Today in Literary History – March 5, 1853 – Author and illustrator Howard Pyle is born

The American book illustrator, author and storyteller Howard Pyle was born on March 5, 1853. He adapted classic folk tales, such as the stories about Robin Hood and his Merry Men and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, into novels for young readers in illustrated editions at a time when mass circulation publishing was booming in America.

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Pyle worked as an illustrator for many publications, including Harper’s Monthly and Scribner’s Magazine. His first book was The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood in 1883. Pyle toned down the violence in some of the stories which he put together from old songs, poems and legends. His illustrations created the image we all now have of Robin Hood in his red tights, green jerkin and feathered cap.

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In addition to the Robin Hood and King Arthur books Pyle also wrote and illustrated many adventure books featuring pirates, especially Captain Kidd. His paintings, done in a realist style, are vivid and lively. Again, Pyle’s romantic depictions of pirates and hidden treasure shaped how pirates are imagined and portrayed to this day.

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Pyle worked in several different styles. Some, like the pirates, naturalistic, some highly stylized. He loved Medieval scenes and stories and his woodcut illustrations make this apparant. Pyle was also a stickler about historical authenticity and did enormous amounts of research for his books and especially for his illustrations.

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Pyle was famous during his lifetime and widely admired. (Vincent van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother Theo that Pyle’s work “struck me dumb with admiration.”) Today his originals hang in museum around the world and he is respected as an innovator who reshaped book illustration and children’s book content. He died in 1911 at the age of 58.

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