When the World Was Young: Medievalist Literature for Children in the Robbins Library

Publication of the Robbins Library.


When the World Was Young:

Medievalist Literature for Children in the Robbins LIbrary

February - September 2017

Exhibit curated by Dr. Marie Turner; Digital site prepared by Steffi Delcourt


Nevertheless, I was always sure that in those bright days when the world was young,
whatever evil power might get the mastery for a little while,
the knight’s courage, humility, and faith would win through every peril at the end.

Henry Gilbert, from the Preface to King Arthur's Knights: the Tales Retold for Boys & Girls (p. vi)

Table of Contents

Joan of Arc 
King Arthur and the Knights of Camelot 
Robin Hood 
Other Heroes
Picture Book and Large Format
Further Reading 



Some of the most popular children’s books of all time – The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, even the Harry Potter series – share a deep resonance with the literature and culture of medieval Europe. This is no accident. Comparisons have often been drawn between childhood and the medieval era: as Seth Lerer remarks in his Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History, from Aesop to Harry Potter (2008), the child has long been read as a metaphor for the residue of the medieval in the modern era, with early scholars seeing medieval Europe as “a childish time, a kind of cultural formation moment in the history of the West that they, more modern figures, had outgrown” (p. 13). This, the perceived childishness of the Middle Ages and its status as modernity’s Other, has had a direct impact on the growth of children’s literature in the 19th and 20th centuries – particularly the genres of fantasy and romance – and its continued popularity today.

When the World Was Young celebrates a hidden corner of the Robbins collection, and one that sees far less use than it deserves: our collection of medievalist literature for children and young readers. Highlighted are several particular strengths of the Robbins: works related to Arthurian legend, Chauceriana, and the outlaw-hero of Robin Hood, but the objects on display run the gamut from 19th-century picture books to contemporary novels of time-traveling teenagers in medieval France. Because they are designed for children, these books are some of the most lavishly illustrated in our collection. Of particular note are several exquisite publisher’s bindings that speak to the perceived value of these narratives and the books that contain them, as well as illustrations by the likes of Walter Crane and N. C. Wyeth – two major players in the early development of illustrated books for children – whose truly masterful artwork provides a visual point of entry to the fantastic worlds of the past.

Tales of adventure and romance form the basis of much of the literature on display here, but the role of the medieval past in books for boys and girls moves beyond simple escapism. Medievalist literature for children tends to adhere to one of two models: the first, arising from the Arts & Crafts romanticism of the late 19th century, sees the medieval as wholesomely pre-industrial, simple and indeed childlike; the second exploits and plays on the stereotype of the so-called Dark Ages, often writing the medieval as riddled by the twin plagues of disease and superstition. Both types are on display here: early examples like Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur embrace a softer, more innocent Middle Ages designed to moralize and edify, where by contrast more modern fare such as Michael Cadnum’s In a Dark Wood or Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence reveals a darker, and often more complex, medieval world that holds a mirror to contemporary society.

Yes, it is no accident that the most battered and love-worn books on your childhood shelf are inflected by the ideologies of medievalism. The subject is too vast to be fully treated here, but this selection of books is an open invitation to deeper consideration and research: under the heading Further Reading, you will find a select bibliography of more medievalist children’s literature from the Robbins collection, as well as several scholarly treatments of children’s literature and medievalism. Happy reading!



Chaucer Display Case 1.

Mrs. H. R. [Mary Eliza] Haweis (1848-1898)
Chaucer for Children: A Golden Key
Illustrated by the author
London: Chatto & Windus, 1877

Mrs. H. R. [Mary Eliza] Haweis (1848-1898)
Chaucer for Schools, With the Story of His Time and His Work
London: Chatto & Windus, 1903







Displayed here are two works by English author and illustrator Mary Eliza Haweis. Chaucer for Children (right) is clearly the work of an erudite mind: it includes not only her popular modernizations of the poet's works and the beautiful Pre-Raphaelite-style illustrations accompanying the text, but also critical notes of the kind usually only found in the scholarly work of her male contemporaries W.W. Skeat and Frederick Furnivall, the inner circle of Victorian antiquarianism that refused to acknowledge her. Another of Haweis’ books for young learners, Chaucer for Schools (left) was a classic classroom text; the 3rd edition showcased in this exhibit was revised and published posthumously by her husband, the Rev. H. R. Haweis. Here you can see a typical element of educational books in the 19th and early 20th centuries: advertisements for other volumes sold by the same publishers. If you look closely, you will see Haweis’ own works advertised for sale.



