Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

robinhoodMITIMDB: Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
Source: owned

Summary (excerpt from the DVD): In days of olde, when men were men, men wore tights. And none wore tights mightieror tighterthan Robin Hood! Aided by his band of merry men, Robin of Loxley wrested power from the evil Prince John, brought humiliation upon the despicable Sheriff of Rottingham and found the key to the fair Maid Marian’s heartand her chastity belt.

Review: Oh, Mel Brooks. Where do I even start? The opening credits begin as you might expect: flaming arrows and fiery letters appear on thatched roofing and proclaim that Cary Elwes, Richard Lewis, and Roger Rees star as Robin Hood, Prince John, and the Sheriff of Rottingham, respectively. But toward the end, it becomes clear that these thatched roofs belong to actual villagers, and they come screaming out of their houses to curse Mel Brooks for being the last in a long line of directors who insist on burning their homes to make a cool opening sequence. It’s safe to say this sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights is basically a mash-up of Prince of Thieves (the 1991 film with Kevin Costner) and Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, with one or two references to the 1973 animated Disney version thrown in for good measure. At one point, Cary Elwes’s Robin manages to crash a feast with a wild boar (which Prince John then calls “treyf,” the Yiddish word for non-kosher food) and declare his unflagging confidence that the commoners will follow him “because, unlike some other Robin Hoods, [he] can speak with an English accent,” then proceeds to topple a host of armored knights like dominoes. Mel Brooks doesn’t care how absurd his situations get, and in fact deliberately goes out of his way to make jokes and sight gags unrelated to the Robin Hood myths. Everything is done for a laugh, and nothing is taken seriously.

Purposeful continuity errors, multiple fourth wall breakages, ridiculous musical numbers, and anachronistic humor combine to create a very silly comedic take on the classic tale as only Mel Brooks can deliver.

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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

robinhoodPOTIMDB: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Source: owned

Summary: Robin of Locksley (played by Kevin Costner), recently returned from the Crusades with sworn protector Azeem Edin Bashir al Bakir (Morgan Freeman), finds England and his lands in disarray thanks to the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). Although his intentions are good, Robin is quickly made an outlaw and forced into hiding in the “haunted” Sherwood Forest, where he meets fellow outlaws and becomes their leader. With their help, he must stop the the Sheriff’s oppression, save King Richard I’s throne, and avenge his father’s murder.

Review: Basically, I love this movie and I have no idea why. Kevin Costner barely tries to hide his American accent (or he doesn’t try at all, and the lines are just that awkward-sounding), Maid Marian starts out as a strong, capable woman and ends up as your typical damsel-in-distress for no apparent reason,  and an explanation for the Sheriff’s creepy basement-dwelling-witch is never given. (Seriously. There’s a scene in which Rickman has to balance on a plank over a swamp in his own castle just so he can talk to this woman named Mortianna who has an entire python just chilling on a rock. I mean, this is medieval England; decent drainage systems haven’t been invented yet. That much water near the base of your castle is seriously compromising to the structure as a whole, and did I mention the giant snake because that’s kind of hard to ignore? To get back to the point, if Mortianna is the reason for all the Sheriff’s evil schemes, that still doesn’t let the writers off the hook—why does she want power over the throne, then? What are her motives? These questions are never addressed.)

Director Kevin Reynolds does a pretty decent job telling Robin’s origin story, but once he’s done with that, his efforts fall apart. He starts out being historically accurate, with Jerusalem in Muslim hands in 1194. He also filmed in the United Kingdom, so much of the landscape looks authentic. Azeem, although not part of the traditional legends, is easily one of the most engaging characters. Guy of Gisborne, Will Scarlet (who has some amazing hair), and the Bishop of Hereford all make appearances and important contributions to the plot. Strangely, Prince John is never mentioned. The Sheriff’s plans seem to be “take the Lionheart’s crown,” but Prince John’s regency is completely overlooked. Apparently the next in line is Marian (I don’t know how that happened), since eventually Nottingham’s plans boil down to, “Marry her and put your son on the throne.” If the audience isn’t busy wondering why he didn’t think of that before Robin showed up and started ruining everything, it is because they are distracted by the logistics he and Mortianna are working with—apparently they believe Marian can conceive, bring to term, and birth a child before our heroes break the chapel doors down.

