John Sessions pauses for a second before saying why he thinks Lewis Carroll’s fantasy, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, remains so popular:
“It’s just such wonderful stuff, isn’t it?” he says down the phone line from his home in London.
Sessions is scheduled to take part in a special event at this week’s Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival which will mark the 150th anniversary of Carroll’s classic novel for children.
He will be joined for readings and talk by Rory Bremner, Patricia Hodge, John Bird and Jonathan Miller – the latter directed the remarkable BBC film of the book shown in 1966.
“It’s a wonderful mixture of fantasy and logic that sticks in your head. It’s an array of mental games and ludic form, very playful. And it appeals to kids of all ages.
“When it was published in 1865 it was the first of the real great children’s classics and it remains so to this day,” explains Sessions.
Carroll first dreamed up the idea for his book on what he recalled was a “golden afternoon” on July 4, 1862, when he was in the midst of trying to entertain the three young daughters of his Oxford University colleague, Dean Liddell.
The tale of how Carroll first thought of the story is now almost as famous as the story itself.
Since its first publication Carroll’s playful and curious work has spawned an entire industry, from films to amusement park rides and a new musical by Blur front man, Damon Albarn. Sessions says the book is for children and then again it isn’t: “There is a somewhat darker side to Carroll and while there is joy in ‘Alice’, there’s also a touch of cruelty, a little edge of darkness in the mix.
“But it’s difficult to think of any other wee girl who has played such a central part in fiction,” he adds.
Sessions says he is not 100 per cent certain exactly which character parts he will be taking at the event on Sunday afternoon: “I think it might be the Mad Hatter and the Caterpillar. Jonathan Miller will be there, Rory Bremner and a few other folk, so it should be fun.”
Sessions is something of a regular at the annual Melrose literary festival. “Yeah, I’m an old turn now, a festival old lag,” he laughs.
“Jim Naughtie and I have become pretty much regular turns. But I really enjoy Melrose, Alistair [festival founder Moffat] always pulls together a great show.
“Sadly we didn’t get to do the festival at Lennoxlove last year as it had come to an end, but Melrose blatters on and it’s always a lovely visit.”
l Alice in Wonderland. Sunday, June 14, at 3.30pm in The Times Marquee. Tickets £14 & £12.