Howard Pyle (March 5, 1853 – November 9, 1911) was an American illustrator and author, primarily of books for young people. A native of Wilmington, Delaware, he spent the last year of his life in Florence, Italy.
During 1894 he began teaching illustration at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry (now Drexel University), and after 1900 he founded his own school of art and illustration, the Howard Pyle School of Illustration Art. The term Brandywine School was later applied to the illustration artists and Wyeth family artists of the Brandywine region by Pitz.
Some of his more famous students were Olive Rush, N. C. Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, Elenore Abbott, Ellen Bernard Thompson Pyle, Allen Tupper True, Anna Whelan Betts, Ethel Franklin Betts, Harvey Dunn, Philip R. Goodwin, and Jessie Willcox Smith.
His 1883 classic publication The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood remains in print, and his other books, frequently with medieval European settings, include a four-volume set on King Arthur.
He published an original novel, Otto of the Silver Hand, in 1888. He also illustrated historical and adventure stories for periodicals such as Harper's Weekly and St. Nicholas Magazine. His novel Men of Iron was made into a movie in 1954, The Black Shield of Falworth.
Pyle traveled to Florence, Italy to study mural painting during 1910, and died there in 1911 of a sudden kidney infection (Bright's Disease).
In addition to numerous illustrations done for Harper's Weekly, other periodical publications, and various works of fiction intended for children, Pyle wrote and illustrated a number of books himself.
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood is Pyle's synthesis of many traditional Robin Hood legends and ballads, making of them a cohesive whole. He toned them down, however, to make them suitable for children. For instance, he modified the ballad "Robin Hood's Progress to Nottingham", changing it from Robin killing fourteen foresters for not honoring a bet, to Robin defending himself against a band of armed robbers. Furthermore, Pyle has Robin kill only one man—who shoots at him first. Tales in which Robin steals all that an ambushed traveler carried, such as "Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford", are changed so that the victim keeps a third, and another third is dedicated to the poor.
Pyle did not have much more concern for historical accuracy than did the original balladeers, although he did alter the name of the queen-consort in the story "Robin Hood and Queen Katherine" to Eleanor (of Aquitaine), which rendered it compatible historically with the king with whom Robin eventually makes peace (King Richard the Lion-Hearted).
Indeed, none of the tales in the Robin Hood book were Pyle's own invention, with some dating back to the late Middle Ages. Rather, his achievement was in linking them to form a unified, illustrated story. "The Adventure with the Curtal Friar", for example, ceased to be a stand-alone tale, but was made part of the book's overall narrative by Pyle in order to reintroduce Friar Tuck, because a co-operative priest was needed for the wedding of outlaw Allan a Dale (Pyle's spelling of the original Alan-a-Dale) to his sweetheart Ellen. Again, in the original "A Gest of Robyn Hode", the life of an anonymous wrestler, who had won a bout but was likely to be murdered because he was a stranger, is saved. Pyle adapted it so that the wrestler is given the identity of David of Doncaster—one of Robin's band in the story "Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow". Several characters that had been mentioned in only one ballad, such as David of Doncaster or Arthur a Bland, are thus developed more fully by Pyle's novelistic treatment of the tales.
Pyle also wrote Otto of the Silver Hand, a story about the life of the son of a robber baron during the Medieval Period. In 1887 he wrote The Wonder Clock, a collection of twenty-four tales, one for each hour of the day. Each tale was prefaced by a whimsical verse telling of traditional household goings-on at that hour, illustrated by his sister Katharine. The tales themselves were written by Pyle based on traditional European folktales. A similar volume was Pepper and Salt, or Seasoning for Young Folk, which consisted of tales of traditional types for younger readers, also illustrated.
A number of pirate legends by Pyle, including some of his drawings, were collected as Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates, published in 1921, ten years after his death.
In 1903, Pyle published Rejected of Men: A Story of To-day, a re-imagining of the story of Jesus as if it had occurred during early twentieth-century America.
Pyle was widely respected during his life and continues to be well regarded by illustrators and fine artists. His contemporary Vincent van Gogh wrote of Pyle in a letter to his brother, saying that Pyle's work "...struck me dumb with admiration".