1903 – The Story of King Arthur and His Knights

1903. Marie Curie and her husband Pierre receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering radioactivity, Orville Wright successfully pilots the first modern airplane, and Henry Ford founds Ford Motors. Electricity is still new though, and horses are the dominant form of transportation.

In world politics, King Edward VII is crowned Emperor of India, and Britain conquers the Fulani Empire. One fifth of the world’s landmass is now taken over by the British Empire, an empire in which the sun will never set.

The British Empire in 1897, marked in pink (couldn’t find 1903 map)

And in books, Howard Pyle (1853-1911) writes The Story of King Arthur and his Knights; the first in a four part series of children’s books about the first British Empire, the one which King Arthur ruled over from his legendary court in Camelot.

Pyle was an American illustrator and author who mainly wrote books for a younger audience. Pyle both wrote and illustrated his own stories. He also taught illustration, and eventually founded his own school where he taught the subject. Pyle had a lasting influence on several famous artists and illustrators. Vincent Van Gogh wrote in a letter that Pyle’s work “struck me dumb with admiration.”

Pyle’s books have withstood the test of time. He wrote his stories for younger audiences and they take place in Medieval European settings. Pyle is best known for writing The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883), still in print. Go on BookDepository, search for Howard Pyle; his books are all there and they ship to Israel for free, including his books on King Arthur.

The Story of King Arthur and his Knights is a collection of Arthurian Stories loosely based on the works of Sir Thomas Mallory and Sidney Lanier. Pyle used these authors as well as his own knowledge and imagination to thoroughly embellish all the tales in this book. I managed to detect elements of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in one story, but the plot and characters were so changed around, I decided to stop comparing and just enjoy the story on its own merits.

The book is divided into two parts, “The Book of King Arthur” and the “Book of Three Worthies (Merlin, Sir Pellas, and Sir Gawain)” comprised of three stories each. These stories are further sub-divided into episodes telling the various adventures of King Arthur, his knights and Merlin. How Arthur came to his throne, the story of the finding of Excalibur, Merlin’s imprisonment, Sir Pellinor’s marriage to the Lady of the Lake, and many others.

In this book, Pyle demonstrates his skill as a storyteller. He paints a very vivid picture of the Arthurian landscape, which I as a reader would have loved to visit (as a knight). In my opinion, the book is best heard, not read. The stories have a rhythm and cadence to them that perfectly match the action being narrated, making me feel as if I were almost witnessing it as it happened. I would love to hear these stories told by a skilled storyteller, and could easily see myself reading them to my kids when they are a bit older. The book has a slightly high register, which may be challenging for some, but if you can edit it out while reading, the experience more than pays off.

My only issue with the book lies in the underlying messages, which I frequently disagreed with (winning a fight is NOT a demonstration of God’s favor). It’s a problem I, as an adult, have with many other books written for children (For example; Narnia, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials). However, my adult misgivings were not strong enough to prevent my inner child from enjoying the book, and I don’t think they should stand in the way of anyone else’s enjoyment. Howard Pyle wrote a bunch of fun adventure stories for kids involving kings, knights, wizards, magic, quests and yes lots of fighting. After you read this book, you’re going to end up wanting more.

The Omer today is splendor in kindness. Both attributes are knightly attributes that King Arthur and his knights strove to emulate. King Arthur’s court was a sight that would take your breath away, and he and his knights were gentle, courteous and kind to all who approached them with good intentions. And while they also had their fair share of courage, it was their attitude towards others which truly made them stand out from all the other warriors back then.

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights

Author: Howard Pyle

Publisher: Charles Scribner’s Sons

Published: November 1903

Pages: 416

Format reviewed: Digital