Crossposted from my Man ofTIN Blog Two site
Toy soldiers, gaming, Imagi-Nations
Crossposted from my Man ofTIN Blog Two site
“And one of the greatest helps to a small, inexperienced traveller in this sometimes dusty way is the likeness of things to each other. Your piece of thick bread and butter is a little stale, perhaps, and bores you; but, when you see that your first three bites have shaped it to the likeness of a bear or a beaver, dull teatime becomes interesting at once. A cloud that is like a face, a tree that is like an old man, a hill that is like an elephant’s back, if you have things like these to look at, and look out for, how short the long walk becomes.” E. Nesbit, Wings and The Child, 1913.
Was Tolkein influenced by the work of E. Nesbit and her “Accidental Magic” stories?
“A Tree Like a Man” by George Barraud, drawn for E. Nesbit’s Wings and The Child or the Building of Magic Cities, 1913 – contemporary with H.G. Wells’ Floor Games of 1911 and Little Wars 1913.
Some draw a line of gaming descent through Little Wars and Gary Gygax to Dungeons and Dragons and fantasy gaming.
Crossposted by Mark Man of TIN on 27 January 2021 from my Pound Store Plastic Warrior’s Blog – this one’s for Mr. Gruber and his Ents –
B.P.S. Blog Post Script – there’s a face in the clouds!
“There are no words to express half what I feel about the teachers in our Council Schools, their enthusiasm, their patience, their energy, their devotion. When we think of what the lives of poor children are …” E. Nesbit
It has been a tough time for many children and teachers during Lockdown, with schools mostly shut, rapidly adapting to home schooling and being taught online, the inequalities of the nation shown up by concerns over free school meal vouchers and lack of data or laptops.
I started reading Wings and The Child or the Building of Magic Cities (1913) by E. Nesbit (of Railway Children fame) with some scepticism about this middle class pastime of borrowed silver candlesticks and marbled bound volumes set up by servants in the library or the nursery.
The first half of the book is about her thoughts on childhood, education and the state of England, the second half is how she makes her Magic Cities with the help of her children.
Reading this book, I get echoes of Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys and E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, a concern for the rapidly urbanising State of the Nation, shown up in BP’s case by the poor standard of recruits for the Boer War.
What I didn’t realise is that Edith Nesbit, in response to many letters from children about her children’s book The Magic City (1910), exhibited and manned her Magic City at during the Child Welfare Exhibition Olympia of late 1912 and early 1913, the year her book was published.
Here at the Exhibition, she had a wide range of visitors from foreign royalty to teachers. Fellow exhibitors included the suffragette or suffrage societies.
Regular blog readers will have read my recent posts on H.G. Wells’ Floor Games (1911) and Little Wars (1913).
Edith Nesbit (or Mrs Hubert Bland) and her husband Hubert would have known Wells and his Little Wars friends like Mr W. (Graham Wallas) through the socialist Fabian Society. Arguably Wells’ science fiction books have their own criticisms of the state of the Nation or colonialism and Empire such as The War of the Worlds or The Time Machine.
This Edwardian period is one where I often base my games, from suffragette bill postering on wheels to Scouting Wide Games for Boy and Girl Scouts.
Reproaching my initial modern prejudice about this book and her Edwardian Middle Class background, Nesbit shows that she is aware or able to adapt her thoughts to the situation of children in rural or urban board schools (primary schools) established in the 1870s.
The Poor Child’s City – CHAPTER VII, Wings and the Child, E. Nesbit, 1913
“When my city was built at Olympia a great many school-teachers who came to see it told me that they would like to help the children in their schools to build such cities, but that it would not be possible because the children came from poor homes, where there were none of the pretty things—candlesticks, brass bowls, silver ash-trays, chessmen, draughts, well-bound books, and all the rest of it—which I had used to build my city.
So then I said I would build a city out of the sort of things that poor children could collect and bring to school. And I did. My friends Mr. Annis and Mr. Taylor, who were helping me to explain the city and show it to visitors, helped me with the building. We did it in a day, and it was very pretty—so pretty that the school-teachers who came to see it asked me to write a book to say how that was done. And so I did.
There are no words to express half what feel about the teachers in our Council Schools, their enthusiasm, their patience, their energy, their devotion.
When we think of what the lives of poor children are, of the little they have of the good things of this world, the little chance they have of growing up to any better fate than that of their fathers and mothers, who do the hardest work of all and get the least pay of all those who work for money—when we think how rich people have money to throw away, how their dogs have velvet coats and silver collars, and eat chicken off china, while the little children of the poor live on bread and tea, and wear what they can get—often enough, too little—when we think of all these things, if we can bear to think of them at all, there is not one of us, I suppose, who would not willingly die if by our death we could secure for these children a fairer share of the wealth of England, the richest country in the world.
For wealth, by which I mean money, can buy all those things which children ought to have, and which these children do not have—good food, warm clothes, fresh country air, playthings and books, and pictures.
Remembering that by far the greater number of children of England have none of these things, you would, I know, gladly die if dying would help. To die for a cause is easy—you leap into the gulf like Curtius, or fall on the spears like Winkelried, or go down with your ship for the honour of your country.
To lead a forlorn hope, to try to save one child from fire or water, and die in the attempt—that is easy and glorious. The hard thing to do is to live for your country—to live for its children.
And it is this that the teachers in the Council Schools do, year in and year out, with the most unselfish nobility and perseverance.
