Today it is time for another installment in my series looking at Robin Hood. We have already looked at the possibility that the legend was inspired by a real person as well as the way the legend has evolved over the years, which has brought us to the half-way point of my series. These last two posts are going to look at the more modern incarnations of the legend beginning with those in written form. Let’s get to it.
A Story Transcribed
The past two centuries have seen the story of Robin Hood written and rewritten many times. Sometimes he gets a tale all his own and other times he is a background character in someone else’s story. He makes an appearance to young Wart in T.H. White’s Once and Future King and the characterization given to him by Walter Scott in Ivanhoe is often attributed as the basis for our current interpretation of his character. It is always fun to see our favorite outlaw make an unexpected appearance in another’s book, but it is even more fun to read a book that is his story to tell.
One of the most classic books of Robin Hood is Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Pyle took many of the traditional stories and adventures of the famous outlaw and compiled them into cohesive narrative that is meant for children. This is one of the books that I actually own, though I haven’t exactly read all the way through it. Pyle uses a style of writing that I find very tedious to read for long periods of time, but it is great to pick up when I need a quick fix.
As can be inferred from the title, this story of Robin and his Merry Men focuses on their heroic adventures as they seek to resist corrupt authority and help those who are less fortunate. Pyle’s book came at a time when the image of Robin as a hero who steals from the rich to give to the poor was growing in popularity and it helped solidify that image into the modern canon.
Another trend that has cropped up in more recent times is to take a deeper look into the character of Maid Marian, often with the author focusing on her more than Robin. The first book I ever read that did this was Maid Marian by Elsa Watson. This was one of those books I stumbled upon at the library and decided to take a chance on. While it was certainly nothing groundbreaking, it was enjoyable and stayed true to many of the classic elements of the Robin Hood legend. The story was told from the perspective of Marian, who was not simply a passive damsel in distress. Even though she went to Robin for help, she was still a woman of action.
Robin McKinley took this idea of a strong Marian further in her book, The Outlaws of Sherwood. Once again McKinley took a much loved and well known story and flipped it on its head. In her version of Robin Hood he is actually the worst archer of the group and Marian proves to be an invaluable asset to him and his men. She is the ones who procures a longbow for him when he must flee to the forest, she provides the green cloth for their camouflaged clothing, she saves the lives of Robin and his men through her quick thinking and negotiation, and it is she, not Robin, who shoots to win the golden arrow.
My favorite version of the Robin Hood story that I have read to date is also the one that makes some of the most severe changes. In Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy, Robin is not an outlaw living in the Sherwood Forest fighting against the evil Prince John who is trying to usurp his brother’s throne. Instead, Bran ap Brychan is a Welsh Prince who is forced to live in the Greenwood when Norman invaders steal his land and home. Even with the very different time and location, though, the heart of the story is true to the modern day legend we have grown to love and there are many familiar faces that crop up throughout.
There are many more books out there that tell the story of our heroic outlaw than I could ever read, but I will never stop trying. There is just something about Robin Hood that speaks to me – strikes a chord within me – and I will never tire of visiting him within the pages of a book.
What books about Robin Hood have you read? Which are your favorites? Least favorites? Let me know in the comments.