Of all the legends passed down through history, few remain as popular today as they were in their own time. One example are tales of an English outlaw who “robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.” Robin Hood and his merry men still inspire books, films, and television programs. Sometimes they stay true to the original “Robin Hood ballads” sung by medieval wandering minstrels. Other times there’s a new spin on the characters, or a new adaptation. Perhaps the closest we can come to the original ballads today is within the pages of Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, first published in 1883.
Not only did Pyle write, collect, and compile this book, he illustrated it. There would be a great injustice done if I didn’t spend a few lines on Pyle’s artwork. The illustrations are intricate, but above all, beautiful. They’re done in the old style and tradition of medieval woodcuts. Each illustration adds so much to each story and gives a certain authentic touch. On their own, these illustrations would make an excellent coloring book.
The first words we read aren’t a tale, but a preface. This is a letter from the author to his audience. He lets us know who should and shouldn’t be a member and gives reasons for both. This is a new and different concept I’ve never encountered. The same holds true for the Table of Contents. Instead of listing the tales and the page they begin on, it lists the parts along with a synopsis of the stories within each.
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood has a medieval tone. It adds in preserving the feel and narration of the original ballads. Thankfully, this isn’t a full-blown The Canterbury Tales in “ye olde English” that no one can follow and cures insomnia. It can slow the flow while reading. This may present an issue for some readers. It’s more prevalent in the spoken dialogue than in the actual narration. I thought it added to an authentic presentation, but did grow a bit tiresome.
As for the actual tales, these are the original ballads. The ruling monarchs for the majority are King Henry and Queen Eleanor. King Richard appears in the final tale, while King John, not Prince John, appear after that in the Epilogue. Marian’s name appears a time or two as Robin Hood’s sweetheart. She doesn’t appear as a focal point or a character in any of these tales. The two arch-villains throughout the majority of these tales is The Sheriff of Nottingham and the Bishop of Hereford.
I’ve always loved Robin Hood. Except for a drawback here and there, I enjoyed this book. The illustrations and tone made it authentic, and much more than a simple read. It became an experience, and one I’m glad I had, and sure will have again.
For those wondering these are the tales included in order:
- Prologue – This tells how Robin Hood became an outlaw, assembled his band, and met Little John.
- Robin Hood and the Tinker
- The Shooting-Match at Nottingham Town
- Will Stutely rescued by his Good Companions
- Robin Hood turns Butcher
- Little John goes to the Fair at Nottingham Town
- How Little John lived at the Sheriff’s House
- Little John and the Tanner of Blyth
- Robin Hood and Will Scarlet
- The Merry Adventure with Midge the Miller
- Robin Hood and Allan a Dale
- Robin seeketh the Curtal Friar of the Fountain
- Robin Hood compasseth the Marriage of Two Lovers
- Robin Hood aideth a Sorrowful Knight
- How Sir Richard of the Lea paid his Debts to Emmet
- Little John turns Barefoot Friar
- Robin Hood turns Beggar
- Robin and Three of his Merry Men shoot before Queen Eleanor in Finsbury Fields
- The Chase of Robin Hood
- Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne
- King Richard cometh to Sherwood Forest
- Epilogue – Robin Hood’s return to Sherwood Forest, his war against Sir William Dale, and his death by betrayal of his cousin, Prioress of the Nunnery of Kirkless.
Copyright © Drew Martin 2016