The American Book Company chose to bind the covers of this edition in dark mustard cloth, lettered and decorated with a dark brown imprint. The book's front reads "ECLECTIC ENGLISH CLASSICS - TENNYSON'S - IDYLLS OF THE KING - WILLARD". The "Willard" in this title block refers to Mary F. Willard ("of the John Marshall High School, Chicago," announces the book's frontispiece), the book's editor. The spine indicates only "TENNYSON'S IDYLLS OF THE KING," from bottom to top - as opposed to from top to bottom. This led to the book being stored upside down for at least five years before being brought down off the shelf for perusal.
Opening the front cover, the reader learns that Miss Mary Hybki of LaSalle Peru-Oglesby Township High School apparently gave this textbook three stars in pencil at some point in its lifespan. Hybki also wrote several penciled notes to herself as she read this book, including that a certain passage needed to be read "for Tuesday", and that Lancelot "sinned but he suffered much." However, time, pencil, and the vagaries of rushed handwriting have made most of Hybki's notes illegible.
A secondary label, preprinted and affixed to the book's inside front cover, informs the reader "This book belongs to: Mr. Harry Kotecki." It uses the Papyrus typeface and the art style of the United States' Southwest.
Flip the page, reader, to find a line map of Britain and the book's frontispiece, where you will learn that this edition does not contain the full twelve Idyllls of the King, but rather five "Selections." Feel some irritation. On page 13, after Willard's introduction, a table of contents lays out "The Coming of Arthur," "Gareth and Lynette," "Lancelot and Elaine," (Hybki adds "Holy Grail" at this point, to note that poem's sequencing in the full collection,) "Guinevere," and "The Passing of Arthur." And of course, what would a textbook be without "Notes" on page 167?
Flip back to the introduction.
Willard describes the Idylls as "a true British epic, and the only one which English-speaking people can properly call their own." (5) She references Tennyson's explanation that the poems are allegory, but goes on to propose that their symbolism is more important. Moreover, "there can be found in them a moral significance and insight fitted for the highest aspirations of mankind."
Willard's introduction has a second section, "The Origin and Growth of the Idylls," which recounts what versions of the stories of King Arthur came before Tennyson; in its third section, she takes on the question of whether or not King Arthur actually lived. Willard concludes
[T]he investigations of this century have resulted in fixing the reality of a British chieftain of such a name who lived probably about the beginning of the sixth century and was a leader of the Celtic tribes in the west of England against the Saxon invaders. (10)
She rounds out the introduction with a chronology of Tennyson's life and then her bibliography...
...and then Tennyson's fun begins.
The voice of the poet trill'd through his words,
which glow'd like lilacs caught in the summer sunlight of yester-year:
"Believe in my feverish Christian dream,
in a king who uses force of arms
to protect the weak, celebrate the strong, and venerate my God.
Here I tell of the line between magic and miracle
so clearly, but show it to be blurr'd.
Believe in evil errant knights
besieging princesses for their bridely hands.
Believe in maidens fair-flow'ring
who will die from no more cause than love withheld.
Believe that craft and compromise must be met with the sword,
or they will bring all to ruinous end.
Believe that We needs must love the highest when we see it, not Lancelot, nor another.
Believe these things so that you can believe in me,
and I will not be lost unto the ages.
The notes at the end of the book contain numerous fragmented questions designed to trigger discussion in a high school classroom, as well as some useful pieces of historical context such as entries from Tennyson's diary, written as he visited sites mentioned in the poems in order to gain inspiration.
American Book Company imprinted nothing but its own logo on the back of this book, which stands only 6 inches tall and, at 188 pages, has the same depth as a woman's index finger.