It’s the second to last scene in a 143-minute movie. I guess if you’re not invested by then, you don’t have much longer to suffer.

But, for all that, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a great adventure. Robin is more thoughtful and mature than in some legends, but the audience is led to believe that this wisdom is a relatively new development, a product of a harsh and eye-opening war with the Saracens in the Holy Land. His ideals are admirable, if a little anachronistic: he seems to think freedom is a virtue of 12th-century England, and manages to teach respect for both women and other cultures to the Merry Men. I’m unclear as to how much a Crusade can change someone so much in terms of social behavior (not to mention how others who had not shared that veteran experience would adopt the same behavior so quickly), but this film was made with 90’s audiences in mind. It would have been difficult to depict authentic, pre-Magna Carta values in a movie with Kevin Costner rocking a mullet.

Maid Marian is just as mixed up as a character. The very first time the audience sees her, she is a warrior-woman who attacks Robin for no reason one scene and explains to him in the next that she still has her lands and titles because she doesn’t give Nottingham an excuse to take them—i.e., she keeps her head down in public and acquiesces to the Sheriff’s demands, no matter how much she dislikes them. It’s difficult to reconcile those two images. However, her confidence is one of her most attractive features, and it makes frequent appearances throughout the movie. For instance, she kisses Robin first (as a farewell at the end of a visit), and he just stands there looking forlorn when she leaves. He doesn’t gather her up in his arms to kiss her back, or try to outdo her, or make the moment more romantic or anything silly like that. Nobody takes that kiss away from her, and that is really refreshing. But then she makes a stupid mistake and the rest of the film she’s kidnapped and forced into a marriage with Nottingham and basically just screams for Robin to help her. But for about 75% of the movie, she does pretty well for herself.

I’ll be honest, there are a lot of problems with this picture. But there are so many good points that it’s not worth missing. There’s action and romance and love and honor and courage—all the things you need in a good Robin Hood retelling. If you love the stories, you shouldn’t let it go unwatched.

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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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The Doomsday Code by Alex Scarrow

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

Doomsday CodeGoodreads: The Doomsday Code
Series: Time Riders #3

Summary: Maddy, Liam and Sal are three unlikely friends – unlikely considering the fact that they all come from different times. And they all have one thing in common: they are supposed to be dead. Now they function as Time Riders, traveling through time and space to protect the world as we know it from those who would seek to change it – and in this adventure, they find themselves unraveling massive changes during the Middle Ages. During the reign of Richard the Lionheart, to be exact. In Nottingham. Yes, even in Sherwood Forest. With the Holy Grail at the center of all the chaos.

Review: This book is actually the third in the Time Riders series, and I have not read the other two. That being said, while I am sure going back to read the other two would produce many ‘aha, that makes sense now!’ moments, I felt able to follow the characters and the plot fairly well. I read it, of course, because I had read that Robin Hood was involved and it sounded different and interesting – most of which proved true enough.

Let me be quite frank in saying that I would not label this book a Robin Hood retelling exactly. Is there an outlaw band running around Sherwood Forest, with someone called Hood as their leader? Absolutely. How about a Sheriff of Nottingham, mistreating the good people he governs? Well, yes, for about five minutes, before one of our main characters elects to become the Sheriff in his stead and begins to do things very differently. And Richard is King and on the Crusades! With Prince John ineptly handling England in his absence. But you will not find any of the familiar scenes found in most Robin Hood retellings and you will find no Little John or Will Scarlet or even Maid Marian among the outlaw band. Hood himself is changed beyond all recognition as a character, but I will not say much more than that, so as not to ruin the story for you. This book is not trying to retell the legend of Robin Hood – it is playing with it, at best imagining an alternative explanation for who Hood was and why he did what he did. He becomes a much more sinister character, the author playing with the readers’ desire to see a Hood they can sympathize with, as they so often have in other retellings. It also reimagines both John and Richard as characters, turning their traditional characters on their heads and creating a John who is not quite wicked and a Richard who is not quite noble. On this level, I found the book very interesting, indeed, especially when I found myself confronted with a competent Sheriff of Nottingham with whom I was clearly meant to sympathize.

