I discovered Jerome K. Jerome after reading Connie Willis’ comic time-travel novel To Say Nothing of the Dog, in which Jerome and his boat full of fellow travelers, canine and otherwise, have an extended cameo.
Willis pulled the title of her novel from that of Jerome’s early comic account of his travels down the Thames, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). Jerome’s book was a blockbuster in its day. It sold more than a million copies worldwide in its first 20 years and helped turn the Thames into a highly successful tourist attraction.
Last weekend, while reading a nostalgia piece from the New York Times about the moral panic set off by Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s, I came across this interesting tidbit about Jerome K. Jerome’s non-literary pursuits:
“A century ago, H. G. Wells, the English titan of science fiction, invented a tabletop game called Little Wars with a friend, Jerome K. Jerome. Though a pacifist, Wells was intrigued by war games. He wrote a handbook for his creation, filled with clear rules of combat for opposing infantry, cavalry and artillery. That was in 1913. A year later, World War I broke out.
You see the connection, don’t you?”
Really, how many books does a guy have to sell to get a proper identification clause in the New York Times? How hard is it to type the words “friend and comic writer Jerome K. Jerome” anyway?
But I digress.
Although the game Little Wars was unlikely to have triggered World War I, it is clear that war was on everyone’s mind at the time the game was created. As you might expect from the name of it, Little Wars involved setting up a battlefield with toy soldiers, wooden blocks, scenery to scale, and toy cannons capable of firing objects to knock stuff and soldiers over during battles. To play it, you’ll also need tons of floor space, as infantry are allowed to move up to a foot and cavalry up to two feet at each turn.
The object of the game is to wipe out your opponent by knocking down his soldiers with your cannons (or to at least force him to surrender by cutting him off from his reinforcements).
Sounds like a blast, actually.
(I’m beginning to see why H.G. Wells gets top billing.)
While it’s clear that the development of Little Wars didn’t actually set off World War I, it would be pretty interesting to know whether any of the strategies H.G. Wells outlined for his game influenced troop movements on the battlefield during the war. Do any of you historians and/or H.G. Wells fans out there know?
- How to play Little Wars by H.G. Wells (and Jerome K. Jerome) (Instructables)
- When Dungeons & Dragons set off a moral panic (The New York Times)
- The Jerome K Jerome Society website