Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle

When I was a boy, I was infatuated with knights, knighthood, chivalry, etc. I spent hours in the library, thumbing through any book I could find on knights, looking at the pictures of their armor and weapons, reading about castle life — and of course, reading countless stories of chivalry and nobility. Which naturally brings you to the stories of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. One couldn’t crack open up a book of knightly stories without coming across the exploits of Arthur, Lancelot, Gawaine, Pellias, Tristram, et al.

I was especially enamored with Howard Pyle’s four volume set of Arthurian legends. Although loosely categorized as “Children’s Literature”, that does them quite a disservice, IMHO. Written in the early 1900s, the books were full of beautiful prose, and what’s more, they were full Pyle’s amazing illustrations. I keenly remember taking great delight in his renditions of the various knights, who looked quite resplendent in their armor, weapons, and assorted finery as they rode through the countryside and engaged in battle.

For a long time, I thought the books were out of print. I could only find them in the local library (and in the children’s section, natch). I never saw them in bookstores, but Amazon has the entire collection, as well as Pyle’s other numerous works. And based on some of the reader comments, I’m not the only one enamored with Pyle’s writings. I’m doubly glad that other kids are enjoying them — check out “awsum. king arthur rules!!!!!!!!!(gawaine is kewl too)” for a good chuckle.

However, Project Gutenberg has put one of Pyle’s books — The Story of the Champions of the Round Table — online in its entirety. And even cooler, they’ve put up an HTML version that includes Pyle’s illustrations.

I realize now that life back in knightly times probably wasn’t as idyllic or noble as my youthful mind once thought. All it took was one “Introduction To World History” class to permanently ruin a lot of my childhood ideals about chivalry. But I’ll freely admit to still feeling a surge of wonder and excitement when I think about these stories, something that I don’t really experience with a lot of so-called fantasy (much of which, ironically enough, owes a pretty healthy debt to the stories that Pyle put to paper nearly a century ago).