In 1913 H.G. Wells took a departure from telling tales of invisible men and intergalactic warfare to write a mawkish book of rules for playing with tin soldiers. The book is filled with the kind of loving sentimentality and deep respect for play that you would expect from any person used to creating worlds all their own. An early passage reads “We got two forces of toy soldiers, set out a lumpish Encyclopaedic land upon the carpet, and began to play.” Yet before I let you completely fall under the whimsical, if not twee, spell of this noted writer allow me to spoil everything by telling you the title of his book, Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books.
You see, H.G. Wells was just a tad sexist. From another early passage, in the middle of an otherwise lovely description of friendship, he takes a moment to talk about how much women hate imagination. “Primitive attempts to realise [sic] the dream were interrupted by a great rustle and chattering of lady visitors. They regarded the objects upon the floor with the empty disdain of their sex for all imaginative things.” Unfortunately I don’t have a large enough vocabulary to better explain my immediate reaction upon reading that paragraph, so let’s just say that I thought it was a totally dick thing to write. The dickishness of that passage only becomes emphasized a few pages later when Wells writes “We then began to humanise [sic] that wild and fearful fowl, the gun.” So, to recap, women have no imagination and inanimate objects have personalities.
As a reader I suggest approaching Little Wars in the same manner one would approach dinner with one’s grandparents. Have fun talking about fond memories, enjoy the delicious meal cooked with love, and when they inadvertently say something politically incorrect just ask them how their crossword puzzles are coming along. This is not to say that the glaringly sexist remarks should just be glazed over, but that they should be noted and then brushed aside to enjoy the otherwise charming text.
After giving a brief history of how the game was formed, setting out the rules in elaborate detail, and telling of the Battle of Hook’s Farm Wells ends his book with a beautiful section entitled “Ending with a Sort of Challenge.” In this section Wells gives a wonderful solution to the end of real wars, playing his game. “Great War is at present, I am convinced, not only the most expensive game in the universe, but it is a game out of all proportion. Not only are the masses of men and material and suffering and inconvenience too monstrously big for reason, but—the available heads we have for it, are too small. That, I think, is the most pacific realisation conceivable, and Little War brings you to it as nothing else but Great War can do.” Of course this is only after he asks us to show a “groveling devotion” to this “noble and beautiful gift” he’s given us.
I both love and hate Little Wars. I love Wells’ earnest excitement for play and the naiveté he shows in honestly suggesting Little Wars as a supplement to big wars. The only trouble with the book is Wells overpowering ego and needless disdain for women. In those awful moment’s Wells reads as a greedy brat playing with his toys that has chosen not to include you because you wouldn’t get it anyways. It’s both condescending and alienating but it’s almost always impossible to find a playmate with both good toys and a decent personality.
So what do you think? Have you ever read Little Wars? Would you be able to get past Well’s sexism or would that cause you to out the book down on sight? Have you ever read a different book where you endured the author’s negative misconceptions to enjoy their positive observations? Little Wars is free to read through Project Guttenberg and other online sources. Please leave some comments below so that we can continue our discussion on tin soldiers, sexism, and how H.G. Wells desires groveling devotion.
-Jet Fuel Blogger, Lucas Sifuentes