Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow is the story of a young man’s maturation during the mid-fifteenth century, when England was torn by thirty years of civil war, known as the Wars of the Roses. As such, the novel combines several important conventions of historical fiction, as well as those of the coming-of-age novel: The hero learns about himself and his place in a world fraught with danger and violence. The internal narrative of events in the life of the young hero and the external events concerning warfare between two English royal houses are mixed in this complex novel. Ultimately, the two skeins are inextricably tangled, as national events give Dick Shelton the means to discover who he really is and who he wants to be.

The intermingling of personal and national concerns dominates this fascinating novel. Shelton, the son of the former lord of Tunstall Manor, has been reared by Sir Daniel Brackley, to all appearances a virtuous, although stern, nobleman. He begins to learn the truth about Brackley, however, when an outlaw, John Amend-all, vows revenge against Brackley and his followers. Shelton finds a threatening message in which Amend-all pledges to kill the murderer of Sir Harry Shelton, the young hero’s father. After Shelton learns that Brackley may have been responsible for the murder, he is profoundly shaken, having realized that things are not always as they seem.

Shelton begins to look into his father’s murder...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Tunstall Forest

*Tunstall Forest. Hardwood forest dotted with knolls and hollows and crossed by numerous dirt trails that lies in Suffolk, though the county is never named in the novel. The forest was larger in the fifteenth century than it is today. Since at least the time of the Robin Hood legend, woods have often played a romantic role in English literature. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Tunstall Forest stands in for the Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood. The woods provide hideouts for the heroes, young Dick Shelton—the protagonist—and the honorable “outlaw” band known as the “Black Arrow.” It also serves occasionally as a source of threat when it cloaks potential ambushes.

Lawless’s den

Lawless’s den. Den excavated under a giant beech tree in the forest that is partially uprooted during a storm that is the hiding place of Dick Shelton’s accomplice Will Lawless. Although the cave has a hearth that gives it a homey feel, its roof is of roots, its walls of sod, and its floors of dirt.

Tunstall Moat House

Tunstall Moat House. Castle of Sir Daniel Brackley, Dick Shelton’s guardian and the story’s chief villain, located within the forest. This moss-covered fortress of the woods is complete with guard towers, a lily-strewn moat, a supposedly haunted room, and secret passageways that are both narrow and dank. It is heavily romanticized, even to the point of helping to reinforce what later become literary clichés about medieval castles.

St. Bride’s Cross

St. Bride’s Cross. Crossroad point within the forest where two major plot advancements occur. There, Dick Shelton meets Lord...

(The entire section is 701 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Set in late fifteenth-century England, The Black Arrow takes place during the Wars of the Roses, a long civil conflict between the...

(The entire section is 188 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Stevenson revived Romanticism with his historical adventure novels. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Sir Walter Scott began...

(The entire section is 210 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Black Arrow focuses on betrayal and warfare, and though Stevenson presents many exciting adventures, he laments the "deplorable...

(The entire section is 144 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Richard Shelton first appears as a rather naive young man who accepts appearances without understanding the more complex reality of the...

(The entire section is 344 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. See Laurence Olivier's film version of Richard III (1955) or read Shakespeare's Henry VI, "Part III" and Richard III...

(The entire section is 297 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Stevenson never wrote a sequel to The Black Arrow, though he did write two other stories about the Middle Ages: "A Lodging for the...

(The entire section is 311 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Daiches, David. Robert Louis Stevenson and His World. London: Thames and Hudson, 1973. A compact biographical and critical study by a...

(The entire section is 181 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Calder, Jenni. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. A study of the works of Stevenson and the circumstances in his life that influenced his books. The emphasis is on the works, rather than on the author’s life. Includes analyses of many of Stevenson’s novels.

Green, Martin. Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire. New York: Basic Books, 1979. A discussion of the genre of romantic adventure in English literature, particularly focusing on the nineteenth century. An excellent source for placing works such as The Black Arrow in their literary context.

Kiely, Robert. Robert Louis Stevenson and the Fiction of Adventure. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964. A discussion of Stevenson’s adventure stories, their antecedents in English literature, and their effects on later works. Particular emphasis is placed on Treasure Island and The Black Arrow.

McLynn, Frank J. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1993. A highly detailed biography of the author, covering his life from early childhood to his death in Samoa in 1894. Emphasizes the author’s extensive travels and their influence on his work.

Pope-Hennessy, James. Robert Louis Stevenson. London: Jonathan Cape, 1974. A biography, including a detailed discussion of the times and places in which the works were written and the circumstances that inspired them. Includes many illustrations.