And nobody applauds or makes as much fuss as is made over a boy who saves a drowning kitten. In the face of enormous difficulties and obstacles, exposed to the constant pin-pricks of little worries, kept short of space, short of materials and short of money, yet these teachers go on bravely, not just doing what they are paid to do, but a thousand times more, devoting heart, mind, and soul to their splendid ambition and counting themselves well paid if they can make the world a better and a brighter place for the children they serve.
If these children when they grow up shall prove better citizens, kinder fathers, and better, wiser, and nobler than their fathers were, we shall owe all the change and progress to the teachers who are spending their lives to this end.
And this I had to say before I could begin to write about how cities may be built of such materials as poor children can collect and bring to school …” (E. Nesbit, Wings and The Child, 1913)
You can read the rest of this section and the whole of Wings and the Child here:
Wings and The Child – A very interesting book , along with Little Wars and Floor Games that captures the spirit of our childhood games and our modern gamers’ scrap modelling.
Many of her other comments in Wings and The Child on the ‘institution’ of Education from the content of curriculums, class sizes and the lack of time for concern for the individual personality of children might be heard in school staff rooms and home education groups today.
The communal or collective efforts (collective in many senses of the word) to make these Magic Cities in urban or rural Board Schools must have been splendid sights to see, the shiny tin can city version of the glories of the Victorian and Edwardian “Nature Table” in primary schools and Sunday Schools.
Bravo Board and Council School Teachers!
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 24 January 2021
Picked up in a second hand bookshop years ago is an illustrated copy of this E. Nesbit Short story The Town In the Library, first published in 1901.
How to Feed Toy Soldiers …
This out of print 1987 Macdonald / Beehive Books edition of the Edith Nesbit story has interesting illustrations of toy soldiers by illustrator Shirley Tourret who died in 2007.
Some of the aspects of the story are an interesting and magical realist mixture of kaleidoscopic Chinese puzzle ‘box inside a box’ / ‘world inside a fantasy world’ of Lewis Carroll and H.G. Wells Floor Games and Little Wars. It is the familiar floor world of Wells’ Little Wars world of the Edwardian Nursery.
Two children Rosalind and Fabian are quarantined at home with measles on Christmas Eve. They are forbidden to open the top drawers of a bureau / desk but of course do and discover their Christmas treats and toys including blue and red toy soldiers.
The short story from Nesbit’s 1901 book Nine Unlikely Tales is played out amongst buildings and forts made of books, in a H.G. Wells style but ideas of scale are played around with throughout the story and the children appear to shrink into this world or town inside their house’s library.
The blue toy soldiers appear out of their wood and straw box in a novel and exciting way – abseiling down the wood shavings to the floor below, a decorative feat in full Napoleonic gear.
Thus is nicely pictured by Shirley Tourret with the soldier climbing down the side of the text to the book’s floor.
A similar abseiling paper soldier was recently featured in an innovative and imaginative 2010 art residency Remnants by Su Blackwell https://www.bronte.org.uk/contemporary-arts/artists-in-haworth/su-blackwell at the Bronte Parsonage Museum, depicting the heroic characters leaping to imaginative life of the Bronte children’s juvenilia (Angria, Gondal and Glasstown) – see Pinterest, http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/pdf/papermodels/blackwellcs.pdf or Su Blackwell’s website for more of the images.
Captured by the blue toy soldiers, the children are persuaded to feed them their Christmas treats in a novel and unusual way. “I suppose you know how tin soldiers are fed?” Edith Nesbit / the narrator asks:
The children are rescued by the traditional red coated heroes (Nesbit’s story was written in 1901 at the height of Empire after all) which Shirley Tourret depicts in almost 18th Century uniform and head gear. They are nicely portrayed amongst a battlement of books.
All very H.G. Wells and Little Wars …
The story cleverly ends with the two children reappearing in their real nursery / library proper sized again but suffering from the fever of oncoming measles. So was it all a feverish dream or was it?
The book is an interesting mix of period uniforms, and absurd ideas for gaming scenarios such as the blue Napoleonic troops abseiling in full dress and shako.
The figures are stiffly posed in a toyness fashion when glimpsed as toys in some pictures but within the world of the bookish “Town in The Library” of the title and the children’s feverish imaginations the Toy Soldiers appear more animated, alive and human. This is cleverly distinguished in Shirley Tourret’s illustrations.
A sad postscript
The things you learn whilst exploring the world of toy soldiers.
As well as finding out about illustrators, you discover interesting things about the authors too.
Exploring Edith Nesbit’s life on Wikipedia, I found that Fabian and Rosamund the two children in the book are named after her own complicated family of birth and adopted children including a son Fabian, who died aged 15 in 1900, the year before this story was published in 1901. She also was one of the nine founders of the socialist Fabian Society in 1884 with her husband Hubert Bland, and her son Fabian was named after the society.
Nesbit’s children were Paul Bland (1880–1940), to whom The Railway Children was dedicated; Iris Bland (1881-1950s); Fabian Bland (1885–1900); Rosamund Bland (1886–1950), to whom The Book of Dragons was dedicated; and John Bland (1898–1971) to whom The House of Arden was dedicated.
Her son Fabian died aged 15 after a tonsil operation; Nesbit dedicated a number of books to him: Five Children and It and its sequels, as well as The Story of the Treasure Seekers and its sequels. Nesbit’s adopted daughter Rosamund collaborated with her on the book Cat Tales. (Wikipedia source: E.Nesbit)
At least Fabian lives on through this story.
Blogposted by Mr MIN, Man of TIN, September 2016.