My rating: 3 of 5 stars
From the author of such stunners as The War of the Worlds and The Island of Dr. Moreau, comes this rather joyous oddity. It’s a slim picture book, written when HG Wells was ill and being nursed by his wife. The forenote, written by Henry Hick (Wells’ Doctor), details how Mrs Wells asked Hick’s wife for ‘something for H.G. to play with’. The two women visited the playroom, found a ‘child’s colour box’ which Mrs Wells decided ‘[would] amuse [him] for ever so long’. This book was the result of it and is dedicated to Hick’s daughter Marjory, Wells’ godchild.
So this is a bit of an oddity! A joyous oddity, but still an oddity nonetheless. It reminded me visually of Spike Milligan’s Badjelly the Witch: A Fairy Story, there’s a similar sort of style in the characters but Wells’ have a certain whimsy about them as opposed to Milligan’s exuberant bold strokes. There’s an almost tentative sense to some of the images; scale shifting and colours washing the edges of the outlines in one image, and colouring the whole of the image in the next. It feels like a quite tentative exercise at points and at others, a sort of gung-ho affair.
It tells the story of Master Tommy Bates (this was not his real name of course) who whilst out rowing rescues a rich man. The rich man, who was very proud, and very rich, doesn’t know that ‘pride goeth before a fall. And one day as he was walking along a cliff he stepped over’. Tommy rescues him from drowning and as a reward the rich man gives Tommy a very unusual gift.
Whilst it’s a book that definitely feels its age at points, it’s a sort of fascinating experience. Wells’ illustrations are nonsensical at points (the rich man ‘drying out’ is a particular delight) but at others, almost viscerally unnerving (check out the tiger and see if that doesn’t make you think of a certain other title in Wells’ ouevre).
You can view more about the book here including a pdf of the original manuscript.