The novel I am writing for National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) this year is my own personal interpretation of the Robin Hood legend. While Robin Hood might come across as an exhausted subject, I can’t help but remain fascinated by him.
I have seen a number of Robin Hood movies and I’ve watched the BBC TV series three times (which is something of a feat since it’s not a stellar series, but it’s near and dear to my heart.) I’ve of course read Pyle’s version of Robin’s adventures, and Greens. I’ve read quite a few other versions as well, one of my favorites is the middle childhood Will in Scarlet and I’ve checked every bookstore I’ve been to in the past year for Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy (alas, I suspect I’ll have to order off Amazon.) When I was in eleventh grade I had the really amazing opportunity to visit England with my parents; we explored Nottingham and Sherwood Forest and ate some rather exceptional Indian food in Sheffield. The Indian food, of course, has nothing to do with Robin Hood. But my family does enjoy Indian.
One of my fondest memories is actually sitting in a café outside Nottingham Castle. I was reading a book for my English Literature class (The Sorrow of War) and annotated with a purple pen; it was raining so my parents had gone to a movie. There is nothing particularly exceptional about the café, or the book I was reading, or the fact that my pen was purple or that it was raining. Rather, it was a combination of all of those things. It was the wonderful idea that this could be my future, coffee and a good story and rain and solitude.
This was a period in my life when I was craving solitude quite a bit. I have never in my life felt the way I do when I am in England (I’ve also been able to visit London twice for theatre workshops) and it is a pretty spectacular feeling, though difficult to pinpoint. I’m not sure I’d say I’m happiest in England, but I have no doubt that London is a truly exceptional city. I have never in my life longed to return somewhere as much as I have London.
I had planned to write my own interpretation ever since I became interested in the Robin Hood legend in the tenth grade. In fact I did, in eleventh grade. I wrote a too-short first book in what has now become an eight-novel plan. So, I suppose you could say my NaNo project this year is a rewrite, which is partially true. But it is different enough, and I hope improved enough, that it can stand on its own.
So far the story opens in Sherwood Forest, where three of the king’s rangers are beating a young man on the road. After the rangers have left an outlaw helps the boy briefly, and then the outlaw disappears and a friar (I imagine anyone familiar with the Robin Hood legend knows this friar) comes along and helps him out of the forest and to Nottingham. From there the boy, who claims his name is Nil, recovers and begins to experience some of the cruelties of the new sheriff. All the while he makes new friends, meets potential allies, and gets himself into more trouble than he bargained for. So far, these adventures include meeting the smith of Nottingham and befriending his apprentices, and struggling to keep cryptic and traumatic memories at bay.
I like to think the Robin Hood legend can raise some rather integral questions. I believe that is part of why it remains so timeless and so popular; his character and design have certainly been adopted in pop culture (am I the only one who has ever noticed Link’s lincoln green suit and expertise with the sword and bow in The Legend of Zelda?) When I was in high school I wrote a paper about Robin Hood as a foundational antihero in western literature, and I’m happy to claim antiheroes and redemptive villains are some of the best character archetypes.
Some of the ideas I’m already trying to address in my novel include those ideas of archetypes. What does it mean that three men in service to the king assault a boy and leave him for dead? That an outlaw, a criminal, is the first to help him? And then the second one to come along is a man of God who goes so far as to bring him to the city and care for him. The first peasants Nil meets are kind and amicable; knights and nobles he comes across are cruel and harsh.
The legend of Robin Hood also has me critically considering the role of violent resistance. Historically, Robin Hood is a thief and (often) a murderer who directly defies the law and lives outside the reach of authority in order to affect change in the world around him. He doesn’t lead marches in the streets and he doesn’t hold up picket signs or write letters to his local representative. He robs people at sword-point and in original works like Pyle’s book he is arrogant and goes about challenging others left and right to duels (and then subsequently getting drunk, I guess there are only so many activities in the forests of medieval England.) I don’t consider myself an advocate of violent resistance or breaking the law to prove a point, I wouldn’t promote destruction of property or armed robbery, but does that change under a government that won’t tolerate non-violent resistance? I’m not certain.
That there is something enticing about a green-clad marksman ‘sticking it to the man’ is evident in Robin Hood’s continued fame. What the legend implies to a capitalist democratic society often makes me smile.
As my noveling continues, I hope I’ll be able to keep up with school and the website and my FanFiction. But at the end of the day, there’s only so much coffee can do. Still, one day I’ll be back with that cappuccino outside Nottingham Castle, a colored pen in hand, and a story unfolding before me.
-Grace T, November 2017