Hood: Tracing the Robin Hood Legend to It's Origins
By Hannah P.
I was introduced to the book “Hood” on a recommendation from a friend because I was interested in learning more about the legend of Robin Hood. It was recommended as a “good book… very different from the traditional telling of Robin Hood.” I liked the book a lot when I first read it. It was darker, grittier, and lifelike, unlike several versions of the tale that I had read before. The characters were fully developed and given time to grow, and though altered significantly from the stories I was used to hearing, I could see the resemblance to the well-known legends of today. The characters are given different names and sometimes have different personalities and relationships, but the similarities are apparent for people well acquainted with the Robin Hood legend.
“Hood,” is the story of Prince Bran ap Brychan, heir to the throne of Elfael. When Normans invade his country, Bran is forced to flee for his life. He is nearly killed in his escape attempt, but his life is saved by a mysterious banfaith (or chief bard) named Angharad. Under her care and influence Bran changes from a self-serving, immature young man to a heroic, self-sacrificing man. He is determined to find a way to restore his homeland to its former glory. But doing so will require much of him and his loyal followers, and take them on a long and arduous journey involving betrayal, poverty and persecution.
Much of the story takes place in the Welsh forest (called the Coed Cadw), and the forest becomes an important aspect of the tale. The forest is the lifeblood of Elfael’s defenders. They hide in it, and it keeps them safe from their persecutors. They live off of it, when the invaders take their homes, lands and food supplies. The Welsh people use it to intimidate and taunt their enemies, and use their knowledge of the forest’s secrets to their advantage.
The well-known tales of Robin Hood take place in Sherwood Forest in Nottingham, and there are many infamous characters that were created for the stories. Robin Hood, Will Scarlet, Little John, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian, good King Richard, evil King John and the villainous Guy of Gisborne, to name a few. However, these characters and their adventures were invented over a long period of time and the roots of the story have been largely forgotten. In his version of the tale, Stephen Lawhead set his characters in Wales in the late eleventh century, and places them during the time of the Norman conquest of the Cymru (Welsh). For his story he dug deep into the legend and researched it thoroughly, tracing it back to its origins. Stephen Lawhead writes in regard to his decision to place the story in Wales and not in Nottingham,
“Of all the possibilities to choose from in locating the legend in place time, why choose Wales?
Several small but telling clues serve to locate the original source of the legend in the area of Britain now called Wales in the generation following the Norman invasion and conquest of 1066.”
“Taken altogether, then, these clues of time, place and weaponry indicate the germinal soil out of which Robin Hood sprang. As for the English Robin Hood with whom we are all so familiar… just as Arthur, a Briton, was later Anglicised--made into the quintessential English King and hero by the same enemy Saxons he fought against—a similar makeover must have happened to Robin. The British resistance leader, outlawed to the primeval forests of the March, eventually emerged in the popular imagination as an aristocratic Englishman, fighting to right the wrongs of England and curb the powers of an overbearing monarchy. It is a tale that has worn well throughout the years. However, the real story, I think, must be far more interesting.
And so, in an attempt to centre the tales of this British hero in the time and place where I think they originated—not where they eventually ended up—I have put a British Rhi Bran, and all his merry band of friends and enemies, in Wales.”
I personally applaud his decision for I believe it makes for a more interesting and realistic story. While I enjoy reading versions of the legend that feature the famous characters in their commonly accepted forms and setting, I liked this book’s take on the story better. As I said in the beginning “it is darker, grittier, and lifelike. “ I like my stories this way when they are about times in history when people had to fight for their freedom, and take back what belonged to them by force. The battles are not glorious events, and the cost of freedom is great. This book doesn’t glamorize or sugarcoat anything, but rather unflinchingly shows the pain of loss and the hope of a better future.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to others. I would recommend it to people looking into the legend of Robin Hood for the first time, to people who have no prior experience with the stories, or to people who know a lot about the original legend. It is a book for anyone who is mature enough to read it. The books have a lot of battles and skirmishes, treachery and betrayals, because the book is really a set-up for what happens later in the trilogy. The villains establish themselves by performing evil deeds and the heroes are put in a lot of dangerous and life-threatening situations. Also, the hero of the story starts out as an immature womanizer, who only wants to live a life of leisure and self-fulfillment. The story shows his transformation into a Welsh hero, but that process nearly claims his life and might be disturbing to younger readers. So I would only recommend it to older teenagers and adults who can handle it’s content.
In conclusion, “Hood” is a well-written book, entertaining and engaging. It is a good read for anyone interested in the legend and it leaves the reader anxious to see what happens next, for “Hood” is only the beginning of the “King Raven Trilogy.”