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Hood (King Raven Trilogy, Book 1)
Hood (King Raven Trilogy, Book 1)
Steve Lawhead
Westbow Pr, 2006
490 pp., $24.99

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Tom Shippey


Boyz N the Greenwood

Steven Lawhead begins a trilogy on Robin Hood.

The legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood are the only two literary legacies of the Middle Ages still strongly present in popular culture. Stephen Lawhead wrote his version of the Arthurian story some years ago, very creditably and, for this reviewer, very enjoyably. Hood is the first volume of a projected "King Raven" trilogy, which does not promise so well.

It is true that the Robin Hood cycle, though so often reproduced by moviemakers, producers of tv series, and children's authors, has long presented the most serious problems of adaptation. To start with, there is no clear story of Robin Hood, in the sense of a connected sequence of events like the conception of Mordred, the adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere, the vengeance of Sir Gawain, the Morte Arthur itself. Instead, what we have is a powerful scenario: outlaws, greenwood, merry men, longbows, inept officers of justice like the Sheriff of Nottingham. Merry Men are captured and rescued, the rich are robbed to feed the poor, traps are set and escaped from, in the end the king turns up and forgives everyone. But there's not much story in it, and there's no canonical version like Malory's Arthur.

Another problem (now significantly so unwelcome as to be all but forgotten) is that while the earliest literary versions we have may be weak on narrative, they are remarkably clear about their social positioning. The figure of the man in the greenwood, Robin Hood, or Robin 'Ood, or (T.H. White's idea) Robin Wood, may go back centuries into the time of myth, but Robin as we have him in the Robin Hood ballads of the late Middle Ages is a representative of the yeomanry. His weapons are the cheap ones of the rural peasantry, bow and quarterstaff. Sometimes he has a sword, but he never wears armor and does not ride to battle. His social prejudices are those of the rural peasantry as well—and this is where the embarrassment starts for the modern rewriter. Medieval Robin has nothing against the aristocracy at all, indeed he ...

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