Robin Hood Wood
A Robin Hood Web Page
Lythe and listin, gentilmen
That be of frebore blode
I shall you tel of a gode yeman
His name was Robyn Hode.
- A Gest of Robyn Hode, c. early 1500s
Welcome to Robin Hood Wood, the Blue Castle's hideaway for Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
Robin Hood is one of the most famous figures of legend in the world. Originating in English folklore, Robin Hood is the chief of a band of medieval outlaws known as the Merry Men. The Merry Men steal from cruel nobles and corrupt clergy and use their ill-gotten gains to help the poor and needy, always butting heads with the nefarious Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood is associated with Barnsdale Forest in Yorkshire and Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, and is usually depicted as living in the late 12th century during the reign of King Richard the Lionheart.
I have always been a fan of Robin Hood. My first exposure to the legend was probably the 1973 Disney film. I got a Fisher-Price playset called Robin Hood's Forest for Christmas when I was a little kid, though we always called it Robin Hood Wood; I still have it to bust out when my nephew comes to visit. I remember watching Princess of Thieves with my sister and building little watchtowers out of popsicle sticks, toilet paper tubes, and fake leaves. Over the years I've periodically dug into the legend, researching folklore, reading more books, watching more movies, and I've still got a long way to go. So this page is my little tribute to the legend of Robin Hood, the Merry Men, his friends and enemies, and the works he's inspired over the centuries.
The Principal Players
- Robin Hood: The hero of the oppressed and downtrodden peasantry. Sometimes he's a yeoman outlawed for poaching, sometimes a soldier returning from the Holy Land, sometimes the exiled Earl of Huntingdon; often he's a combination of all three. In any case, he's almost always daring, capable, compassionate, and the best archer in England. If a work plays up the Saxon-Norman divide, Robin Hood will always be a Saxon.
- Maid Marian: The leading lady. Maid Marian can be anything from a sword-swinging tomboy to a demure damsel-in-distress to a cunning spy, funneling information to Robin from her high society contacts. She's usually nobility, and in works that play up the Saxon-Norman divide, she's often a Norman. She's often given the surname FitzWalter or some variation.
- Little John: Robin's right hand man and usually best friend, a towering fellow with enormous strength. The two traditionally meet while crossing a narrow bridge, and duel with quarterstaffs for the right of passage; Little John knocks Robin into the water, after which they become friends. Thus, he's usually depicted as being an expert with the quartertaff. He's sometimes given the real name John Little or John Nailer.
- Friar Tuck: The Merry Men's spiritual guide, Friar Tuck is a monk or hermit who, despite indulging in gluttony, drunkenness, and banditry, is seen as possessing more Christian charity and kindness than the greedy and corrupt Church establishment. Tuck is usually depicted as a comical figure, though it isn't unusual for him to be a skilled fighter at need. He is usually one of the most intelligent and well-educated Merry Men despite his laziness and obsession with food. He is often conflated with the unnamed friar from the ballad "Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar", including the incident of being forced to carry Robin across a river on his back and training attack dogs to defend his hermitage.
- Will Scarlet: A highly malleable figure, Will Scarlet was originally Robin's nephew, a dandy in red whose delicate appearance belied his strength, skill, and courage. Later versions usually cast him as a foil for Robin in some way; if Robin is brooding, Will will be light-hearted, and if Robin is a traditional hero, Will will be an anti-hero. In especially grim cases, the byname Scarlet may refer to the blood he sheds rather than his fine clothes.
- Alan-a-Dale: A travelling minstrel, and usually a minor figure. The only major incident involving Alan is when the Merry Men help rescue his sweetheart from a forced marriage to an old knight. Sometimes he's depicted as a poor musician and an annoyance to the other Merry Men, sometimes he's a lovesick fool, and sometimes he's the narrator.
- Much the Miller's Son: Appearing in some of the oldest surviving ballads, Much is usually one of the youngest and most inexperienced of the Merry Men; he's sometimes used for comic relief, but not as often as Friar Tuck.
