The Adventures of Robin Hood
by Roger Lancelyn Green
In his customary Author's Note "as to the sources from which his material is derived," Roger Lancelyn Green complains that there isn't much literature about Robin Hood. This claim might shock you. But, apart from oral tradition, the tales of Robin Hood go back only to a 16th-century verse romance, two plays by a lesser contemporary of Shakespeare, and an uneven collection of ballads published in the 18th century, plus a few other fragments and excerpts. To fill out his story, Lancelyn Green had to borrow from several novels and plays written between 1819 and 1926. "I have used all my sources mainly for the outline of the tales," the author says, adding that he tried to keep the dialogue as close to the old ballads as possible.
So the author of such books as Tales of the Greek Heroes and King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table was forced to take more than his usual dose of creative license as he united the whole, scattered tradition of Robin Hood into one well-structured story. Nevertheless, I'm sure you'll recognize the enduring stories gathered in this book. Not only fans of Scott and Tennyson, but virtually all freedom-loving people, particularly in the English-speaking world, know of the merry band of outlaws who hid in Sherwood Forest, except when called upon to compete in archery tournaments, do feats of derring-do, steal from the rich, give to the poor, etc.
Lancelyn Green follows the general consensus of Robin Hood folklore in placing him in the time of King Richard I, the Lion Heart, who went away on a crusade and landed in prison on his way home. With the king thus indisposed, his wicked brother Prince John seized power and instituted a corrupt reign of terror, aided by such cronies as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Sir Guy of Gisborne, and the Bishop of Peterborough. In these days the old Saxon lords were resisting their new Norman overlords. Prince John raised funds for himself by making outlaws of the wealthier Saxons and seizing their lands; or by selling political and churchly offices to his crooked friends, who would then repay him by imposing harsh taxes on the people.
Those who had been made outlaws, even on unjust grounds, lost all legal rights, including the services of the church. So it happened to Robert Fitzooth, the Earl of Huntingdon, who as a Saxon and a supporter of the rightful King Richard, fell into disfavor with Prince John. Betrayed by his servant Worman, Robert is outlawed in the middle of his wedding to Maid Marian. With his faithful followers he flees into the forest of Sherwood and becomes a gentleman robber named Robin Hood.
In the adventures that follow, Robin enlarges his merry band by saving many likely lads from being persecuted by the Prince, the Sheriff, and their ilk. He sets out to break all the unjust laws in order to preserve the just ones, to fight the vile usurper while hoping that good King Richard will pardon him when he comes home. He also converts several fierce opponents into his best friends by fighting them to a draw in single combat. One weakness of these tales is this seeming repetition, as Robin meets not one, not two or three, but four or five of his merriest men in a blur of quarterstaves. Nevertheless, no reader can fail to be entertained by the witty remarks and saucy rejoinders that accompany these duels, nor by the close scrapes and narrow escapes Robin and his fellows go through. In masculine daring and athletic resourcefulness, their adventures have few equals; in wit and humor, in dashing honor, in affection and loyalty and joy of living, these heroes have no equal at all.
One must be prepared when one lives a rough life in the forest, such as boy scouts only dream of. Be prepared to accept a lot of running about in disguise, with all manner of improbable results. Be prepared for suspense and horror -- including an eerie encounter with a witch. Be prepared for sometimes gruesome violence. Be prepared for a moment of senseless rage in which Robin Hood cold-bloodedly kills fifteen men. And be prepared for an ending full of tender pathos, an ending which may leave you sighing and wiping your cheeks. Old-fashioned as the Robin Hood legends are, they still appeal directly to the hearts and values of today's reader. And no one has done a better job arranging them for young readers to enjoy than Roger Lancelyn Green.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 10+
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