Ents, Enchanted Trees and Magic Cities drawn by George Barraud, illustrator of E. Nesbit’s Wings and the Child 1913

“And one of the greatest helps to a small, inexperienced traveller in this sometimes dusty way is the likeness of things to each other … 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.

A Tree Like A Man, drawn by George Barraud for E. Nesbit’s Wings and the Child 1913

Talking to Alan (the Duchy of Tradgardland) Gruber about this curious illustration in Wings and the Child or Building of Magic Cities by E. Nesbit (1913), Alan and I wondered if this was an early illustration of what would become that Tolkein classic figure the Ent, tree characters beloved of fantasy gamers?

We wondered if Tolkein had read her work or been influenced by Nesbit’s fantasies or Barraud’s drawing?

Alan Gruber has long been a big fan of Tolkein, whereas I have to quietly admit to never having read any of Lord of the Rings, failed to read even past the first chapters of The Hobbit or properly to have watched the recent films. I much prefer(red) the Narnia books, but shhh! don’t tell anyone this shameful fact.

My lazy Wikipedia research however suggests that J.R.R. Tolkein (1892-1973) did enjoy magic and fantasy stories like those of the now largely forgotten Victorian writer George Macdonald and even those published when he was a young-ish man such as the contemporary new short stories in E. Nesbit’s magical fantasy The Magic World (1912) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magic_World

Within the short stories of The Magic World, there is one called “Accidental Magic” where schoolboy runaway Quentin falls asleep on the altarstone at Stonehenge and wakes in Atlanti. This has been seen by some critics such as Robert Giddings and Elisabeth Holland, J. R. R. Tolkien: The Shores of Middle Earth, 1981 – as exerting an influence on the young Tolkein.

Hmm. These fantastic Edwardian ‘dreamers’ – it sounds a little like a fantastical Puck of Pook’s Hill by Kipling 1906 (illustrated by Arthur Rackham).

Project Gutenberg has a handy free download online copy of The Magic City and the “Accidental Magic” story.


George Barraud’s (GB) illustration of a toy block Stonehenge in E. Nesbit’s Wings and the Child (1913) – Stonehenge features in Nesbit’s short story “Accidental Magic”.

“Mabel Tolkien taught her two children at home. Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany and awakened in him the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Young Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees, but his favourite lessons were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early.

Tolkien could read by the age of four and could write fluently soon afterwards. His mother allowed him to read many books. He disliked Treasure Island and The Pied Piper and thought Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was “amusing but disturbing”.

He liked stories about “Red Indians” (Native Americans) and the fantasy works by George Macdonald. In addition, the “Fairy Books” of Andrew Lang [1890s-1913] were particularly important to him and their influence is apparent in some of his later writings.”

Source: Wikipedia entry on Tolkein.

The Lang Fairy Books were illustrated by H.J. Ford.


Influence is a hard thing to prove. There is a longer discussion about Nesbit’s stories and her Fabian circle and their possible influence on Tolkein as a young man and as a parent here – dragons are mentioned but not Ents:



Who was GB, illustrator of this tree?

Setting aside all the creepy trees in Arthur Rackham illustrations, I found on the book’s frontispiece that GB the illustrator or artist of this characterful tree in Nesbit’s Wings and The Child 1913 was George Barraud, active c. 1911-13.

A quick check on trusty Wikipedia suggested several people, so required some wider research – there are a number of Victorian and Edwardian painters with the Barraud surname such as Phillip George Barraud (1859-1929), FB Francis Barraud who painted the HMV Nipper dog or the Suffolk based Barraud family of artists, not to be confused with GB’s namesake the prewar 1920s-30s film actor George Barraud, 1889 – 1970]Simple objects like a clothes peg sawn in three for decorating the Magic City

George Barraud’s drawing of The Guarded Arch for E. Nesbit in her Magic City.
The Square Tower, GB – George Barraud

Biography from Moore Gwyn Fine Art:

The Tramp Magazine front cover design by George Barraud June 1910/11

Douglas Goldring’s short-lived magazine, The Tramp, an open air magazine was published in monthly editions between 1910 and 1911. Dedicated to outdoor life, it celebrated its theme through modern fiction and non-fiction, publishing work by Wyndham Lewis, Arnold Bennett, Ford Madox Ford and Arthur Ransome (amongst many others).