Chaucer Display Case 2.
Mary Seymour (active late 19th century)
Chaucer’s Stories Simply Told
London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1884

True to its Victorian era, Seymour’s vision of Chaucer is both edifying and moral, aimed at introducing young readers to the poet’s goodness and virtue as well as his works. The publisher T. Nelson was a Protestant evangelical, who issued a variety of books with religious content in addition to his Classic Stories Simply Told series, of which Seymour wrote several. Still, the introductory comments on Chaucer’s life reveal a scholarly bent, framing the illustrated stories with historical context on the “father of English poetry.”



Marcia Williams (b. 1945)
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
Illustrated by the author
Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2007

A contemporary Chaucerian romp done in cartoonish style, Marcia Williams’ picture book combines modern translation with snatches of the original Middle English text, and a kind of commentary or gloss running down the margins. Here you see the opening of “The Miller’s Tale,” a particularly bawdy story, but nonetheless one often favored for children.



Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc display case
Annie Matheson (1853-1924)
The Story of a Brave Child: A Child's Life of Joan of Arc
London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1910

Louis Maurice Boutet de Monvel (1850-1913)
Jeanne d'Arc
Illustrated by the author
Paris: Plon-Nourrit & Co., 1896

Christian Grenier (b. 1945) Aïna, Faut-Il Brûler Jeanne?
Illustrated by Nicolas Wintz
Paris: Éditions Nathan, 1999



Crusading heroine Joan of Arc is another favorite in medievalist literature for children, particularly in France, where her status as religious, folk, and feminist hero persists to this day. Louis Maurice Boutet de Monvel’s beautifully understated Jeanne d'Arc, displayed here, is still considered one of one of the masterpieces of children’s picture books both for its moving illustrations and the frankness with which Boutet speaks to his young audience in the forward. The original watercolor illustrations from this volume are part of the permanent collection at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY; you can view them on the gallery’s website here. A century later, Christian Grenier takes up Joan’s story in his series Aïna: La fille des étoiles about the adventures of a young time-traveler. In Faut-Il Brûler Jeanne?, Aïna finds herself in fifteenth-century France, where she must protect the young Joan, on whose back rests the fate of the galaxy.


King Arthur and the Knights of Camelot


Michael Morpurgo (b. 1943)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Illustrated by Michael Foreman
Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2004

Margaret Hodges (1911-2005)
The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur
Illustrated by Tina Schartz Hyman
New York: Holiday House, 1990

Arthurian Studies is one of the great strengths of the Robbins’ collection. On display here are two lushly decorated picture books featuring tales of two of Arthur’s knights: his nephews Gawain and Gareth of Orkney. On the bottom left is Michael Foreman's illustration of the headless Green Knight for Michael Morpurgo's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and on the right we can see Tina Schartz Hyman's depiction of Gareth of Orkney riding across the country with his lady and her dwarf for Margaret Hodges' The Kitchen Knight.







Mark Twain (1835-1910)
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Illustrated by David Hughes
London: Folio Society, 2013

Straddling the line between children’s literature and adult satire, Twain’s Connecticut Yankee (1889) is a medieval burlesque, lampooning both the tenets of chivalry and their modern adherents. The story is that of Hank Morgan, an American factory supervisor who finds himself transported to the 6th-century court of King Arthur after being hit on the head in a workplace conflict. The novel is an implicit critique of popular contemporary writers such as Sir Walter Scott, whose sentimental renderings of the medieval past and their influence in the American South Twain blamed in part for the Civil War.






Meg Cabot (b. 1967)
Avalon High
New York: HarperCollins, 2006

Teeny-bopper Arthur! Inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, Cabot’s contemporary high school drama was a New York Times bestseller and spawned a television series, film, and several manga adaptations. The story follows the teenaged Ellie, who begins to notice a few too many similarities between life at her new high school and the Arthurian legend.


Brenda Apsley, ed. (active late 20th century)
Doctor Who: Journey Through Time
New York: Crescent Books, 1986

Even the Once and Future Kings needs a little help from the Doctor every once in awhile. In the short story, “The Creation of Camelot,” Arthur defeats the evil necromancer Merlin (actually the Master in disguise!) with the help of the Fifth Doctor and his companion, Tegan. This book is part of the Robbins’ Arthurian Short Stories Collection, which runs the gamut from 19th-century children’s literature to 21st century sci-fi.


