Robin Hood by Alexandre Dumas

Denise, today’s guest reviewer, is a librarian and avid reader.  This is one of several guest posts she has contributed to the blog.

Robin Hood

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!

Published: 1863

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7 thoughts on “Robin Hood by Alexandre Dumas

  1. Krysta says:

    I was excited to learn that Dumas had written a Robin Hood retelling, too! While it is disappointing that he apparently doesn’t link the ballads together in a more cohesive plot, that does seem to be characteristic of Robin Hood retellings. And, since he typically wrote serialized stories, I can see how he might not be overly tempted to change the episodic nature of the legends. I’ll definitely have to check this out one day. Great review!

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  2. denise320 says:

    Thanks, Krysta! Hood’s tale is episodic in nature, as you said, but I really want to read something cohesive. Most of the retellings I’ve read either remain episodic or give in to the temptation to change the plot/purpose a little too much in order to achieve cohesion. It’s depressing. Mostly, I have a bunch of thoughts and questions swirling around in my head: Arguably, it took what Malory did to make Arthurian legend a Classic ‘worthy’ of the classroom, and before he came along, Arthurian legend was just as episodic and confused as Robin Hood’s. Why hasn’t anyone really been able to do for Robin Hood what Malory did for Arthur? It’s not like it hasn’t been retold a hundred times over by many different authors. Worse still, are we getting too far from it in time to be able to create a Robin Hood ‘masterpiece’ similar to Le Morte d’Arthur? What does that mean for the legend? I fear it’s stagnating… which to me is the kiss of death for literary works. Most of his interest now comes from historical curiosity, I think — not necessarily a literary love. Which is a shame, really, because most stories written today don’t have half the potential that these legends have.

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    • Krysta says:

      I’ve always considered the Howard Pyle version a classic and I believe there are a few others that people consider classics. It’s true Robin Hood isn’t typically studied in the classroom, but I like to think that it has a beloved place in the reading of children at least. I know I grew up with Robin Hood, which has given me an abiding love for his adventures. When I was really young, I even wanted to write my own retelling, but then I decided that the market was overcrowded with retellings, anyway. 😉 As long as people keep rewriting, I wouldn’t give up hope for something really stellar appearing.

      I’m more concerned with something Briana and I were discussing–the seeming inability of authors to take Robin out of Sherwood. No matter how many times it’s retold, Robin Hood is always set in Sherwood, now usually around the time of Richard the Lionhearted. Other tales that are retold, like Cinderella, get set all over the world, backwards and forwards in time, even in fantasy worlds. The only comparable attempt with Robin Hood that I can think of is the 1964 film “Robin and the 7 Hoods” with Frank Sinatra (and I didn’t make it through the whole film–it just didn’t grab me). I think something like a modern Robin Hood would really get people’s attention and maybe restore some interest in some of the older versions.

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      • denise320 says:

        Parts of the plot have certainly been taken out of Sherwood — when stealing from the rich and giving it to the poor is used in other works, undoubtedly readers recall Robin Hood. It is disappointing that the character seems to be stuck in that time period — especially considering he’s jumped periods before! He didn’t start out in Richard’s time, after all. It was thoughts like these that led me to make that comment about people being interested in Robin Hood as a historical curiosity though. People want the legend to be real! To allow him to shift periods, to become more of a literary character, would continually reinforce that, on some level, he is not. But I would read Robin Hood out of period. Maybe the market for Robin Hood retellings isn’t so crowded after all?

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        • Krysta says:

          Somehow I missed this comment before. Sorry!

          It’s true that various characters stealing from the rich have been utilized before. A conversation I had with Nora makes me wonder, though, if a lot of the appeal of Robin Hood isn’t simply his carefree life in the forest. I think the movie versions tend to focus more on the social justice aspect (it’s more exciting than frolicking in the woods, I suppose), so I have this idea of Robin as a figure dedicated to helping the poor. Then Nora made a comment that made me realize that, in many of the older retellings, Robin doesn’t do a lot of stealing from the rich. Instead, he’s wandering around in the forest challenging people to combat and feasting on the king’s deer. Maybe he hasn’t been taken out of Sherwood because people see Sherwood as the point. If you transferred Robin to the modern day and he were an outlaw, he probably wouldn’t be leading this idyllic life.

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