George Barraud illustrated a number of books in the period immediately before the outbreak of the First World War, amongst them an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Harrap, 1913), An Alphabet in French and English (Max Goschen, 1912) and E.Nesbit’s The Wings and a Child; or the Building of Magic Cities (Hodder & Stoughton, 1913).


A fine Scouting for Boys type outdoorsy illustration by GB, c/o Moore Gwyn Fine Arts

I’m often surprised how many illustrated magazines and illustrated news papers that there were in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain and America. This market must have been a great source of work for writers like H.G. Wells, E. Nesbit and illustrators alike. This is a world of increasing literacy thanks to Sunday Schools and the 1870 Education Act, before the wireless, before television and with cinema only in its silent ‘shorts’ infancy.

Source: Berwyn Books on Abe Books

Abe Books are good for researching work by illustrators. Here is another fine magical city by Barraud in his illustrations to Sir Gawain and The Green Knight retold by John Harrington Cox (Harrell, 1913) such as sold here in Abe Books – Berwyn Books.

Another Tolkein overlap – Gawain and the Green Knight was first translated into Modern English in the late 1890s, then decades later we have John Harrington Cox’s retelling in 1913, illustrated by George Barraud. In 1925, Tolkein and E. V. Gordon published a scholarly edition of the Middle English text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Source Abe Books seller: Ripping Yarns

The Bystander, 4 December 1912

There is little biographical information on the Internet for GB George Barraud. Any internet research keeps running up against George Barraud the theatre and film actor from the 1890s to 1930s or the other Barraud painters. There is no CWGC WW1 casualty record for George Barraud. Again, worth a future blog post.

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 25 January 2021

Blog Post Script

Tolkein Estate Website – https://www.tolkienestate.com/en/paths/links/modern-texts.html

And Girls Did Play Too? E.Nesbit does Floor Games in Wings and the Child 1913

One of Edith Nesbit’s toy palaces in Wings and the Child 1913, highly reminiscent of Wells’ Floor Games of 1911 and Little Wars 1913 – read a free online copy here:


Cross posted from my Man of TIN blog, 23 January 2021

The likely identity of Two More Invisible Men behind H G Wells writing Little Wars?

The likely identity of H.G. Wells’ friends, part of the development of Little Wars – Mr W and a dear friend who died? – crossposted from my Man of TIN blog


Blog cross posted by Mark Man of TIN 23 January 2021

H G Wells The New Machiavelli, Old Toy Soldiers, Floor Games and Close Wars

An interesting toy soldier related chapter from H G Wells’ 1911 novel The New Machiavelli that links closely to Floor Games (1911/12) and Little Wars (1913)

Crossposted from my Man of TIN blog by Mark Man of TIN


An old lead cow for her birthday – Happy Centenary to Rosemary Sutcliff born 14 December 1920

A charming childhood photo of the young Rosemary Sutcliff on the cover of her autobiography Blue Remembered Hills (1983)

Today would have been the 100th Birthday of writer Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992)

Readers and fellow gamers shared their Rosemary Sutcliff stories in the comments on my recent blog post, that also received a welcome visit and comment from her godson and literary executor Anthony Lawton.


Today on her birthday I give her – an old lead cow or two. Why?

Two black and white cows with a leg each repaired for Rosemary’s centenary

The reason will become clear if I share two short quotes from the early childhood chapters of her autobiography, for the period just after WW1. Her father was a naval officer. Her older sister Penelope died as a baby in the Spanish Flu pandemic.

“A few more years, and I was born. My father was at the Admiralty at the time, and commuting daily between Whitehall and East Chandon, which is how just before Christmas 1920 I came to be born in Surrey.”

