“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 …
Me and the tiny men at the Man of TIN blog did have a small whip-round and made a suitably tiny donation alongside hundreds of others to secure this tiny matchbox sized magazine back to its home, where it was handmade small enough for the Bronte toy soldiers to read.
2020 will feature more Bronte inspired war games and gaming scenarios. It is also the 200th bicentenary of the birth of the youngest Bronte sister Anne, the final act in the Bronte 200 celebrations. https://www.bronte.org.uk
Blogposted by Mark Man of TIN, 20 December 2019 – only five sleeps till Christmas.
As a big fan of the Bronte Imagi-Nations for my games table, I was interested to read about a campaign to save one of the Bronte tiny books designed in matchbox size for the toy soldiers that inspired their juvenile fictions:
Zombies, attack helicopters, djinn, Faeries, video games tech, Napoleonic riflemen … what more could you want from a book?
The Bronte sisters and brother wrote some lively but fragmented ImagiNations stories full of battles, conquests, intrigue and romance. A Napoleonic Regency Georgian era Game of Thrones …
One of the problems in using the surviving Bronte fragments of these tiny handwritten books is that they are very disjointed, only some sections have survived and it takes a long while to sort out who is who, with characters with multiple names. Not promising for someone like me who prefers a simple uncomplicated narrative … but Celia Rees pulls this off cleverly in her fast paced historical fantasy adventure story.
Celia Rees has written a young adult novel that, using multiple layers of narrative, wraps the broken and fragmented Bronte ImagiNations narrative in with a modern outer story of young techno wizardry and skullduggery.
Tom, a modern teenage boy in a coma, is watched over in hospital by a quiet girl called Lucy. He is projected by a crooked teenage bitcoin tycoon ‘techno wizard’ Milo Mindbender back from a modern teenage world of hospitals, YouTube, hashtags and social media into a painfully real ‘virtual world’ of a Napoleonic battle zone to meet one of the feisty Bronte female warrior characters, Lady AGA or Augusta.
There is a suggestion that Lucy has been reading Wuthering Heights to Tom whilst he is in his coma.
Readers of Sharpe novels would enjoy this opening Napoleonic skirmishing section. There are later on some wild rough Scots, more 45 Jacobite than Napoleonic, from Sneachiesland who turn into Rogue’s Revolutionary Guard, intent on sacking the capital.
“But what if you could actually be inside the game?” argues the villain Mindbender.
How? A secret untested prototype little virtual reality gizmo or gadget called the Echeneis slipped into Tom’s ear is involved, developed for gaming by Mindbender. Unfortunately this is an experimental VR (virtual reality) so intense where you can feel pain, be wounded and potentially die … Game Over for the hashtag #boyinacoma?
The Bronte ImagiNations were inspired by the gift to brother young Branwell Bronte of the Twelves, a dozen wooden Napoleonic soldiers.
Some of the Bronte male characters are borrowed like Percy ‘Rogue’ Duke of Northangerland and his sometime allies or rivals, Lord Charles Wellesley and Douro, both versions of Wellington, along with many minor Bronte characters, are also featured in the peculiar Colonial Tropical Africa / Yorkshire of their Glasstown and Angria ImagiNations.
An epilogue sets out what elements and characters Celia Rees has borrowed from the Bronte family ImagiNations tiny books and the Bronte family’s real lives.
Celia Rees picks up the dystopian, Steampunk elements of the Bronte world and it mixes in well as part of the science fiction or fantasy genre. There are ‘Fairish’ lands and Underground ‘Deeps’ which bring an edge of Tolkien, pursuit by violent desert storm-like Jinn Spirit Winds and a clunky bit of shamanism. Probably a bit of Yorkshire folklore in here too.
No plot spoilers here but expect the unexpected …
There are small skirmishes with raiding parties with a Reiving medieval feel but made up of Napoleonic troops, laying waste to Augusta’s Northern lands on Percy Rogue’s behalf (he of the Byronic black horse, black banners and black locks). These troops are ambushed by the flint tipped arrows of Robin Goodfellow and the Fairish peoples of the Summer Lord. Flint against Flintlock. Interesting gaming scenarios …
The Capital Glass Town or Verdopolis is riven with revolution, political unrest, Luddite riots and demonstrations, bloodily put down in the manner of the Peterloo Massacre and Chartist Unrest of the 1830s (not far from the events of Charlotte Bronte’s lesser known novel Shirley). A guillotine and echoes of the French Revolution appear.
The multiple layers of modern life, video games and suggestions that we are inside the Bronte dreams of ImagiNations fictions are occasionally alluded to by characters as a kind of dream logic or jarring. The neighbouring countries so different from each other? “the different lands take after their founders“.
One character questions: “I sometimes think that none of it is well, real. Glasstown and all of its people, myself included – we’re mere ideas in someone else’s brain. Part of some other creature’s game…”
There is a fair amount of Regency Ball type behaviour in the Royal Court. Not quite Pride and Prejudice but keep a look out for zombies … well, this adds some Gothic elements.
Later on the Tron or Jumanji film elements of falling into and having to play your way out of a video game are developed and we also enter into the mind, imagination or company of a character who may or may not be Emily Bronte. Attack helicopters also make a surprise gaming appearance!
The genesis of this book is discussed by Celia here, with inspiration from an attractive Napoleonic rifleman ceramic statuette
Other similar modern fiction takes on the Bronte Imaginations
An enjoyable and surprising book, much less cluttered and clunky than a lot of the Gondal fan fictions on the internet, which cleverly exploits the gaps and confusions of missing sections of the Bronte’s famous little books.
Jen Burdoo the gamer librarian from the USA introduced me to The Return of the Twelves, an award winning and enjoyable but now forgotten 1963 children’s book by British author Pauline Clarke about the original Twelves, the Bronte toy soldiers that had survived through time, kept alive through the power of the Bronte children’s imagination but lost and forgotten.
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.
++++++ 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