The Highwayman - Thao Lam
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The Highwayman

The Highwayman

The Highwayman

Happy Halloween! This treat is for the adults. Keep reading…

The Highwayman, written by Alfred Noyes and illustrated by Charles Keeping is not for the faint heart and surely not for four-to-eight-year-olds as recommended by the publisher. This tragic and haunting poem was first published in 1906 in Blackwood’s Magazine. Set in 18th century England, it tells the tale of a highway robber who is in love with an innkeeper’s daughter, Bess. Betrayed to the authorities by a jealous stableman, the highwayman escapes ambush when Bess sacrifices her life to warn him. In attempt to revenge her death, he dies, shot down on the highway. On still winter nights the ghosts of the lovers meet; a highwayman comes riding up to the old inn-door to the landlord’s black-eyed daughter.

Charles Keeping’s illustrations are as haunting as the poem. The black and white ink drawings are dark to match the tone of the story. The squiggles of the lines and paint spatter create abstract pattern and textures. The realistic drawings are graphic and gruesome. Creepy looking faces reflect the dark and sinister personalities of the characters (the characterization of the stableman really gives me the willies!). Keeping inverses the lines, white on black for the last couple of pages to capture the ghosts of the lovers as they haunt the winter night.

The Highwayman, a children’s book review by Thao Lam

Author Alfred Noyes

(September 16th, 1880 – June 25th, 1958)

English poet Alfred Noyes was born in Wolverhamption, England. His father was a teacher; at an early age Noyes was taught Latin and Greek. Noynes never graduated from college; on the day of his exams he was meeting with a publisher to negotiate a contract for his volume of poems. Though he did not graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, his reputation as a poet earned him a teaching position at Princeton University in 1914. Alfred Noyes was very well known in his time.


Illustrator Charles William James Keeping

(September 22nd, 1924 to May 16th, 1988)

Charles Keeping was born and raised in Lambeth, England. His family was really poor, they lived in cramped quarters and three generations of Keepings lived under the same roof. Young Charles did poorly at school; he spent most of his time drawing. At the age of 14, he dropped out. At he age of 18 he joined the Royal Navy as a wireless operator during World War II. Keeping came home from the war with severe depression in which he was institutionalized for a time. After receiving treatment he applied for a grant to study art at the Regent Street Polytechnic and was turned down. He kept trying and kept getting turned down, so took life drawing classes in evenings while reading meters for a gas company during the day. Charles Keeping eventually became an illustrator, children’s book author and a lithographer.

Interested in seeing more of Charles Keeping’s work? Visit the gallery he started with his wife, Renate Keeping, also an artist


Publisher Oxford University Press, USA (September 23, 1999)

ISBN-10 0192723707

ISBN-13 978-0192723703