Sunday, September 22, 2013
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
Why I read it: Another classic turned into a Disney tale; I wanted to see where they met and diverged.
Summary: The well-known story of the heroic underdog who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
My Thoughts: Well, I feel sick.
I had no idea how Robin Hood's life ended, having never gotten to that point in his story before. In a way, it was the only way he could go. He couldn't be bested in combat, not after his many years in Sherwood Forest and the subsequent days spent at the side of King Richard in the battles of the East. And he couldn't fall prey to a misstep or a fall, as nimble and surefooted as he had always been. Bled to death by a nun, his cousin, no less. Who would have guessed?
But, to the story. Pyle was just the latest, in his time, to take up the tale. Robin Hood stories had been around for five hundred years before he took them on. But what flourish he added! The language alone is worthy of the read, the consistency with which he constructs the conversations full of "anons" and "tut" and other archaic-sounding turns of phrase. Immersion into the life of Sherwood Forest comes simply through this device, not to mention the sweeping descriptions of the lush greenery that is the land Robin and his men inhabit and love.
The story begins and ends darkly, with bloodshed and death, with even the hated Sherriff of Nottingham seeing his demise violently, but in between, Pyle writes with comedy. Merry is the correct word, and perhaps this book helped define the way we use it today. Robin does most everything with a smile on his face, robbing a bishop or shooting an arrow in a contest before the king. In the end he meets King Richard, who perhaps is the merriest monarch of all time, certainly a match for Robin Hood's roguishness at heart. Robin finds a kindred soul in the King, and accompanies him until that man's final days.
I wonder, too, how Tolkien was inspired by this telling of the tale, or of others. I suppose comparisons are inevitable, but at times the story had a Hobbit-like feel to it. Perhaps, though, terms like "a good, stout yew bow" are just bound to pop up from time to time in the genre. Either way, it left me pondering.
So what of this grave of Robin Hood, 1247 A.D., outsitde the Kirklees Priory? While Pyle's version of the tale is fanciful, how much truth lies behind the character of Robin Hood? It's a deep world into which I am excited to delve.