Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Consummate Characters: Hatter and Humpty

 Of all the characters created by Lewis Carroll; the Hatter (in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) and Humpty Dumpty (in Through the Looking Glass) are my favorites both for their personalities and for their iconic portrayals drawn by Sir John Tenniel.

via www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
 The Hatter is an unpleasantly bizarre fellow, but totally captivating. Tenniel gave him an elf-like proportion and a Bertrand Russell visage--spot-on nonsensical when combined with an obnoxious personality and unpredictable mood shifts. One minute he's curiously staring, the next offering a riddle; making rude comments, and then abruptly lapsing into melancholy. The madness of a hatter aside, this character's verbal jousts with Alice make me laugh out loud--especially his final interruption:
"Really, now you ask me," said Alice, very much confused, "I don't think---"
"Then you shouldn't talk," said the Hatter. 
There's quite a bit of wisdom in that madness.

When next we see him in front of the King and Queen of Hearts, his bravado has evaporated and he's nervously taking a bite from his teacup. Between Carroll's genius-writing and Tenniel's genius-illustrating, nothing more ever needs to be added--even though new interpretations continue.

via www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
And then--phenomenally--there's Carroll's Humpty Dumpty. If the Hatter is obnoxious, this character is more than a match for him. In fact, he is downright surly and just as erratic. He irrationally assumes that Alice's inquiries are riddles, growls at Alice when she mistakes his cravat for a belt, and then responds with incongruous gaiety when told that he's holding an arithmetic problem upside down.
Humpty's conversation with Alice is too lengthy to copy here, but it's one of the most thought-provoking and entertaining dialogs in literature. Check it out-- it ends with a bang!  
Again, the images by Tenniel capture his personality with precision.

I love both these guys because I covet their wit and straight-up freedom to say what they're really thinking. Seriously though, real people like these two would send me bolting in the opposite direction.

And yeah, I can't resist sketching out my own versions, not because I'm trying to compete with transcendence, but because it's fun to mess about with such amazing oddballs. 
And so my latest (kind of moribund) version of the Hatter:
See more at www.tomsarmo.blogspot.com
The Hatter. Mixed media, private collection.
 Lately the toned paper has been getting a workout; in this case along with brush, ink, pen, gouache, and acrylic.

Thanks, as always, for the visit!


  1. We love it when you mess about with such oddballs. Love the ginger hair of you madhatter and as always, the feet and hands are amazing.

    1. Thanks, Joy. Work on hands and feet is constant--am happy that you noticed them.


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