Denise, today’s guest reviewer, is a librarian and avid reader. This is one of several guest posts she has contributed to the blog.
Goodreads: Robin Hood
Review: I have been captivated by the writing of Alexandre Dumas, from the very first time I read The Count of Monte Cristo in 8th grade (Thank you, Mr. P) and fascinated by the story of Robin Hood for even longer. It is difficult, therefore, to even begin to describe my glee at discovering the great Mr. Dumas had written his own version of the ballads of Robin Hood – it probably reached similar heights as when I discovered that Tolkien had written about King Arthur. Because I am not sure I could think of a more perfect combination of story meets storyteller, for either tale. That being said: on with the review!
As far as I can tell, this book is an amalgamation of many of the older ballads, into a prose narrative. The tone stays close to those found in the old ballads – the translation I read, at least, did not focus on swashbuckling action, though some of the stories certainly have their share of it. It seems that Dumas focuses more on morality/ethicality – why Robin Hood does what he does – and on love. It is this focus on love that is the largest change from what I remember of the earlier ballads – and is the biggest difference from many of the later retellings I’ve read. Maid Marian usually doesn’t come into the picture until later, and ends up marrying Robin with King Richard’s blessing. Not so here – she’s there from the beginning, wooed and married before the story is even half over. And many of Robin’s men make matches over the course of the book as well. (Can you imagine Little John married? He has always been a permanent bachelor in my mind, though I’m not upset that he finds love in this book.) In fact, one chapter marries something like 7 couples at one time! (Double or even triple weddings are clearly only for the faint of heart.)
What Dumas does best, in my humble opinion, is handling the inconsistent nature of the Robin Hood story. He has clearly done his homework. As mentioned earlier, Marian is not in original ballads – the other women likely not either – yet he manages to incorporate them, while still maintaining a similar tone. They aren’t obtrusively modern, in other words. Likewise, there has long been an issue regarding the time period of the story – in the earliest ballads, Robin operates under a King Edward; while Richard and John take the stage during the Renaissance, and reign in the most well-known version today – and Dumas manages to incorporate them all in a way that was interesting enough for me to suspend my disbelief that Robin Hood manages to live through three of England’s kings (and the impulse to go check out when/how long each king actually reigned).
I have to say though, for a book being written by Dumas, I was incredibly disappointed with one thing: aside from dealing with internal inconsistencies, he does not seem to try to piece together the stories into a more coherent plot. It often reads with disjointment, more like a series of short stories – Dumas, literally retelling the ballads as they were, with little to link them together in terms of plot. One of the biggest reasons I love Dumas’s work is his ability to handle complicated plot lines, linking almost any situation – surprising, while keeping reader confusion to a minimum. If anyone could have taken the varying threads of the stories of Robin Hood and woven a masterpiece, it would have been him. And yet he clearly opted not to do so in this work. All of his links are more subtle thematic similarities from chapter to chapter. That being said, I still loved this book. I love it for the tale that it tells, for the themes it chooses to focus on (love, along with the classic ‘take-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor), for the fact that Dumas took the time to retell the story of Robin Hood in the first place. For the changes that he did make to already well-known characters. Even for the fact that he was able to recreate the ballad-like feel, while putting his own focus on the tale – and for the attention that he did pay to the numerous versions of the story out there, in clear attempts to bring them together to create a more coherent tradition. Scholars of the Robin Hood story should not pass up this retelling and it is a must-read for Robin Hood enthusiasts!