I would say it is highly indicative that when a story has survived about 700 years, it must be pretty good. One of the most well-known English folktales, the story of Robin Hood has managed to resonate with people over hundreds of years and is as popular as ever today. I’ve always loved the adventure and spirit of rebellion it carries, and having tried many different versions over the years, rarely have I been disappointed. From ballads and poems to TV shows and movies, you can find a Robin Hood to suit any preferences. The genres span from aged classics, science fiction, romance, modern mysteries and stories suited for any age range.
Though the legend may have survived, almost all of the details have been tweaked and added to by storytellers over the years. The earliest written versions of Robin Hood, from 1450 on, portray an outright ‘bad guy’. At best, he was a self-interested outlaw with some inkling of sympathy for the poor. His raison d’être (taking from the rich to give to the poor) is nowhere to be found until many centuries later. Robin really only became the hero we know him as today with a few texts from the 1800s, in particular The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle and Ivanhoe by Walter Scott – both very entertaining and enlightening reads.
The more recent versions have changed characters and plot lines in major ways. You can find traditional characters like Will Scarlet, Alan-a-Dale, Little John, Much the Miller, Friar Tuck and Maid Marion in many different variations or not at all.
So where to begin? You can always start with a classic, and there are many adaptations that stick pretty close to older versions of the legend. The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley is one of my personal favourites that has a good mix of old and new. The library has so many different versions of Robin Hood, there really is something for everyone.
If you’d like a gritty, darker Robin then you can try Steve Lawhead’s King Raven series (beginning with Hood), Angus Donald’s Outlaw Chronicles, or try a paranormal spin on the tale with Debbie Viguié’s Mark of the Black Arrow. Tim Hall’s Shadow of the Wolf is a good option for YA readers who also enjoy a supernatural and dark spin.
Where you have adventure, there’s usually a spot of romance. The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest and Lady of Sherwood each have a good balance of both, as do their YA cohorts, The Forest Queen, A Daring Sacrifice and Scarlet.
There are many graphic novel versions, including DC Comic’s Red Hood and the Outlaws, Outlaw by Tony Lee and for younger readers, Robin Hood: Outlaw of Sherwood Forest. One of my favourites was The Legend of Hong Kil Dong, a Korean addition aimed at younger readers.
Kids and tweens have tons of options to choose from. Will in Scarlet and The Band of Merry Kids are both historical fiction with a similar feel. If you prefer female main characters, then Hawksmaid, Shadows of Sherwood and Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood Street will be right up your alley. Younger readers will enjoy Robin Hood adapted by Annie Ingle. It also makes the perfect read-aloud for these cold winter days!
When talking Robin Hood (at the office water cooler, for example) you’d be remiss not to mention some of the wonderful films. Most enter the ‘hood’ with Disney’s Robin Hood (1973), but Prince of Thieves and Men in Tights are also popular editions. The Adventures of Robin Hood is a fan favourite from 1938 and definitely wins the best wardrobe award. On my to-do list are the BBC series Robin Hood, which seems to fit into that darker, grittier category, as well as the most recent (put your hold on it now!) Robin Hood fresh out of theatres.