There’s something appealing about Robin Hood. —Maybe even more-so to American sensibilities. Granted, we didn’t rob from the rich for the sake of the poor. We just threw the rich’s prize tea into the harbor.
Not to mention when Disney created a lovable fox. And Errol Flynn, for an earlier generation, swung from trees.
And even farther back, Sir Walter Scott penned a classic, Ivanhoe, featuring Robin Hood.
Growing up I read about Robin Hood. I poured over stories, preferring the ones that tended toward happily-ever-after versus grim reality. (Be warned, not all the tales are happy!)
Imagine my excitement when I recently realized there were two, TWO retellings of Robin Hood I hadn’t read. One was new. And one was by a favorite author of mine. (Don’t ask me how I managed to overlook it; it obviously wasn’t on Overdrive or the local library bookshelf!)
So here, dear readers, are two Robin Hood retellings. The first is more YA while the second is suitable for advanced MG readers.
Sherwood by Meagan Spooner. HarperTeen, 2019. 480 pages.
Robin of Locksley is dead. An opening scene in the Holy Land indicates as much, as Marian hears early in the story. Plucky and hot-headed, Marian is torn by grief. But even more, she is outraged by the Sheriff of Nottingham’s increasing taxes and oppression.
Robin wouldn’t have tolerated it, but Robin is gone. Matters come to a head when Marian slips out one night to right a wrong and is mistaken in the dark for Robin Hood —returned. Soon she is playing a dangerous game. (I was reminded of Mara, Daughter of the Nile, in terms of intrigue.) Flashbacks from Robin’s perspective are interspersed through the story, giving readers another’s perspective on Marian.
This retelling is a tribute to the legend. While not deeply historical, Spooner cleverly manages to follow the lines of the Robin Hood legends and maintain the adventure and romance of the original.
The author’s introduction kept echoing in my head, as I read Sherwood.
“To the tall girls who wish they were
To the short girls who wish they were
To the girls who’ve always been too
And the girls who are never enough
To those who persist
This is for you.”
Much has been said recently on a girl’s worth. Not all girls are going to love archery. But neither are all going to love sewing. Sherwood’s Marian is complex and feisty yet also gloriously feminine. We need stories about both —and as a tall girl who likes a bow, I was glad for this retelling.
- Sexuality (In particular, one steamy kissing scene, but nothing more. Infidelity is also mentioned in reference to a minor character.)
- Violence (fighting, blood)
- Language (mild cursing)
Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. Firebird, 1988. 288 pages.
One of McKinley’s earlier works, this shines with all the best of McKinley: witty sentences, strong females, and humor mixed with high adventure. I’d even dare to say “fantasy” because this tale takes place in the England of legend, versus a strictly historical England.
Early in the story, Robin, a poor forester, becomes a reluctant fugitive. Aiding, abetting, and encouraging him are his loyal friend, Much, and Marian.
This Robin is the epitome of an unwilling hero. Early in the story, he attempts to dissuade an enthusiastic Much,
“The occasional rogue in Sherwood is a common thing and no one cares overmuch so long as he kills no one important; but an entire band of them, waving a banner saying ‘Down with the Normans’ virtually in the sheriff’s teeth? Be sensible, man.”
“This is why we need you,” said Much comfortably. “You’re a pessimist and a good planner.”
“I have not begun to plan and be pessimistic,” said Robin angrily. “You are simply not listening; you wish to ignore me—beyond my symbolic status, of course, which you find valuable . . .”
And so the unlikely group is formed and grows. This one, with McKinley’s typical streak, even includes female bandits.
But as the fame of Robin’s band grows, so grows the stakes and the danger. Robin realizes the danger and tries to protect those around him. (If an angsty Robin brooding and bickering with Marian is more your cup of tea, this is the Robin for you.)
McKinley doesn’t only focus on Robin in her retelling though and chapters are given from the perspective of other characters. This rounding out allows for the band of merry men to really come to life.
The climax is bleak and battle-filled, but the improbable ending, when it comes, allows for a measure of happiness and hope.
Would you like Outlaws of Sherwood? This quote gives you a sample of some classic Robin Hood à la Robin McKinley:
“If you do not be quiet,” said Robin conversationally, as Sir Miles thrashed on the ground and roared that if there were a man among them he would challenge Sir Miles to single combat and that Sir Miles would then water the ground with his blood, “I shall gag you. I begin to think that I should enjoy gagging you.”
“This is not honourable behaviour!” shouted Sir Miles. Robin grinned. “I hope not. I am, after all, an outlaw and a rogue.”
- Sexuality (Homosexuality, “man-love” is referenced once in passing)
- Violence (intense fighting, blood)
- Language (mild British cursing)
Have you read one of these retellings? What did you think? Or do you have another favorite we haven’t mentioned?
If this post whets your man-in-green appetite, see our posts on Robin Hood by David Calcutt, a more traditional re-telling, and Will in Scarlet, featuring the backstory of one of those merry men. Also, The Sword in the Stone, Book 1 of T. H. White’s Arthurian masterwork, The Once and Future King, features an extended passage wherein the young Arthur goes on an adventure with one “Robin Wood.”