- The Sheriff of Nottingham: Traditionally Robin's archenemy, the Sheriff of Nottingham is mostly concerned with overtaxing the peasants and putting an end to those wiley outlaws once and for all. In works set in the 1190s, the Sheriff will use King Richard's ransom to justify his excessive taxes, though of course he plans to keep all the loot for himself and Prince John. In some versions he is in love with Maid Marian, which can be played for drama or as one of his few redeeming features. In the ballad "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne", Little John kills the Sheriff by shooting an arrow through his heart.
- Prince John: The historical King John of England, younger brother of King Richard the Lionheart; most retellings are set before Richard's death, while John was still Prince and ruling in his brother's absence. John is usually depicted as the power behind the Sheriff and less of a direct threat, if he takes a personal interest in Robin's activities at all. Like the Sheriff, he often uses Richard's ransom as an excuse to overtax and otherwise abuse his subjects, all while lining his own coffers. He's sometimes depicted as a comical or pathetic figure.
- Guy of Gisbourne: Another highly malleable figure, Guy of Gisbourne is usually depicted as an evil counterpart to Robin. In the ballad "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne", Guy is a hitman hired by the Sheriff to kill Robin, and very nearly succeeds. He wears a very distinctive horsehide robe with the ears, mane, and tail still attached. In later versions, Guy is often a knight and the Sheriff's main henchman, but even that varies wildly between Robert Addie's unhinged and pathetic version in Robin of Sherwood to Richard Armitage's grim and conflicted version in Robin Hood (2006-2009).
- The Prioress of Kirklees: An important character rarely seen in adaptations, the Prioress of Kirklees is Robin's treacherous cousin. In the ballad "Robin Hood's Death", Robin Hood goes to the Prioress for healing, but she overbleeds him while bloodletting and her lover, Red Roger, stabs him while he is weakened. Little John asks the dying Robin for permission to burn the Priory in revenge, but Robin forbids it.
- King Richard the Lionheart: The historical King Richard I of England, usually an object of intense loyalty to Robin and his allies. Sometimes Robin has served under King Richard in the Crusades. Most retellings are set during Richard's captivity in the Holy Roman Empire from 1192-1194, and his ransom is used by Prince John and the Sheriff as an excuse to overtax the people; usually they are terrified at the thought of his return. Richard's return to England is usually a sign that the tale is coming to an end. Few go on to explore the rest of his reign, though more even-handed works will explore his flaws in contrast to John's, acknowledging that even if John is a greedy slimeball, he was left in a very difficult position by Richard's vainglorious warmongering.
- The Merry Muslim: A recent development in the corpus, many modern adaptations add a Muslim member to the Merry Men. Though there are a couple of instances of Robin having Muslim friends in older works, the modern trend was introduced in Robin of Sherwood with the renagade hashashin Nasir. Rumour has it that the writers of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves watched that series rather than doing proper research, resulting in Morgan Freeman's Moorish warrior being hastily renamed Nazeem. Anjali Jay portrayed the first Muslim Merry Woman as Djaq in the 2006 BBC series, and Jamie Foxx played Yahya, a one-handed Muslim reimagining of Little John, in the 2018 film. The trend has been parodied as well; Maid Marian and her Merry Men (1989-1994) had a Rastafari Merry Man named Barrington, and Mel Brooks cast Dave Chapelle as the streetwise Achoo in his Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
Five Underrated Merry Men
The heroes an villains above are the major figures in the legend, but dozens, if not hundreds, of others have floated in and out of the tales over the centuries. Here are five of Robin's friends, in no particular order, that are in the public domain and that more adaptations should make use of.
