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.


  1. I think the only Robin Hood version I have read is the one by Roger Lancelyn Green. I don't remember Robin dying, or at least not like that! I think I tried reading Pyle's Book of Pirates to my kids, but we didn't get very far. The language takes some getting used to.

    For some reason this reminds me that I want to read The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter.

    I was wondering if you have ever read Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. This first book in the series is set in the Lake District in England in the 1930's. I love it because the kids are given the freedom to camp out on an island in the lake and have the use of a small sailboat. They see another small sailboat and imagine they are pirates. One of the later stories in the series involves some of the kids accidentally being swept across the North Sea in a sailboat to the Netherlands. We enjoyed reading these aloud to our boys. (Before they were too old to get a laugh out of one of the girl's names - you can look it up on Wikipedia and see what I mean).

    Thanks for the review.

    1. I found it fascinating that the same guy who wrote this version - or any version - of the Robin Hood tales was the man responsible for how we think today that pirates looked during the Age of Sail. The same story is true of this book - you have to get into the language and let it roll. I'm not sure how fun it would be to read it aloud.

      I've never read Ransome, but will look into that one. It certainly sounds fun. I'm loving the classics these days.