Monday, September 24, 2012

Robin Hood and The Hero

I'm a writer first and foremost. It is the only thing I have truly wanted to do since I was about five years old. I can't imagine my life without my writing. So, although this is not America History, I'm going to share some of the research that went into my newest novel, THE HOODED MAN, that comes out tomorrow.

It is not Americam History per se but like any good legend we have borrowed it as our own for movies and television shows. Robin Hood. The Sherwood Outlaw. The Hooded Man. Who was Robin Hood? Was he a mere man made into myth by constant oral storytelling or a symbol of a much simpler time? One could say that he is an exciting mixture of both, a unique melding of myth, hero, and man. While the legend of Robin Hood is rooted in history, it is also a combination of human interest and pagan mythology. So once again we can ask who was that hooded man? 'Was he man, or spirit of the forest, like Robin Goodfellow or the Green Man?"

In many intellectual circles, Robin Hood has been thought to have been a real man named Robert Fiztooth, the Earl of Huntingdon. While the true identity of the legendary outlaw has been highly debated throughout academia, history and Hollywood, Fiztooth probably is the most widely accepted character for the mythical woodsman. Another alter-ego belonging to the English Rogue is Robin of Loxley, a Yorkshire fugitive. Yet another identity is that of a humble forester who was outlawed for killing a deer in the Royal forest. Perhaps Robin Hood was a composite of all the mediaeval forest outlaws of England. Never the less, Robert Fitztooth's grave at Kirklees is considered to be the burial place of Robin Hood. It is visited many times over by tourist every year, searching for Robin Hood.

Many other questions arise when people try to put Robin Hood in an accurate place in history, along some type of actual time line. Was he a knight in the crusades? Did he live in the reign of Richard the Lionhearted, Henry III, Edward I, II, or III? Many books, tales and movies place him in the highly tumultuous time of Richard, a time of great turmoil and skullduggery, thus making the villain he defeats Prince John. John's plans to take over the throne were thwarted by the return of King Richard from the crusades in March of 1194. In spite of this setback Prince John does actually ascend to the throne in 1199 when he returns to England after his five year exile. So if there was really a man by the name of Robin Hood, he did not stop John from becoming King as many movies suggest. He only succeeded in slowing him down a bit. In his bid for the throne, John was indirectly responsible for advanced poverty and low public moral. These factors have contributed to the creation of Robin Hood.

John himself was not really all that terrible. He wasn't a bad or weak king; he was just king at the wrong time. His father Henry II and his brother Richard left him a rocky foundation of a kingdom. John did encourage some of the more powerful nobles to use military strength to gobble up more land and property, while he turned a blind eye, in the hopes that they would support him in his quest for king. In the end, the nobles did not support him and all John achieved was to allow the nobles the opportunity to see how powerful they really were, which caused the destruction of the Magna Carta. On the other hand, John does have a reputation for standing up from himself against all comers, but he did not have any redeeming or very loveable qualities, which helped historians and Hollywood, paint him in a sinister light.

If Robin was not a human, perhaps he was a "God." From the pagan standpoint, Robin of the Hood is connected to the Green Man. The Green man, according to the Celtic Pantheon of Gods, is Cernunnos, the God of Vegetation and fertility. Cernunnos is also the Lord of the Trees. The oak tree is sacred to Cernunnos. "The Green Man represents the male aspect of nature." Robin is consistently described as wearing Lincoln green and living in the forest. In Sherwood Forest there stands a mighty oak tree simply called The Major Oak. The tree is believed to be the meeting place for Robin Hood and his merry men. "The gargoyle-like carvings of the Green Man show a human face almost completely camouflaged by leaves." Robin has an uncanny ability to blend in with his surroundings, becoming part of the forest, much like the Green man.

The Green Man has two personas, the Holly Lord and the Oak Lord. The Holly Lord, or "old man winter", dies at Beltane and is reborn as the Oak Lord, or "baby new year". He then marries the May Queen. The horned God aspect of the Green Man is just another form of Herne. Herne is the Celtic hunter god. He is most often portrayed with stag's horns sprouting from his head. In many of the original gestes, or tales, Robin is referred to as Herne's son. This approach is taken many centuries later in the popular British television show, Robin of Sherwood. "It seems likely that Llew's [a Celtic sun god] mediaeval successor, Red Robin Hood was once also worshiped as a stag."

"Robin's weapons and tools are laden with pagan significance." Robin Hood is the best archer in all of England. In this way Robin can be seen as another type of manifestation of Herne, God of the hunt. Herne's sacred creature is the stag. In one of the most famous stories of Robin Hood, the outlaw enters Nottingham Castle with a stag thrown over his shoulders and tosses it on to a banquet table in front of the Prince, flaunting his disdain at the nobles the whole time. This scene alone made Errol Flynn as legendary as Robin himself. Many believed the forester identity came about from the killing of a stag in the Royal Forest. Laws of the Forest were strictly enforced, especially around 1200 to 1350. These laws prohibited any one not of royal blood to hunt in certain forests, Sherwood being one of them. If Robin Hood was in all actuality Robert Fiztooth, this would not have been a problem for the Earl, because he was royal blood. The episode of killing the stag as the main factor in Robin turning outlaw points more toward him being a forester, guardian or yeoman or the forest, then a nobleman. Also Foresters were there to prevent the wholesale destruction of the land. According to an old historical account several foresters were outlawed for poaching in the very forests they were to protect.