This book clearly integrates the legends of Robin Hood, but is bent on telling its own story, which is an interesting one. It was clear that much about the characters and the relationships among them had been developing over time, but their development is well done, in my opinion, and makes me more inclined to pick up the previous books to read about the other adventures that they had that put them where they are in this book. The time travel element was not something I focused too much on as I read, but there were times when I was a little confused with how it worked/did not work in the story. Considering I missed the initial explanation of time travel (I’m assuming, anyway) and its rules in an earlier book though, and considering that time travel is a complex plot device for authors to pick up in the first place, I did not have much of a problem suspending most of my confusion about it to enjoy the story and let it enhance the tale. I have even less experience reading books that incorporate clones, but Bob and Becks – the clone characters in this book – are well done and are a lot of fun to see in action as well.

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The World Above by Cameron Dokey

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

The World AboveGoodreads: The World Above: A Retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk”
Series: Once Upon a Time

Summary: Jack and his sister Gen have never known their father – have never seen the place their ancestors called home. In fact, Gen is not quite sure she believes it even exists – and besides, she rather likes the World Below, despite the hard times facing her family with crops failing left and right. But her belief is shaken when Jack trades their family’s cow for a bunch of speckled beans and, instead of scolding him for his stupidity, her mother cries with joy. Suddenly, practical Gen has adventure thrust upon her, as she and Jack plan to take back a throne, rightfully theirs, and set foot for the first time in the land of their parents – the World Above.

Minor Spoilers

Review: My feelings about this book are complicated, to say the least, so bear with me. I enjoyed it very much, but I haven’t been able to shake a feeling of disappointment, even after having read it a couple of times now.

First off, if you couldn’t tell from the summary, this book attempts to retell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. That’s how it has been marketed too: a retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” I like the Once Upon a Time series – I’ve read most of the retellings in it, and when I learned of this one, I must admit I was curious. How do you retell “Jack and the Beanstalk?” All fairy tales are relatively simplistic, and far be it from me to insist that a tale be too simplistic to be able to retell – but I had never really thought of Jack’s story as one up for retelling. I think this was the first retelling of the story I’d even heard of. This interest is probably what set me up for my first disappointment. Oh, the makings of the “Jack and the Beanstalk” are certainly there – we have Jack, we have a bean stalk. We have the magical items – the goose that lays golden eggs, the ever replenishing sack of gold coins, the harp that sings – and Jack even steals [most of] these things from a giant, sort of [if being given two of the three by a giant counts as stealing]. Jack is still curious and that curiosity is at least part of the reason he goes up the beanstalk in the first place. But then we have the fact that Jack is not from the world as ‘we’ know it, he has another motivation to go up the beanstalk: to go home and overthrow a usurper, and he has a twin sister, not curious but practical, with the wits to make him successful. He is not stupid for taking the beans for the cow in this book – it is the best thing that he could have done. He befriends giants and is successful and all of this sounds like the makings of a pretty good retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” in my opinion. And yet, on this level, I find myself rather disappointed with Dokey’s work. Why? Have you yet asked yourself why a retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” is being reviewed during a “Robin Hood” read-along?

By the second half of the book, “Robin Hood” takes over… which is confusing to say the least. Potentially even misleading. Sure, perhaps readers should be able to see it coming — the World Above is very green, after all, and throne usurpers are a common “Robin Hood” trope – albeit usually of the throne of a king. (But perhaps we are expected to take a ducal throne in the World Above to be the same level as a kingly one in the World Below: there was no mention of a higher authority. But I digress.) We have greenness, and usurpers, and the usurper’s name is Guy! Guy de Trabant, presumably instead of Guy of Gisborne – and Gisborne is usually not the first arch nemesis people think of, when they think about “Robin Hood.” Maybe the author was just trying to be subtle. Once you get Robin Hood on the scene though, she is not subtle at all, and it makes me wonder how much Dokey was trying to create a retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” in the first place, given how well the background she creates for Jack and Gen lends itself to the Robin Hood tradition. When I first read it, it felt more like Dokey had hit a creative road bump in trying to retell the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story – like she had lifted a tale from the “Robin Hood” tradition, because she didn’t know where else to go or how to finish out the story she had started in an interesting way… Perhaps the story would be more successful if I had considered it a retelling of “Robin Hood” that happens to incorporate “Jack and the Beanstalk” as opposed to the other way around.