A posting in Malta is memorably described and then her return to Britain. Writing in her 1983 autobiography, Sutcliff recalls the pleasure of lead toy figures almost 60 years ago :

“For a short while, weeks or months, ‘Home’ was a cottage we rented near Sevenoaks, and my father was again at the Admiralty and coming back from London each evening.”

“One evening he bought me the nucleus of what was to become a well stocked toy farm: two cows, one black-and-white lying down, one brown-and-white standing up, and a hen sitting on a nest full of yellow chicks. They were stout heavy little creatures of painted lead. Oh, the satisfying weight and density of the farm animals and toy soldiers of my youth, compared with the flimsy plastic variety with which the modern child has to be content, finely modelled but so light that they blow over if you breathe in their direction.”

“I have always been sorry for children born more than two hundred years ago, and therefore denied the pleasure of popping fuschia buds, and for children born too late to enjoy, except as family treasures and collector’s pieces, the feel of strength and balance and solidity of lead cows or Grenadiers that were a delight to the hand as well as the eye.”

“And then when I was five we went to Sheerness Dockyard.” (C. 1925)


Two recently repaired black and white lead cows and a red one with chickens

Rosemary Sutcliff – an unexpected patron of the old lead toy soldier!

As she grew up, she had an older family friend, Colonel Crookenden, colonel of the Senior Officers School at Sheerness, who:

“His hobby was making lead soldiers, and I soon had a sizeable private army, complete with despatch riders on motor-cycles and a stretcher party, to range alongside my toy farm on its green baize-covered board.”

The Capricorn Bracelet (1973)

I mentioned that I had kept aside a Sutcliff or two to read for her birthday week, although I realise from the bibliography how few of her books I have read.

One is The Capricorn Bracelet, a series of short stories spaced over three centuries and many generations of the same family from AD 61 to AD 383. The Capricorn bracelet is a linking literary motif, a Roman military Distinguished Conduct bracelet that travels down through members of the family.

Originally written by Sutcliff as some short stories for Radio Scotland, these scripts were redeveloped into short stories. Each short story or chapter feels like you have read a mini Eagle of The Ninth.

The Dacian Cavalry Fire Ride pictured on the front cover from chapter 3 – Outpost Fortress AD 150

The chapter headings give an idea of the time spanned, the narrator or main character varying from legionaries and cavalrymen, officers and men through to British tribesmen:

  • Death of a City AD 61
  • Rome Builds a Wall AD 123
  • Outpost Fortress AD 150
  • Traprain Law AD 196
  • Frontier Post AD 280
  • The Eagles Fly South AD 383

and a handy timeline background chapter for these stories too.

This New York Times review of the book suggested it was “not Sutcliff at her best” which I certainly do not agree with.

Happy Birthday Rosemary Sutcliff!

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 14 December 2020

B.P.S. Blog Post Script

I photographed the repair process of mending the lead cows ‘ legs and will feature this on a future post.

Rosemary Sutcliff Centenary 14 December 2020

14th December 2020 in a few weeks time is the centenary birthday of historical novelist Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992)

I was reminded of this by reading Alan Gruber’s Duchy of Tradgardland blog entry today about acquiring some Asterix and Roman figures from fellow blogger Tidders. Tidders (Allan Tidmarsh) is downscaling his impressive collection of 1:32 / 54mm Romans and Celts / Gauls shown in his Asterix inspired blog By Toutatis! The blog thankfully will remain even when much of the collection is dispersed.

For some reason, Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of The Ninth books are not in this pile of inspiring reading.

Since acquiring the late Stuart Asquith’s hand painted Peter Laing 15mm Roman legion and Celt / Gaulish / Ancient Briton tribes, I have been reading more about Roman times, as part of an ongoing skirmish gaming project called Full Metal Hic Jacet.

Tiny 15mm Peter Laing Romans colourfully painted by Stuart Asquith in my collection.

