“Reading fed the children’s imagination. Their creativity soared after their father presented Branwell with a set of toy soldiers in June 1826. They gave the soldiers names and developed their characters, which they called the “Twelves”. This led to the creation of an imaginary world: the African kingdom of “Angria” which was illustrated with maps and watercolour renderings. The children devised plots about the inhabitants of Angria and its capital city, “Glass Town”, later called Verdopolis.”
“The fantasy worlds and kingdoms gradually, acquired the characteristics of the real world — sovereigns, armies, heroes, outlaws, fugitives, inns, schools and publishers. The characters and lands created by the children had newspapers, magazines and chronicles which were written in extremely tiny books, with writing so small it was difficult to read without a magnifying glass. These creations and writings were an apprenticeship for their later, literary talents.”
“Around 1831, when Anne was eleven, she and Emily broke away from Charlotte and Branwell to create and develop their own fantasy world, “Gondal“. Anne was particularly close to Emily especially after Charlotte’s departure for Roe Head School, in January 1831.”
It has been interesting chatting by email to other gamers like John Patriquin or Alan the Tradgardmastre about Imagi-Nations campaigns as I delve deeper into the involved worlds of the Bronte family’s young fictional countries and characters.
What to keep and what to invent or extrapolate?
In some ways I am finding working inside or through the Bronte fictions are hard work because there is so much detail to them but also much is missing or that only made sense inside their four different imaginations / heads.
I want to steal their fictional geography and fill in the gaps as best I could. Here is my sketch map of a Bronte island country of Gondal, based on Yorkshire:
There are lots of scenario ideas here.
However I think another solution that I will explore further is to jump forward a decade or generation or two, past all the mess of complicated political and personal relationships of the Bronte characters to the Mid and Late Victorians. The Bronte tales are written in the decade before Queen Victoria was on the throne and into the early years of her reign, roughly 1830s / 1840s.
What would the Bronte countries have made of the expanding British, French and Other European Powers throughout the Victorian era?
Jump forward to the Palmerston forts scares of Napoleon 3rd and the French in the 1850s, along with European Colonial expansion throughout the mid to later nineteenth century.
The Oxford Companion to the Brontes has entries on some of the conflicts before they were born (the Napoleonic Wars) and during their 1830s -1850s lifetime such as the Ashanti Wars, the Crimea and First and Second Afghan War, First Opium War, Russo Turkish War 1828 and Greek war of Independence 1821 – 1828. They would have read about these in the newspapers and journals that their father allowed them to read from a young age.
There were many Wars in the few years after their deaths which give the pattern for what was happening in their late Regency / early Victorian world. The Second Opium War, the Indian Mutiny, American Civil War, Franco-Austrian War are all mentioned in the Oxford Companion to the Bronte chronology and timeline.
There are many other historical events to take into account of the ‘real’ world that formed the backdrop to the Bronte Imagi-Nations or Paracosms of GlassTown, Angria, Gondal and Gaaldine.
There are other world events such as the Irish famine and emigration, the Bronte’s father being Irish, the California Goldrush, along with more Britain based situations 1840s Chartist movement and riots (following on from the 1830s Luddite riots) whilst the late 1840s saw revolution in many European countries. Charlotte Bronte’s novel Shirley covers this industrial revolution and Luddite period.
The Battles of Saxby
Even the railway boom led to conflict with landowners and aristocrats who did not wish to have the populace on the move and intrusion on their land such as the Battle of Saxby Bridge around Stapleford Park. I’m sure that some of the Glasstown and Angrian aristocracy would have some of the same concerns.
What of the Angria, Gondal and GlassTown involvement with the First and Second World Wars? Who did they side with?
I’m pretty sure that, being set in fictional Central West Africa and the fictional tropical Pacific islands Gondal (North Pacific) and Gaaldine (South Pacific), they would continue to be at risk of being Invaded by or invading “real” countries into the 20th Century such as Britain, German East Africa and Japan. Had the Brontes been alive they would have reflected these real events transformed into their imaginary worlds.
There is also the throwing off the Colonial leash and independence from Empire in the 1950s and 1960s.
I wonder how the Angrian Defence Forces dealt with WW1 colonial campaigns in Africa? Problems with the WW2 Vichy French rulers of Frenchysland off the coast of Angria?
I wonder how the rival provinces and rulers in Gondal or Gaaldine dealt with the Spanish / American colonial conflicts in the 1890s or the Japanese Pacific campaign after 1941?
I can see it now, the Bronte fictional countries but armed with early light tanks, bicycles, biplanes and Machine guns skirmishing in the tropical grassland jungles moors and rivers (fused / mixed with their familiar Yorkshire moors).