But, I mean – Robin Hood! As much as I didn’t like his story being used in this way, I must admit I greatly enjoyed the “Robin Hood” bits for the sake of their being “Robin Hood” bits. On the most basic level, he is the Robin Hood everyone knows – stealing from the rich, giving to the poor – excelling in archery and besting everyone in archery contests to save some poor fellow (read: Jack)’s life. It isn’t complicated to see who his Marian will be by the end of the story either. (A fact that makes me question even more the purpose of her addition to the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story in the first place…). And his story is changed, mostly on a basic level – no Little John here, just an older fellow named Steel – in fact, no allusions to anyone in his little band, though he does have a band at least. Dokey, on some level, seems to think the best way to change Hood’s story is to change a few names, though I believe the fellow that is second to him in archery kept his first name, from at least one of the earlier tales. Granted: she is not telling the whole story of “Robin Hood.” That was not her purpose in this book. But for someone so good at altering previously told tales, this incorporation of Robin Hood was as much a disappointment for me, as it was a pleasure. The biggest change she made was the reason for Robin’s outlawing and the way he becomes an outlaw no longer, both of which only partially made sense, largely because no time is spent really fleshing out the character of Guy de Trabant – yet he is the character who is the most dynamic over the course of the story. So I don’t really feel like this book fully works as a retelling of Robin Hood incorporating “Jack and the Beanstalk either,” though I’m sure Dokey could retell Hood’s story better if she made that the goal of one of her retellings.

Really, I feel like someone needed to ask Dokey one crucial question before she finished this book: Whose story is this? Is she trying to retell “Jack and the Beanstalk” or “Robin Hood?” If she was trying to do both, I think this story would have been better off making that clear from the beginning. As it was, the two tales aren’t brought together very well. The way she tries to mesh the plots can work, I think – but her characters aren’t developed enough to make them work – especially in the “Robin Hood” storyline. And yet – I did enjoy the book, the second time just as much as I did the first – if not more, because I knew what was coming and could view it as an attempt to merge the two tales better. Maybe I am just that much of a sucker for a “Robin Hood” tale. But I do see a lot of potential in the story that Dokey tells. I just wish someone had marketed the book better, because the “surprise” Robin Hood really doesn’t work – or that someone had pushed Dokey to make it work a little better if she wanted to keep that element of surprise.

Published: 2010

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Robin Hood: a Brief History

Denise, today’s guest reviewer, is a librarian and avid reader.  This is post is based on research she conducted for her undergraduate thesis.

At the very beginning of the Robin Hood tradition, we have – well, no one really knows for sure. What we do know is that the stories of Robin Hood were being circulated by word of mouth to a very large audience before they were ever written down. There is an old Robin Hood proverb that states, “Many men speak of Robin Hood, who never drew his bow” – and I think it is just as true now as it probably was back then. Everyone knows something of the legendary hero, regardless of their level of familiarity with the “actual” character, through the stories or through interaction with the real person. Yes, there are some who believe that Robin Hood the man actually existed and have dedicated their lives to trying to figure out who he was. I’m guessing that, since this is a read-along, most of you will be more interested in the literary Robin Hood though, and so that history is the one on which I’ll focus for the rest of this post.

