Robin Hood and his men most merrie (and Welsh)

Enter into the greenwood and consider two tales of Robin the Hood! One, the triumphant finale of Stephen Lawhead’s “Hood” trilogy, setting the Lincoln green-clad figure betwixt the rivers Wye and Severn; the other,  an examination of Robin Hood ballads and stories, and of medieval records, in an effort to see what kernel of truth is within all the legend. 

We begin with Tuck, third and last in Stephen Lawhead’s fascinating King Raven series, which sets the Robin Hood stories in Wales during the Norman attempt to consolidate its power in Britain. Rhi Bran, the prince of Elfael, was driven from his throne by the Normans  and forced to refuge with some of his people in the forest – where in Hood he took on not only the mantle of noble responsibility, but the cloak of a terrifying bird-man who took control over the King’s Road and began exacting pain on the occupiers.    Bran expected in Scarlet to be restored to the power after revealing to the Normans that their man in Wales was treacherous, but instead he returned to the greenwood empty-handed – and now, he is resigned to continuing the fight  and expelling the Ffreinc  through violence.   He’ll need allies, though, and sets off to visit his kinsmen to the north in hopes that they will join his cause; meanwhile, young Merian also visits her father, one of the local magnates who despises Bran but who might be persuaded by his dearest daughter to lend aid against the faithless outsiders. In his quest, we see Bran at his best –  passionate, clever, and indefatigable, despite continuing disappointments and constant danger. Though the late novel is mired in gloom from continuing setbacks, and the King’s army approaches to rout Bran and his followers from the greenwood,  the tides of fortune have a funny way of turning, especially in the turbulent waters around the British isles. 

Next we move to Robin Hood: A True Legend, by Sean McGlynn.  Robin Hood has a long pedigree in British folklore,  and McGlynn here  examine it to  determine when the story of the whimsical bowman began, and who, if any man, might have inspired the Robin stories.  There are problems in such a quest, McGlynn writes: what we have left is not necessarily what may have existed,  just as Cicero and others often quote classical texts which have been lost to time. Nottingham and Sherwood are popular settings for Robin Hood stories, but this may be because only stories with that setting have survived:   traveling bards often changed the setting of their stories to appeal to local audiences.   McGlynn posits that Little John, Marian, and others may have been stars in their own regional stories who were later enveloped into the Robin Hood stories, rather like the cast of separate Marvel characters who later became the Avengers.  After examining all of the early Robin Hood literature, McGlynn identifies some core characteristics of Robin Hood (the bow, the forest, a company of men, a hero/outlaw paradox) and then uses them to review and scrutinize several men who others have attempted to call The Real Robin Hood. These are all figures worth reading about, especially Hereward the Wake  and Eustace – an ex-monk turned pirate – but the only one with real plausibility, McGlynn suggests, is William of Cassingham. Otherwise known as Willikin of the Weald,  Cassingham led a resistance of bowmen against a French invasion   following the days when John was dead and the realm was run by a child and his regent. I remember nothing of that story, so it may be high time for me to read McGlynn’s Blood Cries Afar, on said invasion.   Robin Hood: A True Legend recommends itself highly as a concise review of Robin Hood lore and an inquiry into Robin’s possible historical roots.

Next up: Romans vs Druids in mortal combat.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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1 Response to Robin Hood and his men most merrie (and Welsh)

  1. Pingback: April 2023 in Review | Reading Freely

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