Being Imagi-nations, there are no restrictive uniform charts, and there is little or no guidance from the text to such things. This gives lots of freedom to experiment or invent with colour schemes but this is frustrating also. No comfort zone of uniform books or Osprey titles, but lots of period inspiration from them!
I’m trying to loosen my paint schemes on existing 15mm and 54mm figures and ones on the painting tray to make them flexible for real or fictional campaigns. Rebrand them with officers and flags and then campaign away, much as James is doing on the Quantrill’s Toy Soldiers blog.
Some of the Bronte books such as Branwell Bronte’s books edited by Victor Neufeldt are £30+ academic reprints each – in a trilogy – ouch! I have one. The others out of stock / print. Maybe another time.
So I am “making do” with the digest of these stories in the extensive footnotes in cheaper paperback reprints secondhand, including Charlotte Brontes Tales of Angria edited by Heather Glen (Oxford) and the Oxford Companion by Christine Alexander, a useful A to Z of the Brontes lives and works. Helping me puzzle out and fill in my fictional Maps more …
I think if the Brontes had been born a generation or two later, the Bronte sisters and brother would have been part of the H.G.Wells science fiction generation, contemporary with H.G. Wells, Floor Games, Little Wars, matchstick firing guns, Gardens and lead soldiers.
100 plus years later, would the Brontes have been writing fantasy / dungeon / Victorian Science Fiction / Steampunk games and scenarios?
All inspired by Branwell’s original box of toy soldiers …
I was intrigued by some of the colour schemes and set about repairing some of the American Civil War figures first. Hats of reddy brown, yellow and blue as painted by Tony many years ago were kept, refreshed or patched where needed. On a ragtag Confederate Unit, who would notice a bit of patching?
So there we have some new life breathed into some old figures, along with a few repaired rifles. I bet they thought in their tiny increasingly fragile plastic heads that their fighting days were over forever.
although in my mind they might be needed as ‘Japanese’ as I have ideas for an updated Gondal or Gaaldine type Bronte ImagiNations Pacific based island which is invaded by Japanese style troops 100 years after the Bronte’s 1830s / 1840s ImagiNation settings. A chance to use my spare Airfix first version Eighth Army figures as defenders (they are wearing shorts – perfect for the tropics) or use the ACW figures above as the Island militia.
Advent Day 13 – post number 300 or 301 – finishing a draft Bronte Gamer Blogpost at last.
The Art of The Brontes is a thick Thames and Hudson by Christine Alexander and Jane Sellars, an expensive illustrated book which I thankfully managed to borrow through my local lending library.
It covers every known sketch, painting and doodle by each of the four Bronte children from their youngest childhood drawings to their adult drawings and paintings.
I won’t infringe copyright of paintings or drawings from private or museum collections by featuring them here.
Steel engraving lowered the cost of prints making them more affordable for the likes of the young Bronte sisters.
Tropical Yorkshire in the Pacific?
I thought this might give me a clue to the possible backgrounds, terrain and landscapes for their fictional works of Gondal, Angria and Glasstown, upon which I have based some of my Imagi-Nations game scenarios recently.
Many of their fictional countries in the North and South Pacific or tropical West Africa are a bizarre blend of Yorkshire moors, the fashionable gothic or romantic art of their day with an element of the exotic gleaned from prints and journal illustrations of foreign countries.
I couldn’t quite get this blend of British or Yorkshire Tropical right in my head until I visited some of the sheltered and temperate gardens of Southwest England. Here you can see Victorian houses set in parkland with exotic planting brought back from many foreign countries giving that jungle or Himalayan valley and mountain pass impression. No doubt there must have been such bizarre juxtapositions in Yorkshire big houses that the Bronte family might have known about or visited, being on the edge of gentry as a vicar’s family. These would be big early Victorian houses with their greenhouses, botanic gardens, plant introductions and sheltered walled gardens.
I know this makes this Yorkshire Bronte Tropical fusion sound almost as authentic as filming Carry on Up The Khyber Pass in Britain, with North Wales standing in for the foothills of The Himalayas.
Some of the sketches of landscape appear to be copies of prints, illustrations and drawing exercises as they learnt how to draw in the style of their day.
Bronte Gaming Scenarios
Some of the PECO Landscapes seem very suited to Bronte country and fictional terrain – the mountain scenes or the seaside with ruined castle, for example.
Branwell Bronte, owner of the original twelve soldiers that gave rise to many of the children’s fictional countries and campaigns, wrote and illustrated some interesting early “Battle” books as well with ancient or Napoleonic ‘toy’ soldier drawings.
