The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley

Outlaws of SherwoodGoodreads: The Outlaws of Sherwood
Source: Borrowed

Summary: Young Robin, the orphaned son of a forester, finds himself a reluctant outlaw after killing a man in self-defense. While he wants to hide unobtrusively in Sherwood forest, his friends seize upon the opportunity to make him a rallying point for the oppressed, over-taxed Saxons barely surviving under Norman rule. As the myth of Robin and his “merry band” grows, the men and women of Sherwood fight to survive and to do whatever good they can for the many Saxons who seek refuge in the forest.

Review: McKinley’s Robin is a reluctant legend. He never meant to kill the man whose death branded him an outlaw. He never wanted old friends – let alone strangers – to follow him into the forest. And he admits repeatedly that virtually every member of his band can shoot an arrow better than he can. He never actively seeks new members for his gang, but expends much time and energy trying to relocate the desperate men and women who seek him out. Essentially, the outlaws of Sherwood are running a covert social service organization for any Saxons plagued by unjust taxes, eviction, or arranged marriages. The funding for these services, of course, comes from unsuspecting rich Normans wandering through the forest.

This was a difficult story to become invested in, at first, especially since Robin himself is not the most interesting or developed character in the book. It became more likable halfway through, however, particularly with the arrival of a new character and the development of more action and excitement Robin was trying so hard to avoid.

One of the most notable features of this retelling is the generous inclusion of women. In fact, the female characters are some of the most well developed in the story. But while some girls might find this a reason to read this version of Robin Hood instead of another, the gender roles in this England might be a bit unbelievable for some, given the time period the story is set in. In this story, Marian is a perfect shot (much better than Robin is) and women fight not only alongside Robin as outlaws, but also alongside the king in the Holy Land. Random women also appear at archery contests, and make it to the last round before trained soldiers. These girls are all likable characters, however, so many readers may be able to forgive them their unusual skill with weapons.

In short, this is a fairly light and enjoyable introduction to Robin Hood, if not one of the most traditional tellings.

Published: 1988

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3 thoughts on “The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley

  1. Krysta says:

    I remember reading this years ago and feeling disappointed because the book seemed written specifically to give women a more prominent role and it came across as rather heavy-handed. If I recall correctly, McKinley says she made Robin a reluctant leader who can’t shoot arrows because that wasn’t realistic and she wanted something more human (it was something like that, feel free to correct me)–but then she gave Maid Marian all the traits Robin Hood typically has. I couldn’t understand why it was okay for Maid Marian to be a bit of a Mary Sue, but it wasn’t okay for Robin to be like that.


  2. Briana says:

    I had a similar reaction. Robin is kind of boring in this retelling. Generally, humanizing legends can lead to interesting things in literature, but it simply isn’t the case here because “humanizing” apparently meant “make Robin terrible at everything” not “give him a background story and a few flaws.” Robin is supposed to be larger than life; it’s part of the appeal of his tale.

    Also, I agree the insertion of female characters is a bit heavy-handed.


  3. Zita says:

    I agree with both of you. I was a bit disappointed with Robin in this story. He was wasn’t just flawed, he was – as Briana said – a bit boring. And while there was a Marian moment in which she stressed that the legend was bigger than Robin himself, I almost had the feeling that Robin did next to nothing to create that legend at all. He was more of a convenient focal point for disgruntled peasants.


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