What are recognized as current staples to the narrative of the Robin Hood story is really a collection of attributes that has built up over the years. Today’s Hood is an outlaw known to live in Sherwood Forest, with his band of merry men, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. His archery skills are unsurpassed and, along with them, he uses his wit and cunning to survive and fight against the corruption of local authority, while remaining loyal to the ultimate authority, usually the King. His story is often set during the reign of King Richard the Lion-Heart and the Lady, Marian, has become Hood’s love interest, often forsaking her own noble upbringing to join Hood in the forest. While some of these characteristics can be traced all the way back to the original ballads – like the fact that he is an expert archer and fights corruption while remaining loyal to the King – many of them were added later, most notably the historical setting in the drama of King Richard’s reign and Marian’s very existence in the story, as well as her ever-changing role in it. One of the most shocking characteristics that cannot be traced back to the original ballads, however, is the charity that is the modern trademark of Robin Hood. There is very little in the original ballads to suggest that Robin Hood specifically robbed the rich to give to the poor (Knight 1). In the early ballads, Hood is a thief, to be sure, but much of what he stole went to supporting his small band of followers and himself, helping others solely at his discretion – rich and poor alike.

The narrative of the events of the life of Robin Hood – and the character that he is – has been presented in many different forms over the years. In Medieval times, ballads were the presentation of choice; during the Renaissance, playwrights like Anthony Munday took up his tale. In more recent years, novelists, like Howard Pyle and Stephen Lawhead, and film producers have seen the potential in his story. In fact, the story of Robin Hood has survived largely on creative retellings. Stephen Knight was one of the first scholars who really began to study Robin Hood in an academic context, and when he started in the 1970s, he found the available criticism to be rather lacking (Knight xvi). And, as a side note, if you are interested in the longer story, I highly recommend his book Robin Hood: a Mythic Biography.  Much of my own knowledge of the tradition, outside of specific works, comes from there.

And now, let me leave you with a (very) brief representative survey of the tale over the years.

A Gest of Robyn Hode (Medieval poetry)

First off, let me make it clear that A Gest of Robyn Hode is by no means the first Robin Hood story; it is not even the first that was written down and published. It was, however, published soon after the earliest known ballads and Knight speculates that it was actually constructed from those earlier ballads (24). Scholars have described it as an “encyclopedia of the medieval Robin Hood,” and it has had a major influence on later creative retellings (Knight 22).

In this work, Hood’s enemies are the “bisshoppes” and “archebishoppes,” as well as “The hye sheriff of Notyingham” (ll.58-61). While modern audiences can certainly relate, the villainy of both the church and the sheriff is understood now very differently than it would have been then. In more than one modern retelling of his story, the sheriff is more of a fool than a cruel and corrupt authority; in many, the wrongs of the church are eclipsed by the wrongs of the law or are excluded completely. Likewise, in the Gest, religious values and rituals are much more a part of Hood’s identity than they are in many modern retellings. So too, the other values evident in this story – like loyalty; archery for display, not combat; and reverence of the king (Knight 25) are the kind of values that one would expect a Medieval people to hold.

Thematically, Hood’s moral code complicates the audience’s understanding of right and wrong. Though he is well known as a master of disguise and deception, Hood is, ironically, very concerned about exposing falsehood and finding out truth – that goal, not charity, is the main reason he thieves throughout the Gest. His victims are presented with the same opportunity to reveal what they have, and the same terms are presented regarding their answer: if they are honest, they will keep what they have – and potentially gain more, if they have need of it; if they are dishonest, Hood and his men make them honest by taking from them all except what they claimed to have in the first place.

The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon – Anthony Munday (a Renaissance play)

Renaissance society was an incredibly social society – a society that liked to know exactly where each individual stood on the social ladder, simply by looking at what that individual wore. Going to the theater was one of the most popular forms of entertainment at the time – and, sure enough, the Robin Hood story found an outlet through this form. Not only was Hood featured indirectly in plays such as Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but playwrights like Anthony Munday also attempted to directly retell his story for the stage. The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, printed around 1601, is the first in a two-play series that tries to tell a comprehensive version of Hood’s story. Some situations in the play can clearly be traced back to the Gest, but Munday also incorporates new characters and changes situations to better suit a Renaissance audience’s understanding and interests.

