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The Adventures of Robin Hood, by Howard Pyle: Review

"In merry England in the time of old, when good King Henry the Second ruled the land, there lived within the green glades of Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham Town, a famous outlaw whose name was Robin Hood. No archer ever lived that could speed a grey goose shaft with such skill and cunning as his, nor were there ever such yeomen as the sevenscore merry men that roamed with him through the greenwood shades. . . .


Not only Robin but all the band were outlaws and dwelt apart from other men, yet they were beloved by the country people, for no one ever came to Robin in time of need and went away with an empty fist" (Pyle, 5).


These opening lines of Howard Pyle's, The Adventures of Robin Hood, were so all-encompassing that they demanded use as a summary. And personally, the moment I read these lines, my heart was captured by this timeless tale and swept away to Sherwood Forest.


I've experienced variations of Robin Hood before, and in fact, the character of Robin can be found in ballads and folklore dating back as early as the 15th century. As a result, most written tellings, Howard Pyle's included, boast a charmingly old-century tone and medieval language. It requires adjusting to a different style of English, spattered with "thou"s, "thee"s, "eth"s, and old English phrases, but is still fairly straightforward—nowhere near as dense as Shakespeare or the King James Version.


The book is episodic: each chapter focuses on a different one of Robin Hood's many adventures, but there's still a sense of continuity as characters and plot build on each other from chapter to chapter. The tone in this particular version is very light and humorous for the most part: Robin is depicted as a pretty merry guy, confident in the face of peril and sometimes even asking for it. His men admire him greatly, and serve him with a devoted kind of friendship and loyalty that I've always found very touching. Robin himself, though a cocky scoundrel at times, cares deeply for the needs of others and never hesitates to give aid to the downtrodden.


Content Notes: positive references are made to the Crusades, which we now understand to be a very misguided and very violent stain on Christian history. Robin robs the rich and often targets men of the cloth—Roman Catholic officials—due to their reputation of corruption. Ale is imbibed almost constantly—perhaps the reason the merry men can remain so merry—and though there is no gory violence, I do warn anyone who has issues with blood/veins that you may find the last chapter distressing.


This character and his escapades are timeless: despite having been around since the 15th century, Robin remains classically and indisputably romantic as the noble prince of Sherwood Forest, and defender of the poor.



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