Eleanora Louisa Hervey (1811-1903)
The Feasts of Camelot with The Tales that were Told there
London: R. Washbourne, 1877


The Feasts of Camelot, originally published in 1863, is a collection of tales of the Arthurian court at the feasts of Whitsuntide and Christmas. One of the earliest examples of Arthurian fiction by a woman, Hervey’s work is influenced by both Chaucerian narrative and the popular form of the Gothic novel. It is notable for its radical rewriting of the source material to redeem the moral turpitude of characters like Morgan le Fay. Our copy had a previous life as a prize given to a student for exemplary schoolwork: a handwritten note inside reads, Prize awarded to Miss Dorothy Barrett For Music.

Sidney Lanier, ed. (1842-1881)
The Boy's King Arthur
Illustrated by N. C. Wyeth
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922

Henry Gilbert (1868-1937)
King Arthur's Knights: The Tales Re-Told for Boys & Girls
Illustrated by Walter Crane
Edinburgh: T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1911

The Victorian vogue for children’s Arthuriana continued well into the twentieth century, as these two retellings of Malory illustrate. Both are classics of the form: Lanier’s focus is on chivalry and the moral development of young American men, while Gilbert’s distinctly British version is perhaps better known for its handsome illustrations by renowned illustrator Walter Crane. You can view these editions’ illustrations by N. C. Wyeth and Walter Crane on The Camelot Project, a digital project hosted by the Robbins Library.



Robin Hood


J. E. Muddock (1843-1934)
Maid Marian and Robin Hood: A Romance of Old Sherwood Forest
Illustrated by Stanley L. Wood
Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1892

In Maid Marian and Robin Hood, Robin Hood becomes a vehicle to satisfy the Victorian vogue for medieval romance, and an attendant nostalgia for the simpler days of pre-industrial Britain. Muddock’s opening salvo is classic Arts & Crafts, dreaming of Sherwood forest:

It is hard to believe, as one travels at the present day through Nottinghamshire, with its teeming towns and forests of factory chimneys that pollute the air and darken the sky with their volumes of dense smoke, that a few hundred years ago the whole shire was a wilderness of greenwood… (p. 1)



Anne Bowman (active late 19th century)
The Boy Foresters: A Tale of the Days of Robin Hood
Engravings by the Dalziel Brothers
London: George Routledge & Sons, 1905

Bowman’s work is a classic historical novel for children, narrating the story of three orphaned siblings, Ella, Hubert, and Rica, during the reign of King Richard (1189-1199). In classic form, the children soon discover that their father, far from being dead, is part of Robin Hood’s outlaw band, leading to edifying adventure during their “wild, sad, merry days in the forest of Sherwood.” Bowman was a well-known and prolific author in her day, though her books have largely fallen into obscurity, even amongst scholars of children’s literature.

Howard Pyle (1853-1911)
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Illustrated by the author
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927




First published in 1883 and still in print today, the wildly popular Merry Adventures is the classic work of Robin Hood literature for children. The novel is a composite, knitting together the traditional material from romance and balladry into a single lively and cohesive narrative. An American Quaker, Pyle helped Robin shed his penny dreadful image to become a character of worth and moral standing, a hero appropriate for consumption by children in upscale illustrated books. Pyle himself was also an artist, and he provided the masterfully detailed illustrations that accompany the text and can be seen here on The Robin Hood Project, a digital project hosted by the Robbins Library. In our own copy is a testament to the popularity of Pyle’s work: a young Tom C. Taylor of Rochester, NY has inscribed his name on the flyleaf, claiming ownership of his precious book.


Marilyn Singer (b. 1948)
Lizzie Silver of Sherwood Forest
Illustrated by Miriam Nerlove
New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1986

Lizzie Silver invites the boyish hero of Robin Hood into the late-1980s world of second-wave feminism: the eponymous hero challenges stereotypical gender roles through her obsession with Robin Hood and desire to become one of his merry men, all set against a backdrop of female friendship and adolescent angst.


Michael Cadnum (b. 1949)
In a Dark Wood
New York: Orchard Books, 1998




Robin Hood’s appeal as righteous outlaw has not diminished in the contemporary era. Michael Cadnum’s In a Dark Wood puts a political spin on the tale, making a conflicted Sherriff of Nottingham the unlikely hero as he struggles with his orders to bring in the fugitive Robin Hood, dead or alive. The copy on display is signed by the author – complete with a little bow and arrow near the title!




