The Adventures of Robin Hood by Joseph Walker McSpadden

McSpaddenGoodreads: The Adventures of Robin Hood
Source: Purchased

Review: McSpadden provides a solid addition to the Robin Hood canon.  Those familiar with classic works such as Howard Pyle’s retelling or Roger Lancelyn Green’s will not find much new within its pages; the typical encounters with Little John, Friar Tuck, and more all appear.  Indeed, the generous page length ensures that the favorite episode of any reader faces good odds of being included.

The most notable feature in this work, then, is its mastery of a language that suggests an archaic flavor without ever seeming stilted; readers can believe that Robin and his men would speak the kinds of words McSpadden assigns to them.  Snippets of ballads also intersperse the work, most often appearing as introductions to episodes, but sometimes forming a part of the narrative itself.  This technique connects the book to the earlier legends it seeks to retell.

Robin Hood retellings generally follow the same trajectory so that, for me, at least, the one thing I really want to know about before I pick up a story about the famous outlaw is how Maid Marian will appear.  She, as a character, seems to have received the most reworkings over the years and I tend to favor those tales that do not seem to assume that, in order to be Robin’s equal, Maid Marian must act like Robin.  Howard Pyle’s version of Robin Hood has remained my favorite since childhood in no small part due to Main Marian’s distinct absence.

(Spoilers about Maid Marian’s role follow.)  McSpadden does an excellent job of depicting a nuanced version of Maid Marian in which she fulfills her social roles as a woman with distinct feminine grace, but also possesses the boldness to seek out Robin in the forest dressed as a page.  Though she can handle a sword well, she does not miraculously have the ability to beat Robin or any of his men in an all-out duel.  (Nothing in a Robin Hood retelling bothers me so much as Maid Marian’s ability to outshoot Robin or outfence him when he literally spends his life practicing such skills when she, presumably, is largely engaged in something more “womanly” like needlework.  I can suspend my disbelief enough to believe that her father might have encouraged her to learn such skills, but I have more trouble believing that she spent so much time at them that she can best the most famed archer in all of England’s history.)

McSpadden’s traditional take on the story of Robin Hood reminded me of all the pleasant days I spent as child reading and rereading my own favorite version of the tale.  Although it will never replace Howard Pyle for me, I delighted in following Robin and his band through the shadows of Sherwood Forest once more.

Published: 1891

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