- Hob o' the Hill and Ket the Trow are brothers who appear in Henry Gilbert's excellent 1912 novel. Inspired by the theory of fairy euhemerism - that tales of fairies, dwarves, and other beings are based on an extinct race of pygmies - Hob and Ket are members of a tribe of diminutive, pre-Saxon (and possibly pre-Celtic) people who once dominated the British Isles, and are now reduced to dwelling in sod-covered barrows in wild places. Hob and Ket are not members of the Merry Men proper, but are close allies who frequently assist Robin as scouts and spies. They have two sisters, Sibbie and Fenella, and live with their mother; their father, Colman Grey, was murdered by the evil knight Ranulf de Greasby. He was on the verge of murdering the rest of the family when Robin intervened, thus earning the Little People's friendship.
- Suleiman and Leila are the earliest predecessors of the Merry Muslims discussed above, appearing in J.H. Stocqueler's 1849 novel The Forest Queen, Maid Marian. Suleiman is a wealthy Muslim warrior from Acre; Leila is his lovely daughter "by one of the more northerly beauties who graced his harem or zenana." Suleiman is wounded during the crusaders' attack on Acre, and Robin, disgusted with the looting and pillaging of the Christian forces, defends Suleiman's house until the dust settles. Suleiman and Leila then accompany Robin back to England. Unfortunately I've only read excerpts from The Forest Queen, Maid Marian, so I don't know much more than that at this time. Still, I felt that these two were notable enough to warrant a spot here.
- The Sheriff's Cook first appears in the ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode, during an incident in the third fytte in which Little John infiltrates the Sheriff's household. While the Sheriff is away, Little John breaks into the pantry and gets drunk, then gets into a fight with the Cook. After an hour of fighting, John declares the cook the best swordsman he has ever met, and invites him to join the Merry Men. The cook agrees, and the two rob the Sheriff blind and run off to Sherwood. He is not given a name in the ballad, but John B. Marsh in his The Life and Adventures of Robin Hood (1865) gives him the very cool nickname Firepan, while J. Walker McSpadden in his Stories of Robin Hood and his Merry Outlaws (1904) identifies him with Much the Miller's Son.
- Gamble Gold appears in the ballad "The Bold Pedlar and Robin Hood". Gamble Gold is the titular bold pedlar, a seller of green silk suits and silken bowstrings, who runs across Robin and Little John on the road on day. Little John demands half of Gamble's wares, but Gamble refuses and fights first Little John and then Robin to a standstill. He refuses to give them his name until they give him theirs, which they do. He then identifies himself and says that he has travelled from over the sea after killing a man in his father's land. Only then, of course, does Robin realize that Gamble Gold is actually his cousin, and the three go merrily to a tavern to have a friendly drink.
- Rose the Red and White Lily appear in the ballad "Rose the Red and White Lily" - a borderline case, as not all variants of the ballad include Robin Hood. The basic gist of the tale is that when Rose and Lily's father remarries to an evil stepmother, the sisters disguise themselves as men and go to live in the greenwood, where they join the Merry Men under the names Nicholas and Roger Brown, respectively. From here the story branches between the two Robin Hood variants recorded by Francis Child; in one (103B), Rose becomes pregnant by one of the Merry Men who discovers her identity. She doesn't want her lover to attend to her in her labour, so she summons White Lily, who, still disguised as a man, fights the lover until Rose explains the situation. Rose then marries her lover, and White Lily marries another guy, I think. In the other (103C), White Lily becomes pregnant by Robin Hood, who discovers both sisters' identities. When Lily is nearly nine months pregnant and lamenting her situation, Robin proposes to her. The poem ends with the two being married, and Rose marries Little John. In 103B, the sisters tell Robin that they are from "Anster town into Fifeshire" (Anstruther in Fife, Scotland).
The Question of Tricket
Years ago, on the classic fansite Robin Hood @ benturner.com, I found a curious bit of info: "Tricket shows up in a few of the tales as Robin's dog." Huh! I'd never heard of Tricket before, and I've barely heard of him since; I've hardly been able to find any information about him online over the years, and when I mentioned him in #FairyTaleTuesday tweet in 2021, no one else seemed to have heard of him either. So I will set down here the very little I've found here for the curious.