The May Queen is the main character, the leader, at Beltane. Beltane, which means Bel's fire and is held on May 1st, "marks the beginning of the summer, and the light half of the Celtic year." The May Queen takes over as head of the festival and summons the Holly Lord to her. Then her handmaidens kill him, which transforms him into the Oak Lord. Maid Marian may be the Christianized version of the May Queen. She loves Robin and in the final gestes, or ballads, of Robin Hood she marries him in the Greenwood Wedding, much in the same way that the May Queen marries the Oak Lord at Beltane.

Another figure Maid Marian may represent is that of the Virgin Mary. She is equated with the virgin by the simple fact that she is clearly Robin's "lover" yet she remains a maid, or virgin at all times. She retains this title in both her name and her reputation. Robin is devoted to the Virgin Mary in the well known versions of the ballads. He is equally devoted to Marian. He follows a fierce code of chivalry never harming a woman, which extends to Marian. On the other hand Robert Graves, in his book The White Goddess, states that "Marian is not even faithful to Robin." Graves argues that during the dark time of the year, the time preceding Beltane, she becomes the mistress of his rival, The Sheriff of Nottingham. In this aspect Marian is a symbol of the Lady of Misrule who is celebrated during Twelfth Night.

Considering the state of social acceptance of women in the mediaeval time period, Marian plays a very active role in the stories. She is never ridiculed for following her lover into the forest and living as the only woman among male outlaws. In one much later ballad Robin and Marian, in disguise, engage in sword play and knock each other about for awhile before they realize their mistake. The art of battle was not something women were encouraged to know, yet it is perfectly acceptable for Robin Hood's consort. Although she does not appear in many of the surviving ballads she is key to the legend.

Another legend that Robin Hood may be associated with is that of Puck. William Shakespeare used the character of Puck, giving him the name Robin Goodfellow as well, in his play A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although Shakespeare, who may have been influenced by the Welsh Pwca, refers to Puck using both names, Robin Goodfellow and Puck are in all actually two separate creatures. Now however, they are considered the same character. Puck was a shape-shifter. Robin Goodfellow was a master of disguise. Both had an uncanny ability to give travelers a hard time, much like Robin Hood. Shakespeare's drinking buddy and fellow writer Ben Johnson even used the Robin Goodfellow character in his unfinished Robin Hood play, The Sad Shepherd. "Since the Robin Goodfellow ballads appear later then the Robin Hood ones, it's possible that the faerie may have taken his name from the outlaw-not the other way around."

We all know Sherwood Forest to be the place Robin Hood calls home. But many tales place him in Barnsdale. Still another is Loxley in Yorkshire, thought to be the traditional birthplace of our hero. His central base of operation is the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. This one thousand year old tree is still standing to this day. If Robin is not so closely associated with the Green Man of pagan life, would this tree, an oak tree, be as sacred to him?

Mythology is not the only place that manifests different types of "Robin Hoods." Literature has several versions of the tales under different names. The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy is yet another re-telling of the Robin Hood stories. Sir Percival Blakeney even wears "Blakeney Green." While he does not rob from the rich and give to the poor, he does save several poor souls from the guillotine. The Pimpernel acts almost in a reverse of Robin Hood. Sir Percy "steals" the rich aristocrats out from under the noses of the poor French mob. He is an eighteenth century Robin Hood. He must win the love of his wife, Marguerite, whose name happens to be the French variation of Marian or Mary. Marguerite is just as spirited as Maid Marian, maybe even more so. And the villainous Chauvelin is constantly trying to seduce her, much like the Sheriff in several Hollywood versions of Robin Hood.

Another exciting literary outlaw is Zorro. First created in 1919 by the writer Johnston McCulley, Zorro is the Hispanic version of Robin Hood. Don Diego Vega, a man of noble birth, fights for the people of Los Angeles against the evil Alcalde. The Alcalde of the Zorro stories is very much like the traditional Sheriff of Nottingham. In The Adventures of Zorro, the wealthy land owners seek the protection of the Alcalde. He in turn uses them in his bid to be governor, much the same way John used the nobles. The peasants are then made to suffer with outrageous taxes to pay. Don Diego protects the peasants from this "terrible" government by assuming the identity of El Zorro or the fox. "He is simultaneously wise, brave, charming, cunning, and romantic. Zorro has true cross-generational appeal, with four generations around the world having grown up with the character." Both The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Adventures of Zorro carry many of the same themes and characteristics of the original Robin Hood tales.

How do people deal with hardship, by creating a hero. Any hero can be looked on as a bastardization of Robin Hood. Super heroes and everyman characters that are endearing in our minds can be broken apart to show their similarity to the mythical Green man of Sherwood. Robin Hood could be compared to Captain America doing war times in The United States. Robin, dashing and full of adventure, fought off the "Evil Prince John" in efforts to protect the English crown. The monarchy, while mainly a figurehead with no real politic power, is something viewed as sacred. When their monarch is threatened, the English people take is personally. Captain America fought Nazis, protecting the American way of life. Throughout history humanity has always needed a hero.

Who was that hooded man? Great debate has continued through out the ages looking for historical basis as well as mythical proof as to the existence of Robin Hood. Did a single man live to take on the tyranny of injustice or was he something more?

Robin Hood is a hero for all ages. He and his legend have enthralled us for centuries and it will continue to do so for many more to come.

Friday, September 14, 2012


This being a blog about American History, I felt the need to post the trailer for the upcoming movie "Lincoln"
From the trailer we can see the bevy of amazing actors in this film. One personal favorite is Hal Holbrook. I am very excited to see him in there and kudos to Speilberg for utilizing the veteren actor. Holbrook has played Lincoln on numerous occasions to great aplomb and winning awards for his portrayals.