Alice goes ape

14th November 1997 at 00:00
WILLY THE DREAMER. Anthony Browne. Walker Pounds 9.99.

A monkey Mad Hatter is just one of the many simian inhabitants of Anthony Browne's dream Wonderland, as Jane Doonan explains

Willy the chimp, Anthony Browne's endearing and enduring creation, is back in a new picture book with no text-based storyline and no upper age limit for viewers.

In the first illustration Willy settles himself in his armchair to build castles in the air, which then appear as a succession of 20 gilt-framed paintings depicting his fantasies, hopes and anxieties. The page-by-page entertainment includes running jokes with bananas, Fair-Isle patterning and verbal and visual punning, as well as guest appearances of characters from other Anthony Browne books.

There are allusions to films from Frankenstein to Disney's Snow White, as well as to Elvis and the arts of sumo wrestling and classical ballet. Willy's own version of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland is inhabited (apart from a solitary flamingo croquet mallet) entirely by apes. A monster monkeyis reflected in the mirror, inspired by the tales of Charles Perrault and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Willy paints the Venus de Milo and discovers Sigmund Freud sitting on a couch in a Henri Rousseau jungle, while the influence of Magritte, Dal!, and de Chirico is apparent in some of the dreamscapes.

The final illustration in this dreamer's gallery is a brilliant, disconcerting variation on the first one, nudging viewers into another angle from which to approach the book - Willy is still in his chair, now winking at us. But a second look shows he has become a pattern on the upholstery. Although still believable, he is no longer "real", but semi-transparent.

As well as showing the pleasures and values of day-dreaming and of art, Browne is playing with the relative nature of our words, questioning the function of images and reminding us that nothing is what it seems.

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