Another writer famously inspired by toys was Robert Louis Stevenson. In turn, early wargamer Stevenson’s works like Treasure Island will surely have inspired many pirate games.
“The Land Of Counterpane” from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885) is a poem I have enjoyed since I was a small child, because it chimed with my own happy memories and experiences of bedtime and playing with toy soldiers.
It reads as if this poem child, this I Of the poem, really was Stevenson who lived and then relived this Land of Counterpane situation through verse, as he was at times a sickly bed-bound child; A Child’s Garden of Verses is dedicated to his nurse or nanny Alison Cunningham.
Something to save for another blogpost but several other verses in his classic book of poems are about toy soldiers (‘The Dumb Soldier’ and ‘Historical Associations’, both precursors of garden Wargames) or ‘Block City’, which seems an early wooden precursor of Minecraft.
Some of his lead toy soldiers appear to have survived in this RLS museum collection in America and are pictured by Nancy Horan on Pinterest:
Just tracking the many illustrations of this poem online is an interesting web browsing activity, easy to do on picture sites like Pinterest.
When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.
And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;
And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.
I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.
In this book of poems, there are some interesting ideas of scale, scenarios and temporary miniature worlds that are explored playfully and humorously as proper ‘Art’ and ‘Photography’ by artists today such as Slinkachu. http://www.slinkachu.com
Lots of ideas to explore or return to over the coming months and years!
On Pinterest you can find several illustrated versions of The Land of Counterpane poem by different illustrators including the famous one by Jessie Willcox Smith in the USA.
Another favourite illustration of the Land Of Counterpane is a 1966 version by Britain’s house painter and illustrator Brian Wildsmith, who recently died aged 86 in August 2016, again with the usual Wellsian red versus blue troops. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Wildsmith
A patterned bedspread or counterpane is obviously an early version of a grid square or grid hex wargame, or any early improvised version of what today we would call or buy as an wargames terrain mat.
Hexscapism and War Gaming in Bed
Donald Featherstone in his Solo Wargames book mentioned in a chapter on “Wargaming In Bed” exploring the apparent possibilities of lying in bed as wargames terrain
“At first glance beds , with their blanket-covered hummocks, hills and valleys, might seem pretty reasonable places upon which to fight a wargame, but experiment soon proves that this is not so. In the first place, the figures will not stand up and even the most judicious positioning of the legs under the bedclothes so as to make the hills less steep will eventually be defeated by cramp if nothing else …”
This excerpt is from Chapter 20, “Wargaming in Bed” in Solo Wargaming by Donald Featherstone (1973 /2009 reprint p. 139), an excellent chapter full of suitably simple rules for skirmishes with jousting knights or duellists.
After all, the easiest wargames terrain is a cloth draped over hills made of books, again if only you can manage to get your figures to stand up on it.
Using Hex boards it should be possible to recreate the 3D terrain of legs, knees and bumps(adaisies) to recreate those Counterpane type battles.
When I get sufficient spare Heroscape hexes and cover these with offcuts of patterned fabric, I hope to build a ‘Land of Counterpane’ type terrain with those suitable tiny German wooden toy buildings and trees, beloved of ‘old school’ and grid wargamers.
On this patchwork grid or ‘counterpane’ terrain I should be able to play out further Toysian / Wellsian adventures using my version of Donald Featherstone’s Close Wars simple two page appendix rules, a bash about mash up of rule versions I have called Close Little Wars.
On a vintage gaming site recently was a clever reprint of an article on how to convert your bed into the footings of a wargames table (and still sort of sleep in it). Brilliant – but I can’t find the link at the moment.
Redesigning the Counterpane bed for more gaming value
Alternatively, bed manufacturers could embrace the wooden shapes of the bed into suitable features for imaginative play for the child and young at heart! Imaginative Counterpane redesigns include:
More interesting blogposts from the web on Robert Louis Stevenson and toy soldiers:
Pages from Stevenson’s wargames journal the Yallobally Record, in an article Stevenson at Play, was recently reprinted on the ever interesting Vintage Wargaming blog:
Stevenson’s ideal home has a Wargames loft (much like Donald Featherstone!)
A reprint of Project Gutenberg Child’s Garden of Verses including this simple illustration below –
Posted by Mark, Man of TIN blog, December 2016.