Asterix is one influence on my ongoing interest in things Roman, along with the tiny Airfix figures and Roman Milecastle Fort, but the strongest emotional connection that I have with Roman Britain is through the imagination and inspired writing of Rosemary Sutcliff.

During this pandemic year, I have reread the Eagle of the Ninth trilogy – The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers – along with her autobiography Blue Remembered Hills.

I first read the Eagle of The Ninth books in the children’s library in the late 1970s / early 1980s, inspired no doubt like many others by the BBC TV Children’s teatime dramatisation of The Eagle of The Ninth in the late 1970s.

Although I have reread the first book The Eagle of The Ninth several times since then, I had read the other two long enough ago that I couldn’t remember much of the storyline. It was like reading and enjoying them anew.

Her autobiography Blue Remembered Hills was published in paperback by Oxford University Press in 1984. I had not read this and knew very little about the author at the time of reading these books as a child. Maybe it was not mentioned in her author biography in the hardback and paperback versions I would have encountered then. I had no idea of the challenging life that she had, living with a progressively wasting illness called Still’s Disease.

Oddly, for a book about an increasingly frustratingly restricted life, my overall memory of this book which I read earlier this year is of sunshine and landscape. Maybe it was her observational skills as both an artist and writer that created such a strong sunny impression.

Looking through the Wikipedia entry of her published books and the website to 2018 and website to 2020 ongoing maintained by her godson and literary executor Anthony Lawton, I am surprised by how much that she wrote and also how much of it I cannot recall having read.

As well as the ongoing WordPress blog on Sutcliff, Anthony Lawton maintains an active Twitter account for Sutcliff’s life and works: https://mobile.twitter.com/rsutcliff

Sadly only a small amount of her work is currently in print for her centenary, seen at the Oxford University Press website https://global.oup.com/education/content/children/authors/rosemary-sutcliff/?region=uk

However, a fair amount of recent paperback copies can be found online including the one I will be reading for her centenary month, another Roman title called The Capricorn Bracelet (1973).

Three things I like about Rosemary Sutcliff’s work:

1. the storymaps with Roman place names such as in the Eagle of The Ninth

or the story map with Roman names in The Lantern Bearers

2. I also liked the historical note of what inspired each book such as The Silver Branch combined with mini map

from Sutcliff’s The Silver Branch (OUP)

Or in The Eagle of The Ninth, the discovery of the wingless Silchester Eagle, which is now on show in Reading Museum.

I have both of these features – historical note and place names – to look forward to in The Capricorn Bracelet, but sadly no map.

From Sutcliff’s The Capricorn Bracelet (Red Fox)

3. The sense of time passing, of generations and of places and objects linking families through generations

The story maps of the books, characters and places overlap in ways that make her Roman and post Roman landscapes more convincing.

In the case of The Capricorn Bracelet, the title names the object that connects the series of short stories (originally radio plays) that span AD 61 to the Roman Legions leaving Britain AD 383.

In the Eagle of The Ninth trilogy, it is a family dolphin signet ring and tattoo that transcends the generations. This seems to become the motif of Rosemary’s signature seen here and on the back of her autobiography.

The equivalent now would be a family story connected by an object stretching back into the 18th Century or forward into the 24th Century.

So happy centenary birthday Rosemary Sutcliff for 14 December 2020!

Some Roman Recommendations

Update: Penguin appear to have some more Sutcliff titles in print


There are some great Roman sites to visit in Britain to get down to Roman floor level such as Roman Bath (good AV, models and living interpreters) but also small settlements such as Ambleside Roman Fort (English Heritage, free) and the beautifully preserved mosaic floors of the tiny family run Bignor Roman Villa in Sussex.

For further Roman reading, I also recommend the Marcus Didius Falco Roman detective books by Lindsey Davis (serialised / dramatised and available sometimes on the BBC radio and coming to TV soon) and Robert Harris’ Pompeii.

Further Rosemary Sutcliff blog (to 2017?) http://blueremembered.blogspot.com

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN on 21 November 2020

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