Charles Tritten (active mid 20th century)
Robin Des Bois
Illustrated by Pierre Noury
Paris: Flammarion, 1938

This French edition of the Robin Hood tale is one of the many foreign-language books for children to be found in the Robbins library. The painter and engraver Pierre Noury, who illustrated this book, was known for his illustrations in French-language editions of English novels.

Other Heroes

Rebecca Barnhouse (b. 1961)
The Book of the Maidservant
New York: Random House, 2009

W. J. Townsend Collins (1868-1952)
Tales from the New Mabinogion
Illustrated by Fred Richards
London: A. & C. Black, Ltd., 1923

Mary MacGregor (1876-1961)
Stories of Siegfried Told to the Children
Illustrated by Granville Fell
New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1909

Strafford Riggs (c. 1899-1943)
The Story of Beowulf
Illustrated by Henry C. Pitz
New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1933

Our collections here at the Robbins are particularly strong in Arthuriana, Robin Hood, and Chaucerian literature, but many other medieval heroes and themes make an appearance as well. Rebecca Barnhouse’s contemporary young adult novel The Book of the Maidservant takes its inspiration from The Book of Margery Kempe, an autobiographical narrative of mystic travel and pilgrimage dating from the turn of the fifteenth century. Barnhouse tells the story of Joanna, a serving girl in the entourage of the famed (and famously difficult) English holy woman Margery Kempe, who accompanies her mistress on pilgrimage to Rome. The other three volumes in this case feature more well-known figures and stories from medieval literature: Siegfried, hero of the German epic the Nibelungenlied, tales from the Celtic Mabinogion, and of course the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf. Henry C. Pitz’s illustrations in this 1933 edition of the Beowulf story are particularly striking; a close-up of one such image is featured in this display case.


Picture Book and Large Format

Nancy Ekholm Burkert (b. 1933)

Valentine & Orson
Illustrated by the author
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989

Jo Ellen Bogart (b. 1945)
The White Cat and the Monk
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Toronto: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2016

Laura Amy Schlitz (b. 1955)
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village
Illustrated by Robert Byrd
Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2007

David Macaulay (b. 1946)
Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction
Illustrated by the author
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973

The majority of the children’s books housed in the Robbins collection are novels, but we also have a number of picture books with medieval themes, of which these four are only a small sample. The White Cat and the Monk, the newest book in the exhibition, is a gentle retelling of the Old Irish poem Pangur Bán which narrates the loving relationship between a monk and his cat. Sydney Smith’s gorgeously atmospheric illustrations recall the style of the 9th-century Irish gospel book known as the Book of Kells. At the other end of the spectrum, David Macaulay’s masterpiece Cathedral is a kind of hybrid, combining the large format and highly illustrated style of the picture book with a detailed and historically accurate narrative of the construction of the cathedral at Chutreaux, France, complete with a glossary in the back.

Further Reading


Primary Sources

Baldwin, James. The Story of Roland. Illustrated by Peter Hurd. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930; 1958.

Barr, Mike W. and Brian Bolland. Camelot 3000. Embellished by Bruce D. Patterson and Terry Austin. Lettered by John Constanza. Colored by Tatjana Wood. DC Comics Inc., 1988.

Brady, Charles A. The King’s Thane. Illustrated by Henry C. Pitz. Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961.

Curry, Jane Louise. The Christmas Knight. Illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1993.

Dean, Jan. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale. Illustrated by Chris Mould. Hodder Children’s Books, 2002.

Hastings, Selina. Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady. Illustrated by Juan Wijngaard. Mulberry Books, 1987.

Hutton, Barbara. Heroes of the Crusades. Illustrated by P. Priolo. Griffith and Farran, 1869.

Kimmel, Eric A. The Hero Beowulf. Pictures by Leonard Everett Fisher. Shearwater Books, 2005.

Lehner, Ernst and Johanna. Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft. Dover Publications, Inc., 1971.

Lewis, C. S. The Silver Chair: Book 4 in the Chronicles of Narnia. Cover illustration by Roger Hane. Pictures adapted from illustrations by Pauline Baynes. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1953; First Collier Books, 1970.

---. The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’: Book 3 in the Chronicles of Narnia. Cover illustration by Roger Hane. Pictures adapted from illustrations by Pauline Baynes. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952; First Collier Books, 1970.

