Robin Hood's Adventures

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Critical Evaluation

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Robin Hood’s Adventures is one of the best-loved stories of all time. It has many elements that make for entertaining reading: romance, adventure, the stage of history, and lofty characters. As a work of prose fiction, however, it is quite unusual in one respect: Comparatively few have actually read the book, whereas millions have heard the Robin Hood stories. Those who have not read the original have nevertheless come to know and love the characters of the Robin Hood legend through countless versions of the story in prose, fireside tales, motion pictures, and television programs.

The Robin Hood story goes back well into the Middle Ages. Legends developed about a “good” outlaw who protected and supported the poor while he stole from the rich. Early legends, however, did not center on one bandit. There appear to have been several similar heroes of this type who eventually coalesced into the character of Robin Hood, earl of Huntingdon, as he appears in this story. Whether or not the prototypes of Robin Hood were real, as some historians believe them to have been, is a moot point. It is the legend and not the reality of the story that has excited people for centuries.

Although the first recorded reference to Robin Hood occurs in the writings of the Scottish historian John of Fordun, who died in approximately 1384, the first known compilation of prose and poetry of the Robin Hood legend came in 1490 with the publication of the Lytel Geste of Robin Hood, by Wynkyn de Worde, a noted British printer. If there had been records for best sellers in those days, certainly this tale would have been high on the list. It proved so popular that the same version appeared again several decades later and has been reprinted and retold for centuries. It was used as a basis for works of later novelists such as Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe (1819) and more recently provided material for motion picture and television adaptations.

One may also measure its popularity by considering that playing Robin Hood is a fantasy game that remains popular with children. To the English especially, Robin Hood is a great hero. He and King Arthur are the most revered characters in British legends, and their popularity continues to thrive throughout the world.

Although Robin Hood’s Adventures may not be classed as one of the great works of world literature, it is so entertaining that it may be read with delight over and over again. Readers can forgive a lack of character analysis when they are able to feel as if they are riding through Sherwood Forest by Robin Hood’s side, engaging in adventures that are noble in spirit and yet full of mischief.

The story line of the tale is quite simple: The underdog, Robin Hood, fights oppression and injustice, in the form of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John, to protect the poor and rally them around the good, but absent, King Richard I. Robin Hood represents an early attempt to personify noblesse oblige. He is a highborn man who helps the unfortunate. He does not condescend in his assistance, however, because he lives and works among the poor in Sherwood Forest. By contrast, Prince John is a powerful, oppressive leader. Persecuting Robin Hood, he inadvertently encourages Robin’s followers. King Richard, Prince John’s brother, represents the colorful “good king” who is away fighting in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade.

The narrative of Robin Hood makes for entertaining reading, but it is quite far removed from historical fact. As the legends grew about Robin Hood,...

(This entire section contains 871 words.)

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the actual historical events surrounding the reigns of Richard and John became blurred. In reality, Richard was rarely seen in England after he became king. He preferred traveling and fighting in other countries. John was not a particularly good leader, but he was perhaps more unlucky than bad. He had the unfortunate habit of losing English territories to the French, and for this reason he became very unpopular, which contributed to his bad reputation down through the centuries. The possibility of real Robin Hood-type bandits existing in the period surrounding the signing of the Magna Carta may be admitted, but the legend has been expanded so much that historical accuracy is not an element of the Robin Hood story. The Robin Hood story is a folktale, the kind of literature that is re-created from generation to generation, responding to such basic human needs as justice and having fun. Readers ofRobin Hood’s Adventures should bear in mind that the tale is not historically accurate.

History aside, the book’s adventures can be appreciated by almost anyone. Its characterizations, however, are weak; they are too black-and-white to be true reflections of life. One should realize, however, that English literature in the fifteenth century had not developed the novel. Literature was largely based on characters and events already familiar to readers: types, mythology, history, legend. The artistic goal of faithfulness to the shadings and complexities of good and evil in real people did not exist then. Readers should approach Robin Hood’s Adventures as they would approach motion pictures that are made with no greater, and no lesser, intent than entertainment.