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The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson, summary

Updated on December 27, 2013

Book Cover

An Exciting Adventure

To be honest, it took some effort for me to read the first few pages of The Black Arrow. But once I got adjusted to the use of old English, and especially once the first black arrow pierced the first black heart, I was hooked.

The Black Arrow, A Tale of the Two Roses, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is set in 15th century England during the War of the Roses.

It is basically a coming of age tale about a boy named Dick Shelton. Dick has been living under the care of Sir Daniel Brackley, who became his guardian after the mysterious death of Dick's father.

At the start of the tale, Dick is preparing to go off to his first battle. However, during the preparations, Appleyard, an archer who was to defend the house of Sir Daniel Brackley, is shot through the heart with a black arrow.

The note on the arrow indicates that four men shall have a black arrow through their hearts, and Dick is surprised to find that the four men include his guardian and the men who raised him, whom he calls friends.

Dick also learns that one or more of these men may have been involved in some way with his father's mysterious death. This knowledge is very unsettling to him.

The note is signed by one who calls himself John Amend-All.

A New Friend and A Host Of New Adventures

Because of this turn of events, Dick is not allowed to join the battle but is charged by Sir Daniel to return home and help with the defense of the house. Before making his way home, Dick helps a young boy to escape from Sir Daniel's custody by giving him directions and allowing him to steal away unnoticed. He soon catches up with the boy, who goes by the name John Matcham. Matcham has already lost his horse and fallen into trouble. Dick is angry with the boy, feeling that he has been slighted by him, but decides to help him anyway.

Young Dick promises to help John reach nearby Hollywood, but they encounter many adventures in their attempt. They cannot safely cross the river at the ferry, and Dick's horse is shot out from under him. John saves him from drowning, as Dick does not know how to swim. Next they find themselves surrounded by a company of outlaws and risk their lives trying to stop an ambush of Sir Daniel's men. They are almost caught as they flee, but Dick kills one of the outlaws with his dagger and they escape. They are forced to spend a night in the woods in hiding, and the next day encounter a blind leper who pursues and captures them. The leper turns out to be Sir Daniel himself who, having lost the battle, is making his way home in disguise.

Sir Daniel makes Matcham promise to return to his house with Dick and then returns ahead of them, resuming his disguise.

Robert Louis Stevenson

A Love Story and A Betrayal

Dick and Matcham arrive at sir Daniel's house, and Matcham bids Dick goodbye, saying he shall most likely never see John Matcham again. Matcham is really Joanna Sedley dressed as a boy, who was kidnapped by Sir Daniel in an attempt to force her to marry Dick. Dick, however, is now in jeapordy of losing his life because of the suspicions he holds about the death of his father and the questions that he has been asking. He is tested by Sir Daniel and then moved to the same tower room where his father was murdered. During some confusion in the house, Dick is reunited with Matcham, who he now comes to realize is in fact Joanna Sedley. They decide that if they escape with their lives he really does want to marry her and she him.

They escape through a secret passage that was to be used by Dick's murderer. However, only Dick is able to escape. He does this by scaling down the tower and crossing the moat. He is injured by an arrow during his flight, and Joanna is recaptured. He resolves to rescue her as soon as he is able and makes his way into the woods.


Not to spoil the ending, but in order to wrap up, I leave you with this brief summation. Dick is forced to join with those of the black arrow in order to rescue Joanna, avenge his father's death, and win back his lands and possessions. He encounters many adventures and is sometimes at a loss as to whom he can trust. Like all good characters, Dick must encounter growth to complete his quest. This he does, although it is not a comfortable lesson which he learns.

One of the things I like most about this book is the realism involved with the consequences of a persons actions. Dick makes choices that cost people their lives or their property and is forced to come to terms with the idea that he cannot always make things right.

I highly recommend The Black Arrow. It is both an adventure story and a romance and moves quickly from start to finish.

I also recommend reading any other book by Robert Louis Stevenson. Below you will find a simple poll about some of his books.

Below the poll you will find short descriptions of three more of his books that I've personally enjoyed.

Book Quiz

Which of these Robert Lewis Stevenson books do you like the most?

See results

Treasure Island

Jim Hawkins comes into possession of a treasure map and sets out to sea to find the treasure. But Long John Silver and his pirates want it for themselves.

An adventure story about pirates and treasure and a young boy on the adventure of a lifetime. Who hasn't heard of Treasure Island?

The book is enjoyable and there are many movies about it, both live action and animated, including Disney's "Treasure Planet."

Treasure Island Remix


Another of my favorite books by Robert Louis Stevenson. Kidnapped is the story of David Balfour, who has been cheated out of his inheritance by his uncle. David comes to live with his uncle who tries to kill him. After failing, his uncle arranges for David to be kidnapped and shanghaied in order to be sold as a slave. David saves the life of Alan Breck Stewart. After a shipwreck the two escape, only to fall into more trouble. Alan helps David in a desperate flight across the highlands of Scotland. In the end Alan helps David to reclaim his share of his father's inheritance.

The Wrong Box

A comedic mystery about two aging brothers who are the last surviving beneficiaries of a large tontine. The last one left alive gets the money.

However, there is a scheme and a mix-up about a corpse with an ensuing chase to find it as it makes its way across England. The body is in the wrong box, and all who are involved are desperate to find it.


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    • Lee B profile image

      Lee Barton 7 years ago from New Mexico

      Sounds like a good book. I'll have to check it out. Congrats on your first hub--it's a good one!

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 7 years ago from USA

      Thanks, Lee!

    • watcher by night profile image

      watcher by night 7 years ago

      The Black Arrow was a book I re-read many times after I first read as a teenager, and I recently re-read the first few chapters again online at Google Books. The action and adventure I remembered quite well, but I'd forgotten what a wonderful job Stevenson had done of including so much historical detail, and of giving complex personalities to the characters. The plot is excellent also. Great choice for a hub topic, Eric!

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 7 years ago from USA

      Watcher, thank you!

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 7 years ago from UK

      It's strange how one reads thousands of books but there is always one that has not been read. I shall have to read the Black Arrow as soon as possible :-))

      Thanks for this..

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 7 years ago from USA

      Thanks for your comment, De Greek. I hope you enjoy reading The Black Arrow.

    • watcher by night profile image

      watcher by night 6 years ago

      By the way, didn't know where else to put this: Just read through some of your "KaBlunder". The descriptions of the various teachers in the school was especially well done... the details you included really gave a vivid picture of each teacher's personality.

      (You might make a separate hub specifically about/linked to "KaBlunder", where people can link to it easily and then comment easily on the hub?)

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 6 years ago from USA

      Thanks, Watcher, That's a great idea. I'll have to get to work on that.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India

      The Black Arrow was one of my favourite books while I was growing up though Kidnapped is the one I like best of all. That was a very interesting summary, thank you.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 6 years ago from USA

      Shalini, you're welcome. I'd Say Treasure Island is my favorite with Kidnapped coming in a close second.

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 6 years ago

      It's Treasure Island for me too. :)

    • k@ri profile image

      k@ri 6 years ago from Sunny Southern California

      Maybe I'll have to read this one also! :D

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 4 years ago from USA

      Quicksand, good choice!

      K@ri, you won't regret it.

    • profile image

      David 4 years ago

      i think this story is different with my SSR book

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