Tricket is mentioned briefly in an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in September, 1985, with phrasing ("...walking in the woods with his dog (Tricket, remember?)...") that implies that the author expected his audience to be familiar with Tricket; he cites "one fairly common story of Robin Hood" that Tricket was with him when he was outlawed, but doesn't list a source. Previously in the article he had discussed James Holt's 1982 book Robin Hood, so I thought maybe it was from that, but a text search of the book on Internet Archive doesn't turn up any results for "Tricket".
This Petz 4 fansite was made by an individual who uses Tricket as an online alias, stating "I chose the name after one of my favorite Robin Hood books where Robin's dogs name was Tricket"; it is also the name of the site's dog mascot. This not does not appear on current versions of the site.
Finally, the most interesting find, and the closest to a primary source, was a post on a Facebook page called "Tony Rotherham for Nottingham's Official Robin Hood" from February 11th, 2018. The post reads as follows:
"Here I am with my friend Paul's dog, at Pagan Pride last yesr. A cracking animal
A little known Robin Hood fact....
According to the Derbyshire legend Robin Hood got Marianne a dog for her birthday, when they were children.
It's name was "Tricket" and it became her faithful companion.
In the legend, Marianne heard of a plot to capture Robin and she fled into the forest to warn him, this was during a terrible storm.
Lightening struck a tree and sent a limb crashing down killing Marianne.
Tricket stayed with her body until the storm had passed and then ran further into the forest. Finding the outlaws he guided them back to the lifeless body of Marianne.
Lifting her gently the outlaws took her to their camp and placed her body in a bower. For three days, moving on only after they got word to her father of the accident.
" Tricket " stayed with her body until she was buried.
Legend has it that the dog would sleep on or next to her grave intil the day he died and then was buried next to her.
Is it true?
Of course not, but it's a lovely bit of the Derbyshire legend."
This is all that I've been able to find on this enigmatic dog.
Robin Hood on Film
- The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938): Perhaps the greatest adaptation to date, a lush, romantic, swashbuckling adventure film starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, and Claude Rains. An iconic film that absolutely deserves its reputation.
- The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1959): A well-written and highly entertaining black-and-white adventure series starring the warm and stalwart Richard Green. Ran for 143 episodes, including standouts like "Dead or Alive", "The Wanderer", "A Tuck in Time", and "The Infidel".
- Robin Hood Daffy (1958): a Looney Tunes short in which Daffy Duck tries to convince a fat friar (Porky Pig) that he is, in fact, Robin Hood. Largely a parody of the 1938 film.
- Robin Hood (1973): The classic animated film from Disney. Depicts the characters as anthropomorphic animals - Robin and Marian are foxes, Little John is a bear, the Sheriff is a wolf, etc. Apparently started life as an adaptation of Reynard the Fox, but he was found to be too foul a character for even Disney to sanitize.
- Ivanhoe (1982): A very enjoyable and well-done made-for-television adaptation of Scott's classic novel.
- Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986): A cult classic British series, notable for its prominent supernatural elements, pagan themes, and combining of different versions of the legend. It also introduced the modern trend of adding a Muslim outlaw to the Merry Men.
- Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991): A very strange, big-budget retelling, largely entertaining but overlong and tonally inconsistent. Kevin Costner infamously plays Robin Hood with an American accent, Morgan Freeman appears as Robin's scholarly Moorish friend Azeem, and Alan Rickman brings an over-the-top slapstick sensibility to every scene he's in, including an attempted rape. The end cradits roll over the entire music video for Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You". More movies should do that, it's hilarious.
- Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993): A Mel Brooks parody starring Cary Elwes and Dave Chapelle. Has a few good gags but unfortunately doesn't live up to some of Brooks' other classics like Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, or Spaceballs.
- Ivanhoe (1997): A gritty, well-made miniseries adaptation of Scott's novel.
- Princess of Thieves (2001): Made-for-television film starring a young Keira Knightly as Robin Hood's daughter Gwyn.