In his play, Munday creates the character of an earl named Robert who becomes an outlaw and then takes the name Robin Hood as a reflection of his fallen social status. Because Hood has actually been given a high social standing, this play has been called the beginning of a gentrified Robin Hood (Knight 31). At this point in the tradition, the story is clearly open to this change. In the Gest, for example, there is no story of Hood’s life before he became an outlaw – his former social status is left open to interpretation. By recasting Hood as a gentleman, Munday had created a character that higher Renaissance social classes would understand, and might even respect. Another change meant to appeal to Renaissance society was the change in Hood’s historical context. He coexists with King Richard and Prince John, instead of the King Edward who reigns in the Gest. Prince John was of special interest to Renaissance society, especially when his portrayal ignored the cruelty for which he is well known. For Munday’s play, he is a lovesick Prince John whose primary quarrel with Robin is that of a lovers’ rivalry. Through him – as well as Hood’s changed social status – Marian is given an elevated, and even feasible, role within the Robin Hood tradition.

Robin Hood (2010) – Russell Crowe (Modern film)

The story of Robin Hood translates very easily to film — for much of its life, after all, it has primarily been a performance piece. The most recent film retelling is a story very different from most people’s understanding of Hood’s story. Like Munday’s play, it seeks to give Hood a past; but, unlike the play, the movie does not go into Hood’s life as an outlaw, as many people might expect a movie entitled “Robin Hood” to do. It does, however, set itself during the drama of King Richard and King John’s reigns, and involves a pseudo-gentrified Robin as well as Marian, in a love triangle.

Politically, it seems to be a very American film. Robin is not outlawed for the traditional poaching deer: he is outlawed for his attempt to curb the tyranny that is King John. The main political conflict is no longer with the Sheriff of Nottingham and other abusive authorities (like John before he becomes King) but is with the King himself. And the political ideology being advocated in this movie – the idea that people like Robin have the right to fight against, and ultimately change, an unfair government – is one upon which America was founded. Finally, linking Robin directly to the creation and therefore the ultimate signing of the Magna Carta has a direct parallel in American sensibility to the creation of the Constitution and its verification that all men are created equal.

Likewise, Marian’s place in the story has been notably modernized, as she takes on distinctive feminist qualities. In the beginning, she fights unfair authority through means more accurate to those women of her time would have held: through prayer and requests for aid from the village priests. For much of the movie, it is Robin who actually has the most ability to enact changes. Despite this, Marian does more as the movie progresses. She is shown helping out in the fields, staging boycotts, and, by the end of the movie, she is quite literally fighting for the protection of both herself and her country, putting herself in a position clearly outside her time that many modern women would recognize and applaud.

Further research:

  • Knight, Stephen. Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.
  • Holt, J.C. Robin Hood. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1982.
  • And check out the Library at Rochester’s Robin Hood site:

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Personality Quiz: Which Member of Robin Hood’s Band Are You?

1.  Which lesson have you learned the best?
a.) Man cannot live on dreams alone.  He must act.
b.) You do not always have to be the best.
c.) Good can be found in the most unlikely of places.
d.) Small happenings can change the course of our lives.

2. You are most passionate about:
a.) music
b.) sports
c.) animals
d.) nature

3. You are known for
a.) your sensitivity
b.) your looks
c.) your good humor
d.) your style

4. What do you value most?
a.) loyalty
b.) friendship
c.) a good time
d.) justice Continue reading

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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Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen

ScarletUS.inddGoodreads: Scarlet
Series: Scarlet #1
Source: Library

Official Summary: Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

ReviewScarlet takes readers to the beginning of Robin Hood’s band, introducing a group that of yet has only four members, all of whom are young and, though talented, still figuring out how to best utilize their skills.  The story features all the elements readers love in a Robin Hood tale, including the most beloved characters and a central fight between Robin’s men and the sheriff of Nottingham.  Gaughen also includes enough original features to make her version fresh and worth picking out of a lineup of retellings all set in Sherwood Forest England, during the Crusades.  She makes a few relatively minor changes, such as revealing in the first few pages that Tuck is not a friar but simply a man who owns an inn called Friar Tuck’s, and also introduces a second major conflict that runs parallel to the one with the sheriff.