Lupack, Barbara Tepa. King Arthur’s Crown. Illustrated by Debra Joy McWilliams. Round Table Productions, 2004.

Mooser, Stephen. Young Marian’s Adventures in Sherwood Forest: A Girls to the Rescue Novel. Meadowbrook Press, 1997.

Paton Walsh, Jill. Hengest’s Tale. Illustrated by Jean Margrie. Puffin Books, 1966; 1976.

Pollard, Alfred W., abridged. Sir Thomas Malory. The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. The Macmillan Company, 1917.

Robin Hood: Adapted from the version by Alexandre Dumas. Illustrated by Benvenuti. W. H. Allen and Co., Ltd., 1961.

San Souci, Robert D. Young Guinevere. Illustrated by Jamichael Henterly. Delacorte Press, 1993.

Serraillier, Ian. Chaucer’s The Franklin’s Tale. Illustrated by Philip Gough. Kaye & Ward, 1972.

Singer, Nicky. Knight Crew. CB Editions, 2009.

Strickland, Brad. The Adventures of Wishbone: Be a Wolf! Big Red Chair Books, 1997.

Tolkien, J. R. R. Smith of Wootton Major. Illustrated by Pauline Baynes. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967; 1975.

Williams, Marcia. The Adventures of Robin Hood. Illustrated by Marcia Williams. Walker Books and Subsidiaries, 1995.


Critical Sources

Adapting the Arthurian Legends for Children: Essays on Arthurian Juvenilia. Edited by Barbara Tepa Lupack. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Barnhouse, Rebecca. The Middle Ages in Literature for Youth: A Guide and Resource Book. The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2004.

Barrington, Candace. “Retelling Chaucer’s Wife of Bath for Modern Children: Picture Books and Evolving Feminism.” Sex and Sexuality in a Feminist World. Edited by Karen A. Ritzenhoff and Katherine A. Hermes. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. Pp. 26-51.

Bradford, Clare. The Middle Ages in Children’s Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Braswell, Mary Flowers. The Forgotten Chaucer Scholarship of Mary Eliza Haweis, 1848-1898. Routledge, 2017.

Brockman, Bennett A. "Robin Hood and the Invention of Children's Literature." Children's Literature: Annual of The Modern Language Association Division on Children's Literature and The Children's Literature Association 10 (1982): 1-17.

Castleberry, Kristi. “Joan of Arc’s Brief Life and Long Afterlife.” Rossell Hope Robbins Library, http://www.library.rochester.edu/robbins/joanexhibition. Accessed 9 June 2017.

Chandler, John H. “Robin Hood: Development of a Popular Hero. An Exhibition in the Rossell Hope Robbins Library.” Rossell Hope Robbins Library, http://www.library.rochester.edu/robbins/robin-hood-chandler. Accessed 9 June 2017.

Lerer, Seth. Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter. University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Levy, Michael, and Farah Mendlesohn. “7: Middle Earth, Medievalism and Mythopoeic Fantasy.” Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. 133-59. ProQuest E-book Central. Accessed 14 June 2017.

Lupack, Alan. "The Once and Future King: The Book That Grows Up."Arthuriana 11.3 (2001): 103-14.

Lux, Sherron. “Picturing Marian: Illustrations of Maid Marian in Juvenile Fiction.” Images of Robin Hood: Medieval to Modern, edited by Lois Potter and Joshua Calhoun. University of Delaware Press, 2008. Pp. 197-207.

Macaulay, David. Building the Book Cathedral. Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Magical Tales: Myth, Legend and Enchantment in Children’s Books. Edited by Carolyne Larringtone and Diane Purkiss. Bodleian Library, 2013.

Medieval Literature for Children. Edited by Daniel T. Kline. Routledge, 2003.

Miller, Miriam Youngerman. “In Days of Old: The Middle Ages in Children’s Non-Fiction.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 12.4 (1987): 167-72. Project Muse. Accessed 14 June 2017.

Ranta, Taimi M. "Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: The Quintessential Children's Story." Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature: Fairy Tales, Fables, Myths, Legends, and Poetry. Ed. Perry Nodelman and Malcolm Usrey. West Lafayette, IN: Children's Literature Association, 1987. Pp. 213-20.

Richmond, Velma Bourgeois. Chaucer as Children’s Literature. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2004.

---. Chivalric Stories as Children’s Literature. McFarland and Company, Inc., 2014.



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