tales of Environmental Madness (1989)
The Encyclopaedia of Vanished Species (1989)
Noah’s Choice (1990)
Green Penguin Book Guide (1992)
The Complete Rhinoceros (1994)
Vanished Species (2007)
Fantasy & mythology
The Burroughs Bestiary (1978)
A Tolkien Bestiary (1978)
Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopaedia (1992)
A to Z of Tolkien (1993)
The Tolkien Companion
Guide to Tolkien
Tolkien’s Ring (1994)
The Quest for King Arthur (1996)
The Hobbit Companion (1997)
The Hobbit Calendar (2004)
Tolkien’s World (2002)
Guide to Tolkien’s World
The World of Tolkien
Characters of Tolkien (2001)
Wonderland Decoded: The Full Text of Lewis Carroll’s Novel with its Many Hidden Meanings Revealed (2015) 9780385682268
History and LiteratuMany Voicesre: Sound Heritage Anthology Series (editor) (1975)
Myth and the Mountains: Sound Heritage Anthology Series (editor) (1976)
Men of the Forest: Sound Heritage Anthology Series (editor) (1977)
Children’s fiction and poetry
The Emperor’s Panda (1986)
The Swan Children (1989)
The Sleeper (1990)
Aska’s Animals (1991)
The Big Lie (1991)
The Walking Catfish (1992)
Aska’s Birds (1992)
The Wolf Children (1991)
The King of the Woods (1993)
Aska’s Sea Creatures (1995)