The classic English legend of Robin Hood certainly offers sufficient fodder for a spirited debate. From the 14th century onwards, scraps of legend and poetry gave rise to one of England's best loved stories: that of a handsome young archer robbing the rich to feed the poor. From the earliest surviving Robin Hood and the Monk, to Howard Pyle's classic children's adaptation, tales of the forest of Sherwood are rife among classic offerings. Not only that, but the film industry embraces him as their own, with over 63 adaptations featuring him, and 32 more in which he makes an honorary appearance. One of these, by the by, is Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, in which I was much pleased to find him.
My own introduction to Robin Hood has been very limited, compared to the vast offerings available. The Disney animation, a brief foray into an audiobook of Pyle's version, which was promptly cut short when I found it had an elderly female narrator (she just didn't fit the overall tone of the story), and the book which we're going to be discussing today: Robin Hood, by Paul Creswick. This edition, published in 1917 sported the glorious N.C. Wyeth illustrations and a whole new look into Robin's childhood. I don't recall how many years ago it was when I first read it, but I do recall falling in love with it on first read. Back then, I didn't think much about the moral implications of the character's actions, but just a few weeks ago I revisited this book, and I thought it would be most interesting to explore it further.
Because, as hard as it is to say, if he's robbing the rich to feed the poor, then we're excusing sin in the name of adventure.
Everyone knows Robin Hood, but there are differing accounts of how he came to the Greenwood. In Paul Creswick's Robin Hood he leaves for the greenwood at around age 18, and the story spans into his twenties, I would think. But it begins when he's sixteen years old, young Robin Fitzooth, living with his parents in the forest of Locksley. King Richard is abroad fighting in the crusade, and Robin's life bids fair to be a happy one--at least, as happy as a life in medieval England can be. His father was cheated out of his rightful lands, so he has to content himself with being the Ranger of Locksley and caring for the king's dear. When an invitation comes from Robin's uncle, Geoffrey of Montfitchet, to see the fair, and a further opportunity for Robin to become the Montfitchet heir, Hugh allows his son to go. On his way Robin receives his first hint of the greenwood, when Will O' the Green demands money for his safe passage to town. Robin, bold of heart and brave of tongue offers the best of three shots for the freedom of the forest, and Will accepts the wager, but a group of sheriff's men riding by cuts their competition short. Once at Geoffrey of Montfitchet's, Robin meets his cousin Will Scarlet, who has been disinherited as Geoffrey's son for his allegiance to Prince John. After these hints of the future Robin's world changes when he slights the Sheriff of Nottingham's daughter in favor of Maid Marion on the bestowal of a prize at archery, invoking the enmity of the Sheriff's household. Then Robin's father dies, killed by a wild stag, and Robin determines to become Ranger of Locksley in his stead. He sends his request to the sheriff, but the sheriff is determined to slight him, and twists an unfortunate incident with Will O' the Green's men to make Robin look like an outlaw. After a mean trick to make Robin shoot one of the king's deer, and a failed hanging, Robin takes refuge with Will O' the Green's men.
And thus, Robin Locksley dies, and Robin Hood takes his place.
The Paul Creswick edition contains a very few mild instances of language, but is for the most part a clean tale. Little gore indeed, though a lot of archery and arrows. Also, Robin Hood is far from the invincible fellow he likes to think he is, and there are plenty of bloody noses and cracked crowns for all concerned, including him.
Paul Creswick's edition is not nearly as laugh-inducing as Pyle's, though he has his moments, especially in Robin's meeting with Little John. But all in all, his story is one of true love, both the love of a man for a maid, and the love of a man for a fellow man. All are willing to risk their necks in rescuing their comrades, and they care for one another in a truly endearing manner. Oh, yes, they all have their spats. But only enough to add a spice of variety, and keep the reader from viewing them as an angelic band.
The only scene I skipped altogether was the scene in which young Robin gets his fortune told at the fair. Fortune telling is one plot that I disapprove of entirely, and though I won't dump the whole book if it contains it, and even in some instances I will read a scene containing a fortune-teller (for instance, The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel) or someone making a jest of fortune-telling (such as Pancks in Little Dorrit) when it's the real crystal ball stuff I flip a few pages.
My applause to Creswick for refraining from turning Marian into a feminist wood-dweller. Though she joins Robin, and in several instances takes on the dress of a page, she keeps her feminine dignity and poise, whether she's her own sweet self or going under the guise of--well, I won't say. Their love story is a true and clean and honest one, a fitting illustration of how a woman complements a man no matter what his work.
Situational Ethics or Biblical Interposition?
The idea of biblical interposition is an interesting one. I went to a weekend conference on this topic, at which Paul Jehle is the speaker, and it was quite enlightening. I highly encourage you to purchase the recordings here. It is not necessarily wrong to disobey the authorities who violating their God-given responsibility to dispense justice. In biblical interposition, first you appeal to the authorities. If that fails, you flee. And if that fails, then you fight. For instance, take the Scottish covenanters who emigrated to America. The Covenanters did just that; first they appealed to the king; when that failed, they fled to mountain strongholds and hidden valleys, and when the king's dragoons followed them, they turned to and fought with a vengeance. The question regarding Robin Hood remains, was his band an excuse for blatant sin and outlawry, or was it a just biblical interposition against unjust tyrants. Perhaps the words of King Richard answer it best: "I love the man who is brave and who dealeth fairly as he may with his fellow men. You have kept the spirit of liberty alive in this my land, and I hold no anger against you because you have been impatient under wrong." The ultimate mark of biblical interposition, is that once a wrong government is abolished, the people set up a new government in its place, not relying any longer than necessary on the ruling of the common will. And this, in Creswick's edition, Robin does. His king is King Richard, and he swears fealty to him. Robin Hood has his occasional faults, but altogether "Robbing the Rich to Feed the Poor" has become much more of a Hollywood hype than the original tales contained. And though his outlaw band may not be perfect, in Creswick's edition they are fighting for truth and justice, and the good law of the land of England. I know not how other editions portray him, but in my favorite edition, though not without its flaws, I find no need to excuse my enjoyment of the bulk of his adventures, for the bulk of them are honest ones. In fact, if you like Stevenson's The Black Arrow, then I think you'll like Creswick's Robin Hood very much indeed.
Such a pity that it had to end as it did. But the legend lives on, and I think it bids fair to last for centuries to come.