It’s been 153 years since the protagonist of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland first offered a pointed literary indictment: As she asks in the novel’s opening lines, “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?”
Luckily for Alice, Carroll’s text is a whirlwind fantasy that practically demands both illustration and ample discussion. In fact, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is so conducive to creative storytelling that the New York Public Library has chosen it to serve as the first installment in a new initiative, Insta Novels.
Engadget’s Mariella Moon reports that the NYPL teamed up with advertising agency Mother to transform beloved works of classic literature into animated novels accessible via Instagram’s “Stories” feature, which allows users to temporarily upload snapshots and videos to the popular photo-sharing app. Once 24 hours pass, these Stories disappear forever—unless a user opts to save them to “Highlights,” an archival feature that prevents selected Stories from fading into oblivion.
The NYPL’s Insta Novels will all be preserved as Highlights, meaning that interested readers can check back in any time after the initial 24-hour period ends.
“Instagram unknowingly created the perfect bookshelf for this new kind of online novel,” Corinna Falusi, partner and chief creative officer at Mother, said in a statement. “From the way you turn the pages, to where you rest your thumb while reading, the experience is already unmistakably like reading a paperback novel."
The first Insta Novel combines Carroll’s text with illustrations from animation artist Magoz, who tells Vice’s Nicole Clark that “the story itself is a big source of inspiration... It fits very well with my work: surrealism, scenes that break the logic, disproportion, morphings, and unexpected events."
Magoz’s work certainly exudes a surrealist vibe. In the novel’s opening sequence, Alice walks directly into a kaleidoscopic vision of swirling shapes—first an eye, then a clock, heart, club, diamond and spade, all of which seem to melt into one another.
As the story winds on, Magoz’s illustrations pop up sporadically, often marking the start of new chapters. And, in the bottom right hand corner of every page, readers catch an additional glimpse of the artist’s playful drawings: With each turn of a page, Wonderland artifacts subtly transform, yielding everything from a keyhole to a pot of tea, mushrooms and a deck of cards.
As the interactive text helpfully points out, these metamorphosing items provide a spot for users to rest their swiping thumb (anyone who has read a book on their phone will tell you that it’s difficult to tap the screen and navigate across pages without blocking text). It’s a charming touch further accentuated by pages filled with specially animated text, announced with a notice stating, “Animated page: Lift thumb to play.” These pages, typically filled with lines of verse, pop up one by one, bringing nonsensical poems like Alice’s famed meditation on “How doth the little crocodile / Improve his shining tail” to life.
For now, Alice’s story is the only Insta Novel available. In the coming months, however, the NYPL plans to release reimagined versions of Franz Kafka’s philosophical novella, The Metamorphosis, and Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s proto-feminist short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Each text will feature a different artist, with New York design and production company Buck taking the lead on Gilman’s story and artist César Pelizer illustrating Kafka’s novella.
In the meantime, Artnet News’ Sarah Cascone notes that the NYPL encourages would-be readers to check out its collection of more than 300,000 “traditional” e-books, available via the SimplyE app, or visit a local public library to pick up more tangible selections.
“This project is directly in line with the Library's mission to make the world's knowledge accessible to all," Carrie Welch, the NYPL's chief of external relations, said in a statement. "It's appropriate that one of the first works we're using is Metamorphosis, because in collaboration with Mother, we are completely transforming the way people look at this popular social media platform, and reimagining the way people access the classics."