This post is part of a series of posts on books and movies about the legend of Robin Hood. It discusses:
- The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley
- The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green
- The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
- Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
- Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert
- Robin Hood (2006)
- Lots of Robin Hoods (the post that started it all)
The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley is very postmodern in that it appears to be an attempt to show how a legend could have formed around an ordinary man, rather than an attempt to modify or retell the legend itself. Robin Hood is dragged kicking and screaming into a leadership role, and, interestingly, stinks at archery. (It isn’t him in disguise at the famous contest; everyone there just thinks it was.)
I didn’t like the climax of the book: it was actually really threatening and scary, and lots of people died and got badly injured. I did like Little John’s romance.
Something about McKinley’s syntax bothered me; possibly the shift from old writing to contemporary writing just felt weird to me, or possibly it’s not her best writing, but I had to reread some sentences before they got through to me.
The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green is British, but was dull compared to Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. It began with Robin Hood’s conception (?!) but then pogo-sticked through the rest of the legend, and wasn’t nearly as funny… with one exception.
[Robin Hood has gone to hide in Allin-a-Dale and his wife’s house, soldiers are chasing them. Gisborne knocks on the door, pretending to be alone.]
“You are not alone,” declared Robin suddenly. “Who are your companions?”
“Companions?” exclaimed the voice in surprise. “I have none but the wind and rain—and I could do very well without them.”
“The wind and the rain have many voices,” said Robin, “but I never before hear them say ‘What shall we do now?’ ”
There was another pause, and then the voice from without cried in an altogether different tone:
“Look you here, master cottager! If you do not let us in willingly, we will break down the door!”
“Ah-ha!” cried George-a-Greene, who had been listening in silence to all this. “ ‘We’ is it now, you plural rascals? Well, we’re ready for you.”
[Then there’s a fight scene in which the women help fight.]
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle wins hands down. I liked the illustrations and the overall tone. Robin Hood and his merry men really are merry, and they win every struggle easily. This would frustrate some people; I found it gratifying. The trend of making superheroes in movies vulnerable or past their prime is what frustrates me. I was taken in by the fake old-style English, which (according to the afterword) Pyle invented.
From the novel, page 143:
“‘He who jumps for the moon and gets it not leaps higher than he who stoops for a penny in the mud.’ ”
“Truly,” quoth Will Stutely, “it is a fine thought, but nevertheless, good master, the one gets a penny and the other gets naught, and, without the penny, one is like to go with an empty stomach. These same stories are well to listen to but ill to follow, say I.”
From the novel, page 191/193:
So passed the gentle springtime away in budding beauty; its silver showers and sunshine, its green meadows and its flowers. So, likewise, passed the summer with its yellow sunlight, its quivering heat and deep, bosky foliage, its long twilights and its mellow nights, through which the frogs croaked and the fairy folk were said to be out on the hillsides. All this had passed and the time of fall had come, bringing with it its own pleasures and joyousness; for now, when the harvest was gathered home, merry bands of gleaners roamed the country about, singing along the roads in the daytime and sleeping beneath the hedgerows and the hayricks at night. Now the hips burned red in the tangled thickets and the haws waxed black in the hedgerows, the stubble lay all crisp and naked to the sky, and the green leaves were fast turning russet and brown. Also, at this merry season, good things of the year are gathered in in great store. Brown ale lies ripening in the cellar, hams and bacon hang in the smoke-shed, and crabs are stowed away in the straw for roasting in the winter time, when the north wind piles the snow in drifts around the gables and the fire crackles warm upon the hearth. So passed the seasons then, so they pass now, and so they will pass in time to come, whilst we come and go like the leaves of the tree that fall and are soon forgotten.
From the novel, page 254:
“Jack Shoemaker maketh ill bread; Tom Baker maketh ill shoon.”
From the afterword, page 377:
It may seem odd today, but in the country’s infancy, many of its people lamented that America was a young nation with no history, with no culture of its own. They found no romance in the new republic equaling that of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. These Yankees may have declared their independence of British rule, but they were not ready to relinquish completely European taste.
From the afterword, pages 381-82:
Pyle performed a masterly job of gathering all the different snatches of the Robin Hood legend into such an entertaining form for young readers. Unfortunately no one person had preserved all the old stories of Sherwood Forest, as Thomas Malory had done with the tales of Camelot…. Possibly the legendary Robin Hood was all and none of these gentlemen. But it matters little who he _really_ was. As his exploits were told and retold and still others invented over the centuries, the outlaw evolved by the end of the sixteenth century into a hero of noble birth and noble deeds.
From the afterword, page 389:
Happily Pyle is never too didactic, and never soaks the merry history with the cheap, sick sentimentality that mars so much nineteenth-century juvenile literature. But his stories are not empty-headed, either.
From the afterword, page 392:
Even Robin Hood is remarkably chaste. Maid Marian is nowhere to be seen; she is mentioned in passing only once, when Robin turns beggar…. Perhaps, in intending his version primarily as a book for boys, Pyle thought it best not to bore them with the amorous adventures of he famous hero in Lincoln green. Doubtless they would have skipped over these episodes anyway to get to the thrilling battles with the Sheriff of Nottingham and the other villains.
From the afterword, pages 392-93:
Surely Pyle’s self-consciously archaic language is not to everyone’s taste…. Of course no one in medieval England actually spoke like any of Pyle’s Merry Men…. The dialogue in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood does add greatly to the energy of the stories.