Book Review: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

Legends of Robin Hood have been floating around since the 14th century. Scholars debate whether early ballads and stories were based on a real person. In his earliest versions, Robin was just a crook, sometimes short-tempered, according to Wikipedia. He did not rob from the poor, but he didn’t give to them, either. Some of the aspects we know of Robin survived from the earliest stories; others were added or adapted over the years. Wikipedia details Robin’s history and variations.

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood was the first version written specifically for children by Howard Pyle in 1883. This is the version many films and later aspects of the story are based on.

In this story, Robin is a yeoman, which seems to be a type of middle class between peasants and aristocrats (other versions cast Robin as a nobleman). He first becomes an outlaw by shooting an arrow at someone who shot at him first, subsequently killing the man. This man happened to be related to the Sheriff of Nottingham, who thenceforth became Robin’s enemy.

As Robin hid out in Sherwood Forest, others soon came to join him. Some who were poor and hungry had killed the king’s deer and fled the law. Others had goods and land confiscated by the king and had nowhere else to go.

To support themselves, Robin and his “merry men” stopped rich travelers and “invited” them to feast in Sherwood Forest, then demanded payment of them. In some cases, Robin divided up the money gathered in this way into thirds, keeping a third for his men, a third for charity, and giving a third back. Robin justified this theft because he figured those he robbed had either gotten their gain unfairly or, like wealthy clergymen, were keeping for themselves what they should be giving to others.

The poor loved Robin because he helped many of them. The classes that Robin robbed from, obviously, did not.

This book details many of the well-known stories about Robin—his first bout with Little John, his altercation of Friar Tuck (someone not in the earliest legends), the archery match in Nottingham where Robin went in disguise. Maid Marian in mentioned but never appears. Other stories I had not heard of were included as well, like how Robin met and helped Allen-a-dale to free his beloved from an arranged marriage, Robin’s deadly run-in with villain Guy of Gisborne, the recruitment of Midge, the Miller’s Son, and other tales.

The book came to a very satisfying end, until it got to the epilogue, where Robin’s death by betrayal is told.

There is an odd mention of “Cain’s wife had never opened the pottle that held misfortunes and let them forth like a cloud of flies to pester us.” That sounds like a convoluted version of Pandora’s box. And I chuckled at his phrase because a former pastor used to say it, and I didn’t know it came from this book: “There is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip,” meaning plans don’t always work out like we hoped. Maybe it was a common saying that Pyle incorporated.

As I first started listening to the audiobook, I wished I had known of and read this book to my boys. The more I heard, though, the more I wrestled with whether that would have been a good idea or not. There’s something appealing about this version of Robin, “honest … in his own way”: someone who stands up for the little guy, who “never harmed harmless man,”  rights wrongs, bests the foolish and evil. But I could never condone vigilantism, for many reasons. And many differences in the book are solved by fighting. Plus there are copious amounts ale, beer, and the like consumed. If we had read the book as a family, we would have had to stop and discuss a lot of issues along the way. Setting aside those objections, though, the rest was fun.

There are many film version of Robin, but the only one I ever saw was the animated Disney one. I’ve seen the character in some shows like Once Upon a Time and Shrek.

I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Christopher Cazenove in a voice and accent perfect for this type of tale. Project Gutenberg has a version online here.

I read/listened to this book for the Back to the Classics challenge, but I am not sure which category to place it in yet. It would fit in two or three. I’ll wait til I read some others and then see where to place this one.

Have you ever read this version of Robin Hood? What did you think?

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

  1. Pingback: January Reflections | Stray Thoughts

  2. I’ve watched a couple movie versions that were ok. I did read the book when i was 12 or 13 but i can’t remember which version!! My youngest daughter has the Barnes and
    Noble classics book version.

  3. I know I’ve read some abridged versions of Robin Hood, but I was young and don’t remember now which versions they were. I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while now. Nice review of it!

    (Found your review via Lark’s Backlist Reader Challenge.)

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