W E Cule was born in 1870 in the village of St Nicholas near the city of Cardiff in Wales. His family moved to Cardiff when his father was appointed as a customs excise officer. The family were devout Baptists and Cule was a committed Christian from an early age, later becoming a Sunday school teacher. Cule's first public school stories were published in the Boy's Own Paper and in the Young England magazine. Collections of these stories were subsequently issued in book form, the first such collection being Barfield's Blazer.
Cule was appointed editor of a magazine for Sunday school teachers and received encouragement from Andrew Melrose the publisher for the Sunday School Union. Melville published Cule's first two books in 1899 - Child Voices, a collection of sketches and stories about children, and Sir Constant Knight of the Great King, an allegory of the Christian life. The same year, W.& R.Chambers published his fairyland book Mabel's Prince Wonderful, whose heroine was named for Cule's daughter Mabel.
In 1903 Cule moved to London to take up a position in the publishing department of the National Sunday School Union. He continued to write boys' stories while also contributing serials to The Child's Own Magazinewhich were later published in the "Red Nursery" series of children's books. The White Caravan, Two Little New Zealanders and Mr Crusoe's Island are examples of serials that later became popular books.
In 1906, Cule's youngest daughter Dilys died of a childhood illness. A touching account of how the family rallied to furnish a doll's house for her is given in Dilys in the Christmas Garden. Her death is also alluded to in a story from the fairy tale collection The Rose-Coloured Bus, which tells of a grieving woodcarver who makes a doll's house for his daughter.
In 1906 Cule was appointed on the recommendation of Andrew Melville and Rev Carey Bonner to head the publishing activities of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS). Cule worked as an editor of missionary publications, including the monthly Missionary Herald and a children's magazine Wonderlands. He was instrumental in setting up the Carey Press as the BMS's commercial publishing arm. Cule remained with the BMS until his retirement, combining his professional editorial and publishing activities with his career as a popular writer.
Cule published five volumes of public school stories, which went through numerous reprints. All are good-humoured and entertaining stories with plots that often turn on the personal foibles of the characters, whether boys or schoolmasters. Cule is a moralist but a genial one: his stories uphold the public school values of honesty, generosity, sportsmanship and service to others. Rollinson and I, the story of a public school boy accused of an offence he did not commit and sent to Coventry, is a full-length novel that explores in greater depth the themes of personal integrity, moral courage and loyalty to friends. The White Knights is not a school story but tells of three boys who elect to live by the values of medieval chivalry. They realise this ideal through acts of service to others. The enemy the "knights" have to fight is the innate human tendency towards selfishness. As this appealing and warm-hearted story unfolds, we are made aware of the Great War being fought just across the English Channel. In the Secret Sea, originally published as a serial in the Boy's Own Paper, is a maritime adventure yarn and better told than many examples of this genre.
Cule has a sure touch with fairytale and fantasy. Mabel's Prince Wonderful tells of a little girl's visit to the land of fairy tales and nursery rhymes, where she becomes caught up in the story of Cinderella and Prince Charming. His later work,The Other Side of Nod is the story of a boy transported by a white car into the fairy tale land of Nod. Neither story is an allegory but a careful reading of them reveals that for Cule (as with George Macdonald) the "storybook world" of the imagination is linked to the Christian concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. These must be counted among Cule's most appealing children's books and worthy of reprinting. Some of the original fairy tales in the Rose-Coloured Bus are equally fine although the collection as a whole is less inspired.
Child Voices is a collection of whimsical sketches of children which Cule in his Preface says are not intended for children's reading. "For the greater part . . . they are simple records of incidents observed and children's conversations overheard. In other cases, stories have been framed upon a fanciful child's views and opinions of various matters. The result is dedicated, in all humility, to those who know and love their children."
Two Little New Zealanders, The White Caravan and the House of the Ogress are examples of Cule's children's fiction at its best. They reveal his understanding of children's emotional needs and sympathy for their plight when they fail to receive nurturing love from adults. These are well-crafted children's stories, which unfold naturally and reach an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Cule is good at creating memorable locales for his stories, whether the peaceful lanes and villages of Southern England or the bustle of Edwardian London, and today these stories have a distinct period charm.
Less successful are the serials Cule wrote for Wonderlands (under the pseudonym of Edward Seaman) and later published as books. Both The Parliament Man and The Adventures of Peter Playne are spoilt by religious sentimentality and didacticism, as are the short stories The Special Messenger and Peter, Bingo and Those Others. Under Eastern Skies, a retelling of stories about Old Testament kings is a workmanlike but otherwise undistinguished book. The Bells of Moulton - a history of the BMS for young people - could have been a dull subject but is entertainingly told by combining history, fiction and travelogue.
Cule's novelette The Prince of Zell is a curiosity - a Ruritanian romance with a wildly improbable plot and a denouement that strains credulity to the limit. However, the short stories included as a makeweight reveal Cule's talent for social comedy in the manner of H.G. Wells. Another such story - "The Auburn Emperor" - appears in Six Roads to Bethlehem. No indication is given as to where the stories in this collection were first published - they apparently come from different stages in Cule's career and make an awkward and uneven collection.
Another curiosity is the parable Thy Son Liveth: A Vision of the War, published in 1915. It tells of an unnamed son of an unnamed English couple who perishes in the Great War, dashing the parents' hopes for his great future. Though unsatisfying as a fable, it expresses Cule's deep conviction as a Christian that life continues after death.