All is told in a first person narrative from the perspective of Scarlet herself—who thankfully comes right out and admits she is a girl disguising herself as a boy.  Most authors using this plot element try to make it a sudden reveal halfway through the novel, which can be frustrating (readers go through the “but are you really the same person?” questioning phase just as much as the characters) and downright cliché.  Scarlet is a plucky girl determined to to carve herself a new life, though she is not always certain whether she wants that life to be with Robin’s band.  The story is just as much about Scarlet’s search for a home and identity as it is about fighting the injustice of Prince John’s government, which gives it a personal and human aspect not found in many retellings.  Annoying, Scarlet relates events in an affected commoner dialect, consistently saying things like, “He were afeared.”  Thankfully, no one else speaks like this, so when other characters are introduced and start talking, readers got a break from the horrendous grammar.  Of course, this also raises the question of why Scarlet speaks like this at all.  Where did she pick it up, if no other person, other commoners included, ever talks like that?  Readers may never know.

Gaughen also adds a swoon-worthy romance to her tale, which will leave readers hungry for more of the action and romantic dialogue in the sequel.  There is an attempt at a love triangle, but it has a rather obvious outcome, due to the characterization of the two men in question. Even so, both men appear to have a decent shot at winning over the girl, at least for a while, so the love triangle does manage to add at least of bit of tension to the book.  Basically, readers know how everything must end, but Scarlet herself appears legitimately torn and both men have enough good characteristics that her attraction to both believable.

The action plot also has a few obvious twists, but they are interesting enough and Gaughen writes well enough that the story is still fun to read, even if readers can hazard a few good guesses at what will happen.  In general, this is the sign of a good writer.  As I have mentioned before on the blog, one of my English professors was fond of commenting, “No one rereads books for plot.”  So if readers can know what happens and still want to keep reading, there must be something really enjoyable or interesting going on.

And there is.  Gaughen takes advantage of the inherent question of the Robin Hood story: What is moral?  Is it right to steal from the rich to give to the poor?  Is it just a lesser evil to steal and help people survive than to watch them starve to death?  Did Robin have any other options?  When threatened, should he turn himself in to the sheriff, or will he ultimately save more lives by continuing to live and give the people money?  I am not sure any Robin Hood tale gives a concrete answer to all or even most of these questions, but a good version explores them instead of assuming This is just how the story goes.  The characters should talk about them, and the readers should be lead to think about them.   Gaughen adds further moral ambiguity with some aspects of the romance plot.  Normally, I am all for characters following the straight and narrow in their romantic endeavors (I cannot, for example, really enjoy any book where the main romance is adulterous, like Water for Elephants), but the ambiguity seems so natural and necessary to a story like Scarlet.  I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

Robin Hood retellings, in my opinion, can get old.  They often seem so similar, in ways that retellings of other stories usually do not.  Cinderella, for example, has become a modern day waitress, a futuristic Japanese cyborg, a girl in a fantasy land who literally must obey any order given.  Robin Hood, barring a few exceptions, is always a man in Lincoln green living in Sherwood forest.  There are only so many changes an author can make to that tale.  Gaughen, however, has taken that story and made it seem new.  Instead of focusing on the action (though there is plenty), she highlights deeper aspects of the legend—the morality, the relationship among the band members, the search for an identity and a home when you are a criminal living in the woods—and she gives these aspects a unique voice, that of a tough girl who apparently knows no grammar.

Published: 2012

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Reading Robin Hood: Discussion Questions

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To start off our event, here are some discussion questions about Robin Hood in general.  Feel free to post your answers on your own blog at any time or comment below!

Discussion Questions

  1. What versions of Robin Hood have you read?  What retellings?
  2. What movie or television versions have you seen?
  3. Do you have a favorite book or film?
  4. Who is your favorite classic character?
  5. How do you feel about female Robin Hood characters?
  6. Do you like an emphasis on the romance between Robin and Maid Marian, or more emphasis on adventure?