- Robin Hood (2006-2009): A BBC series that I watched while it was on, but didn't leave that much of an impression. Mostly I remember it being kind of odd. There was a Robin-Marian-Guy of Gisbourne love triangle, Marian had a nocturnal vigilante alter ego, Alan-a-Dale wasn't a minstrel, and I think it ended with Robin's long-lost brother showing up with katanas or something?
- Robin Hood (2010): A dull, dour retelling starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. Crowe is one of the least likable Robins around, though Oscar Isaac's Prince John and the little we see of the Merry Men are enjoyable.
- Robin Hood: Ghosts of Sherwood (2012): A very low budget, very bad, very funny German flick where Robin is killed in a job gone wrong. A witch brings him back to life, but then later for some reason he turns into a zombie! And then zombies take over Sherwood Forest! Oh no!!! Features Friday the 13th's Kane Hodder as Little John and horror FX icon Tom Savini as the Sheriff.
- Robin Hood: The Rebellion (2018): Robin and his top men infiltrate the Sheriff's castle to rescue Marian and Much from his evil clutches. One of the relatively few dark and gritty Robin Hood movies I actually like. Features Brian Blessed as Friar Tuck and a cameo from Game of Thrones's Kristian Nairn.
- Robin Hood (2018): Abysmal Taron Egerton vehicle. Leans way too hard into modernizing the legend and trying to be topical. Jamie Foxx's Little John is one of the few good points.
My Robin Hood Library
- Allan, Tony. Tale of Robin Hood. Usborne, 1999.
Atwood, Rachel. Outcasts of the Wildwood. DAW, 2022.Donated to the library
- Bulfinch, Thomas. The Age of Chivalry and Legends of Charlemagne, or, Romance of the Middle Ages. Doubleday, 1970. Originally pub. in 1858 and 1863 as two volumes.
- Cawthorne, Nigel. A Brief History of Robin Hood. Robinson, 2010.
- Dixon-Kennedy, Mike. The Robin Hood Handbook. Sutton, 2006.
- Eager, Edward. Knight's Castle. Harcourt, 1999. Originally pub. 1956.
- Ebbutt, Maude. Myths & Legends of the British. Senate, 1998. Originally pub. 1910.
- Gilbert, Henry. Robin Hood. Arcturus, 2017. Orignally pub. 1912
- Hall, Tim. Shadow of the Wolf. Scholastic, 2015.
- Knight, Stephen. Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. Cornell UP, 2003.
- Lasky, Kathryn. Hawksmaid. HarperCollins, 2010.
- McKinley, Robin. The Outlaws of Sherwood. Ace, 1989.
- Peacock, Thomas Love. Maid Marian. Astounding Stories, 2017. Originally pub. 1822.
- Pyle, Howard. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Golden Press, 1962. Originally pub. 1883.
- Pyle, Howard. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Printers Row, 2016.Originally pub. 1883.
- Scott, Walter. Ivanhoe. Penguin, 2000. Originally pub. 1819.
- Springer, Nancy. Lionclaw: A Tale of Rowan Hood. Philomel, 2002.
- Springer, Nancy. Outlaw Princess of Sherwood: A Tale of Rowan Hood. Philomel, 2003.
- Springer, Nancy. Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest. Puffin, 2001.
- Thompson, Jonathan M, and Wil Upchurch. Sherwood: The Legend of Robin Hood (5th Edition Version). Battlefield Press, 2016.
Robin Hood Links
- Robin Hood @ benturner.com, a classic fansite that I remember visiting as a kid. Archived on the Wayback Machine.
- The Robin Hood Project @ University of Rochester Robbins Library
- Robin Hood: Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood
- Into the Greenwood, a podcast about Robin Hood that also uses the legend as a springboard to talk about life in medieval England.
- Robin Hood: The Facts and the Fiction
- The Outlaw Robin Hood: His Yorkshire Legend
- International Robin Hood Bibliography
- The Legend of Robin Hood, "an exploration of the pagan themes within this enduring myth"
- The Robin Hood Wiki
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