Cule's two masterpieces are his allegorical Sir Knight of the Splendid Way and the fable of The Man at the Gate of the World.
Sir Knight of the Splendid Way is an extensive reworking of his earlier book Sir Constant Knight of the Great King. An allegory of the Christian life, it tells of the knighting of Sir Constant in the Chapel of the Valley of Decision (his conversion) and the six "adventures" he undergoes on his way to the City of the King (eternal life), each testing his courage, fortitude and compassion for others. Drawing for its inspiration on Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the Arthurian tradition of the questing knight and the New Testament epistles, it is a spiritually profound and richly detailed work, written in a language suggestive of another era with some of the finest examples of word painting Cule ever achieved.
Sir Knight of the Splendid Way was published with distinguished illustrations by Joseph Finnemore.
The Man at the Gate of the World is the story of Caspar, one of the three magi of tradition who follow the star to the stable in Bethlehem. It tells of how Caspar subsequently forswears his wealth and privilege to stand at a city gate washing the feet of weary travellers, thus fulfilling Christ's mandate to his disciples. Cule tells us he meditated on this story for some time before writing it. He wondered whether to publish it after reading Henry Van Dyke's parable The Other Wise Man but decided his "Story of the Star" had its own spiritual truth he was impelled to share.
A popular Christmas book, The Man at the Gate of the World was published in England with line illustrations by the distinguished painter Estella Canziani and in the United States with illustrations by Albert R. Thayer. It has been anthologised with the Van Dyke work.
Both works have been translated into other European languages.
School Stories and Adventure
Barfield's Blazer and Other School Stories, Andrew Melrose, London, 1900
The Captain's Fags, Sunday School Union, London, 1901
The Black Fifteen and Other School Stories, 1906
Rollinson and I: The Story of a Summer Term, Religious Tract Society, London, 1913
Rodborough School, (illustrated by Edgar Alfred Holloway), Religious Tract Society, London, 1915
Baker Secundus and Some Other Fellows Boy's Own Paper Office, London, 1917
The White Knights 1919
In the Secret Sea, Sheldon Press, London, 1934
Fairy Tale and Fantasy
Child Voices, (illustrated by Charles Robinson), Andrew Melrose, London, 1899
Mabel's Prince Wonderful: Or a Trip to Storyland, (illustrated by Will G. Mein), W&R Chambers, London, Edinburgh, 1899
The Rose-Coloured Bus and Other Leaves from Mabel's Fairy Book, (illustrated by Florence Meyerheim), Andrew Melrose, London, 1906
The Other Side of Nod, 1924
Children's and Juvenile Fiction
Three Little Wise Men, (illustrated by Florence Meyerheim), Sunday School Union, London, 1896
The Kingdoms of this World, (illustrated by H. L. Shindler), Sunday School Union, London, 1904
The Lost Prince and the Golden Lamp, Sunday School Union, London, c1900.
Tom and Company, Limited, Sunday School Union, London, 1908
Two Little New Zealanders, (illustrated by Rosa C. Petherick), Sunday School Union, London, 1909
The Magic Uncle, Sunday School Union, London, 1911
Santa Claus at the Castle, (illustrated by Florence Meyerheim), Sunday School Union, London,1913
Mr Crusoe's Island, (illustrated by Watson Charlton), Sunday School Union, London, 1914
The White Caravan, (illustrated by B. Hatton), Sunday School Union, London, 1914
The House of the Ogress, (illustrated by George Morrow), 1921
The Indian Storybook for Boys and Girls, Carey Press, London,c1921
The Adventures of Peter Playne, Carey Press, London, 1923
Peter, Bingo and Those Others Carey Press, London, 1926
The Special Messenger Carey Press, London, 1927
The Angel at the Door 1930
The Parliament Man: A Story of Greyhound Court and Other Places, (illustrated by Ernest Prater), Carey Press, London, 1931
Bible Stories and Missionary History
Under Eastern Skies, John F. Shaw, London, 1913
The Bells of Moulton: A History of the Baptist Missionary Society for Young People, The Carey Press, London, 1944
Christian Allegory and Fable
Sir Constant: Knight of the Great King, (illustrated by Amelia Bauerle), Andrew Melrose, London, 1899
Thy Son Liveth: A Vision of the War. Nisbet & Co., London, 1915
Sir Knight of the Splendid Way, (illustrated by J. Finnemore) Religious Tract Society, London, 1926
The Man at the Gate of the World: A Story of the Star', (illustrated by Estelle Canzioni), 1929
Romance and Short Stories
The Prince of Zell: A Romance 1908
Six Roads to Bethlehem, Sunday School Union, London, 1944
Dilys in the Christmas Garden Bagster, London, 1931 (reprinted in Six Roads to Bethlehem)
The Missionary Speaker and Reader A Collection of Recitations, Dialogues, Readings, and Responsive Services, The Carey Press, London, 1910
Everyland for Boys and Girls (children's annuals) The Carey Press, London, 1925-1926
Cule's achievements as an editor are described in Brian Stanley's History of the Baptist Missionary Society.
W. Y. Fullerton in John Bunyan: A Legacy (1928) discusses Sir Knight of the Splendid Way in the context of Christian allegory. Cule dedicated his book to Fullerton.