++++++ TSAF Toy Soldier Air Force official Air Ministry photograph, Gondal. ++++++
++++++ Passed By Censor for Publication. ++++++
New Flying Banshee FLB Mark I has undertaken successful air trials in the skies over Gondal.
This new Dive Bomber Biplane variant of our previous Biplane is undergoing Air Trials at one of the TSAF field air stations.
TSAF Air Ministry Spokesman: “Our new Flying Banshee aircraft Mark I is designed to terrify ground forces or shipping from the air and smash the enemies of Gondal through aerial bombardment.”
TSAF Test Pilot and Squadron Leader “Lucky” Haworth: “Its rugged construction is designed to withstand the rigours of dive bombing targets on land or sea. It has recently completed some successful bombing trails from an undisclosed island air station. It can also operate from small island airstrips or forest clearings.”
This stocky Banshee Biplane variant is a development of our previous dive Bomber monoplane, pictured alongside it.
“The Flying Banshee FLB Mark I is a bit of a powerful beast to fly and has quickly became known to trainee or inexperienced pilots as the FLaB (or Flies like a Brick).”
Details of its armament, experimental wing whistles and performance are not yet being made public.
+++ TSAF Air Ministry communication ENDS +++ +++++++
Back to the Man of TIN blog
My regular blog readers might recognise the Moshi airplanes adapted for use with 54mm Toy soldier figures. If H.G. Wells had incorporated the Aerial Menace into his 1913 Little Wars rules, they might have looked a little like these biplanes or monoplanes.
Upper wings were added from three layers of stiff card, curved edged card scrounged from our household recycling, originally trainer sock packaging.
Stout struts were added using balsa wood, much in the model of the Curtiss Hellcat Dive Bomber variant. This machine will be in use in garden game scenarios so needs the ruggedness. Not elegant but sturdy!
Two drawing pins hold the dip or angle on the main top wing / struts. This part was a bit of a pig!
Masking tape gives a doped canvas feel to the wing and also adds the fake top flaps. Plenty of super glue used throughout.
Currently Test Flight or Interbellum Silver.
Status: Not yet on Active Service. So far we have not applied Gondalese or Gondalian Air Force markings or decals at this test flight stage.
Gondal is one of the North Pacific island Imagi-Nations invented by the young Emily and Ann Bronte that we have fast forwarded a Century into the future from its Bronte Juvenilia origins (set in Napoleonic, late Georgian and Regency / early Victorian British Empire period) through to the interbellum 1920s and 1930s.
Amongst the growing ground crew you can see some recent conversions or repaints to become ground crew including LAC Leading Aircraftswoman “Penny” Farthing, a former Britain’s Land Girl or farm worker.
Old childhood plastic Starlux Engineers in Khaki ground crew overalls work on the Banshee biplane. Oiling up the plane, wearing the stylish new TSAF Gondal Air Ministry issue Blue helmet, is a Crescent Mine detector figure repaired and rebooted from a broken lead figure donated by Alan at the Duchy of Tradgardland.
Airfield Defence: Britain’s gun, pound store soldier sandbags and mix of old and converted Britain’s and homecast Air Force and Navy figures, Gondal being a proud island nation. Barbed wire is from spiral bound notebook wire after recycling a used small notebook.
Slowly building up suitable airfield accessories in 54 mm.
The planes now need a suitable adjustable altitude flight stand for garden gaming use.
The Banshee aircraft name was stimulated by the unlikely names of the Fantasy Name Generator aircraft names
These websites feature several others of these giant green toy soldier statues by Doug Coupland and a monumental Canadian firefighter in similar style.
Monument to the War of 1812 (2008) by Douglas Coupland in Toronto, Canada.
The standing soldier is painted gold and depicts a member of the 1813 Royal Newfoundland Regiment (Canada).
The other fallen toy soldier figure is painted silver and depicts an American soldier from the 16th U.S. Infantry Regiment.
The statue caption or information panel by Coupland mentions a highly local link – one block away is the War of 1812-14 site of Fort York, site of a crucial battle in April 1813 that secured Canada’s future as a separate nation from The USA
The victorious Canadian soldier looks rugged and heroic, not unusual on a war memorial. Certainly more conventionally heroic and rugged than the unfortunate Confederate war memorial in Dade, Georgia, known as “Dutchy”, pulled down and buried by his own townsfolk:
Safely two hundred years past, Coupland’s toy soldier approach to this war memorial is highly unusual, showing toy soldier versions of the protagonists complete with fake mould lines.
Is Coupland suggesting in game terms that this side won, or “you lost” as was recently scrawled on some Confederate war memorials in America?
