Howard Pyle and the modern Robin Hood; Rick Atkinson’s new trilogy; and Ole Bert: newsletter, May 17, 2019

May 20, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,815) on Friday, May 17, 2019.

The big news on the home front is that our local library is in danger. Because of the way things are structured around here, the Blount County Public Library (see the accompanying watercolor) is supported by three different governments: Maryville, Alcoa, and Blount County. Historically, of the three, getting Blount County to pony up its fair share is usually the problem in the budgeting cycle.

So it is this year — again. Only this time, the amount of money that Blount County is withholding from the budget will cause the library to have to cut staff, hours, and programs. The good news is that, when word came out about this late last week, there was a significant public outcry to the extent that county commissioners had to turn off their phones and found their in-boxes filled with messages of support for the library.

As I write this, the outcome is still in doubt, but there are lots of people expressing concern. I’ll update you as things move along.

Meanwhile, I hope that you have had a great week and are beginning a wonderful weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,814 subscribers and had a 28.0 percent open rate; 6 people unsubscribed. A chart showing the percentage of newsletter recipients who opened the newsletter each week during 2019 is below the signature of this email.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Howard Pyle and the modern idea of Robin Hood

The legend, stories, and ballads of Robin Hood have entertained people for several centuries, but our modern idea of the outlaw of Sherwood Forest comes from one extraordinarily talented man: Howard Pyle.

Pyle’s book, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire, which he both wrote and illustrated gathered the Robin Hood myths and stories together and remolded them into an adventure book, written mainly for young readers — particularly boys — that became a classic and has not been out of print since it was first published in 1883. Pyle’s writing made Robin Hood into a merry character who recruited like-minded men to his band, introduced new characters such as Friar Tuck, and even re-wrote bits of history along the way when it suited his story.

The story that Pyle told made Robin Hood into a coherent, endearing tale. Robin and his merry men were not really outlaws. They were resisting an evil authority, and time and again, they proved themselves to be more clever and more skillful than those they opposed. After Pyle, many other authors took on the Robin Hood legend with popular novels of their own.

Pyle’s rich illustrations in the book gave us an enduring picture of England’s green and pleasant land, replete with castles, thick forests, beautiful maidens, yeomen, and archers. Pyle continued writing and illustrating in the adventure genre with his books about medieval knights, the American Revolution, and 18th-century pirates.

Pyle taught illustration for six years at the Drexel Institute and then formed his own school of art in Wilmington, Delaware. A number of his students such as N.C. Wyeth went on to have notable illustration careers.

Pyle died at the age of 58 in 1911 in Florence, Italy, where he had gone to study the European masters.

Rick Atkinson turns his attention to the American Revolution

One of the great popular historians of our day — certainly in a league with David McCullough and Nathaniel Philbrick — is Rick Atkinson, whose An Army at Dawn won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2002. That book was the first of three about fighting in Africa and Europe during World War II. They all are some of the best reading about this subject that you will find anywhere.

Now Atkinson has turned his attention to the American Revolution, and the first volume of his trilogy on that war has just appeared. The book is The British Are Coming, and my copy arrived this week.

Atkinson is a former reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor at the Washington Post, where he won numerous awards, including a Pulitzer, for his journalism.

A few years ago, I spent much of the summer reading Atkinson’s World War II trilogy and enjoyed it immensely. His detailed accounts and descriptions of on-the-ground battles and high-level strategy development are first rate. I highly recommend those books, and I am eager to dive into his latest work.

Poems and Paintings — the videos

More suggestions have come in for a name for a series of videos I am doing that show me painting a watercolor with a voiceover reciting a poem. Here are some of the suggestions so far:

Colorful Rhyme

Painting with Poetry

Illuminated Poetry

Poetic Watercolors

Of plume and brush

Poems for the Palette

Poetry in Paintings

Cadence & Canvas

Pens & Paints

Rhyme & Vision

Pens & Brushes

Verse & Vision

Keep sending me your suggestions, and let me know if any on this list appeal to you. I’ll keep this open through the month of May, and the top three suggestions will receive a small gift from me — a hand-turned wooden pen like the ones pictured here.

I have added another video this week: In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson (see below).

Here’s the complete list of videos so far:

In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvel:

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

And more are on the way.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

Bert Garner, a simple life of complexity

Bert Garner (1885-1970) was a man well-known in East Tennessee and beyond. Some referred to him as the Sage of the Smokies, and others thought of him as the Appalachian Thoreau. For the last third of his life, he lived in a two-room cabin near the Great Smoky Mountains without plumbing, running water, or electricity.

Garner was no hermit or recluse. Far from it. He enjoyed the company of anyone who could find the way several hundred yards off the road to his cabin. He would talk with anyone, and he could talk on just about any topic. If he invited you inside his cabin, which he often did, you would find more than 2,000 books. One of Bert’s passions was buying books, and the large mailbox on the road to his property became a symbol for that passion.

During his younger years, Garner traveled widely and worked in many places from California to Manhattan. By the 1930s he had returned to East Tennessee and endured the Great Depression, often jobless and in debt. He married a woman with three children by a previous marriage, but he and his wife found themselves unsuitable to each other, and eventually they separated and divorced.

Gradually, Bert climbed out of debt, but the Depression had taught him that he could live with minimal material and money. He turned that into a lifestyle and became famous for it. As a man of simple habits and means, Bert never sought the limelight, but he never ran from it either. He was the subject of numerous newspaper columns and stories and even appeared on national television in the 1950s.

By all who knew him, he was considered congenial and affable.

When Bert died in 1970, his friend Haywood “Woody” Brinegar inherited many of his journals and writings and turned them into a self-published biography a dozen years later. The Blount County Public Library has recently re-published this biography, Ole Bert: Sage of the Smokies, and I will be giving a presentation on Bert — with a few words about Woody — next week (Monday, May 20) at the book’s official launch. All are invited. It should be fun.

Robert Louis Stevenson and the birth of Treasure Island

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s great novel for young readers, sprang from a single sheet drawing he made while spending an afternoon with his stepson Lloyd in the summer of 1881. They were living in Scotland at the time, and a summer rain had confined Lloyd to the house. He spent that time in his room drawing pictures, and Stevenson joined him for the afternoon.

As he later wrote: “I made the map of an island; it was elaborately and (I thought) beautifully coloured; the shape of it took my fancy beyond expression; it contained harbours that pleased me like sonnets; and with the unconsciousness of the predestined, I ticketed my performance `Treasure Island.’ “

Stevenson began to name various locations on the island and began to see characters. He let his imagination go, and soon drew up a list of chapters for a book. By the next morning, he had written a draft of the first chapter.

When it was completed, the book was serialized under the pen name Captain George North. As such, it drew little attention, but when the chapters were put together and published as a book, it became a bestseller. It was Stevenson’s first big breakthrough as a writer. More importantly, the book was the first to break free of the didacticism of children’s literature at the time, and it set books for young readers on a different course. It wasn’t preachy, and it didn’t try to teach any lessons. It was sheer entertainment, and the kids loved it.

Note: Two poems by Stevenson are the recitation for the video I produced this week: In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Mountain Watermill
Watch this watercolor being painted with a voiceover of me reciting two poems by Robert Louis Stevenson in this video:

Best quote of the week:

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence. Hal Borland, author and journalist (1900-1978) 

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Andrew Marvell, Sherwood Anderson, a quarterback’s fall, and another poetry video: newsletter, May 10, 2019


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