Gold and silver statues, winner and runner up in sporting terms?
I wonder how we would react to a WWI or WWII statue in this rugged big toy soldier style, replete with figure bases and mould lines.
How would we react now as members of the public or the armed services to a statue in this style of a more recent conflict like the Gulf Wars or Afghanistan?
Is Coupland suggesting that soldiers are pawns in a game of war?
This toy soldier style of memorial or public artwork had done its job, in getting me thinking about its meaning.
I am reminded of H.G. Wells’ wise words in Little Wars book (about fighting battles with toy soldiers) compared with the real blundering thing of GreatWars. Wars, as Yoda wisely observed of great warriors in the Star Wars movies, “Wars do not make one great.”
A 2008 interview with Coupland about the statue features the unveiling, public response, toy soldiers and 1812 reenactors – see this short Vimeo video by Inkblot media https://vimeo.com/5020532
I would be curious to hear what other blog readers think of this interesting War of 1812 ‘toy soldier’ style memorial?
Events of 1812
So watching this video with its short and varied contributors, it seems that there is some controversy from different sides (Canada, America, Britain) on who exactly won and lost the war of 1812-14 in North America. This is partly what statue designer Douglas Coupland says he is challenging or questioning in his 1812 memorial.
All I remember from school about the War of 1812 is that “The British burnt the White House” with no real understanding of why. The events and background to the War of 1812 are outlined here:
In view of recent controversy over the future of some Confederate war memorial statues in a changing multi-racial America, it is interesting to read the response to this less well-remembered conflict or civil war in North America, amongst other controversial markers or memorials.
I am always struck by the highly familiar miniature statues that are our childhood Airfix figures.
Some of the spare Airfix OOHO British Waterloo infantry that I have recently found (in a couple of recent lucky Airfix box finds) could do well at a pinch for both British, Canadian and American troops in an 1812 Skirmish. Using Featherstone’s Close Wars appendix rules (from War Games 1962), this is another idea for the Man of TIN 2018 project list.
Such figures would also suit Army Red, Army Blue type of scenarios in Imagi-Nations and my fictional Bronte kingdoms of Angria and Gondal.
My trusty old library / childhood copy of Preben Kannik’s Military Uniforms of the World in Colour features British or Allied troops of the time, as well as these couple of 1812 American troops.
As a child I often thought the 1812 New York Rifle Corps uniform one of the more exotic, almost Santa Claus like in the trimmed hunting shirt, but had no figures similar or suitable.
The Portuguese Cacadores in their brown uniforms are interesting paint variations for Airfix or Napoleonic figures. The fact that the regular Portuguese units wore blue is another chance to reuse any Blue uniformed Airfix British looking troops with Shakos when they are not pretending to be American 1812 troops. The French infantry will provide any opposition needed. Flexible armies result if you don’t look too closely!
Interesting that the Butternut improvisation of dress (green, brown, grey, blue) of the American Civil War was alive in the 1812 US Army as supplies ran short. Good camouflage for guerilla and back woods fighting.
The US 16th Infantry Regiment pictured in Kannik’s book is the US regiment shown in Coupland’s Toy Soldier Statue or Memorial.
My local library service also turned up for me from its stores on loan The War of 1812, an old Osprey Men at Arms. Very useful – several more recent titles on the subject have been added.
As mentioned, another idea for the painting table and the Man of TIN 2018 project list!
Blog Post Script
Interesting comments in the comment section from Ross MacFarlane from a modern Canadian standpoint, worth reproducing here: “Hmm, as I recall the popular reaction to the statue was not exactly favourable, I suppose most of us aren’t enlightened enough. Odd to celebrate Ft York as a turning point since we lost that one but what’s history if you can’t rewrite it?
Its interesting to follow the shift in interpretation over the centuries to match various shifts in politics and culture from “brave Canadians stood up to the American elephant with a bit of help from the Old Country” to “the Brits did it all and the Canadians weren’t really involved” (hard to take in view of battles like Chateauguay where no Brits were involved and others where units raised in what is now Canada were raised as British regiments ) to a more balanced view based on facts.”
Ross’s other comment on Kannik’s uniform book got me thinking:
“I used to wonder just what kind of weird hat that the NY rifleman was wearing, would have been much better if he turned his head a bit to show the common top hat with turned brim. Looking back it was also surprising that the pictures on the dust jacket were not replicated inside, inc that handsome NY Dragoon”.
I had quite forgotten this figure:
I have some ideas in the comments section about making such a dandy Dragoon unit out of Airfix Waterloo British Royal Horse Artillery and Hussars conversions. More food for thought …