Twang!: Robin Hood in modern-day media

Recently, I came across Robin Hood by Jim Bradbury; a surprisingly informative read detailing the historical facts from the Robin Hood legend, mostly by looking at the ballads, poems and plays starring (or at least mentioning) Robin Hood. In that respect, it’s an excellent and concisely told book.

RHBradbury

However, if I can find one fault with the book, it’s that it skirts over the various 20th Century and modern-day depictions of Robin Hood in a rather cursory manner. It mentions the usual suspects: Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks Snr, Kevin Costner, the 1973 Disney movie… even the Mel Brooks parody Men in Tights, which Bradbury is frankly rather sniffy about.

M.I.T._poster_2

For the record, this is my mother’s favourite Mel Brooks movie.Yes, really.

Whilst it would be easy to pore over Wikipedia articles (Robin does have his own wiki, but for some reason it deals solely with the 2006 TV show), I’ll limit myself to what I consider a few noteworthy examples.

Literature

Whilst not being a Robin Hood story in the truest sense of the word, Robin did make several appearances in E.H. White’s children’s novel The Sword in The Stone. One would think that Robin and King Arthur hanging out together would be rather odd, but White’s novel had an amusingly anachronistic tone.

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This was the only version of this book at my local library. That fact alone kept me from reading it until about four months ago.

White does go out of his way to explode the popular image of Robin Hood; in this book, he is a sturdy, sunburnt fellow of considerable size (Litte John is taller still, but only just), but is still a charming and likeable fellow who is well-versed in woodcraft. Marian is the most altered – no demure lady she, but a “vixen” with such a wide variety of practical skills, White decides to devote an entire paragraph to how cool she is.

As to Robin’s involvement in the story… well, there we delve into murky territory. “Wart” and Kay are told by Merlin to visit the local wood, as that is where they shall have an adventure that day. Sure enough, the boys meet Robin and his merry band, and are soon enlisted to save some innocent locals from savage “Scythians” and “Æthopians”.

I really, really wish I was making this up. The whole thing suffers from what I like to call “old-timey racism”, the sort that isn’t necessarily malicious, but sure as hell isn’t blameless either. If you want to know more about that sort of thing, try reading Tarzan of The Apes or any of Robert E Howard’s original Conan stories.

Comics

Bradbury does mention several comics about Robin Hood, even noting that DC Comics created their own modern-day version with Green Arrow. However, he appears to be unaware that DC published their own Robin Hood stories back in 1938, a good 5 months before a certain Man of Steel arrived on the scene.

Robin appears to have made regular appearances in DC Comics titles (mostly during the 40’s and 50’s), meeting Batman, Lois Lane, Wonder Woman… and of course, Green Arrow. He also cameoed early on in acclaimed Vertigo title Fables, and got a gritty 90’s post-apocalyptic treatment in Outlaws: The Legend of the Man Called Hood.

It would also be very remiss of me not to mention the 2008 reprint volume titled Frank Bellamy’s Robin Hood: The Complete Adventures, a slender but beautiful volume of two full-length stories Bellamy drew for Swift back in 1956-57. Bellamy is a revered name in British comics today, and this book shows you why. Going back to King Arthur, there is a reprint of Bellamy’s King Arthur stories as well.

A more anarchic, but stupendously hilarious take that demands your attention are the graphic novel adaptations of Maid Marian & Her Merry Men, co-published by the BBC and Penguin Books. They’re quite rare now, but well worth it for Paul Cemmick’s absurdly gonzo artwork. He even did some rather cheeky 4-page stories as part of the liner notes for the DVDs (as if you needed any further incentive to buy them).

MA-RIAAAN! Why don't you

Somebody, please reprint these.

Television

While I understand Bradbury’s reluctance to go into too much detail over the 2006 TV show, I do feel Dead Ringers summed it up best.

Taking even less care with history, but comparatively more fun, is the delightfully asinine cartoon Rocket Robin Hood. Words cannot do it justice, so here’s a video.

Video games

There are more than a few Robin Hood video games out there, but there are only two worth mentioning: the first is strategy game Defender of The Crown by Cinemaware, in which Robin is a potential ally, (and recieved a somewhat lacklustre remake back in 2003), and Conquests of The Longbow by Sierra. I’ll focus on the Sierra game, as I know more about it.

conquests_of_the_longbow

Long renowned for fiendishly difficult adventure, Conquests of The Longbow was no different, but is fondly remembered as one of the better games from Sierra’s back catalogue. The fact that the puzzles make at least a modicum of sense, and the arcade sequences can be skippable if you so choose, probably had something to do with it.

In terms of historical accuracy, Conquests isn’t much cop; the fact that Marian is secretly a druidic priestess, and Robin enlists the help of The Green Man of Sherwood in order to turn into a tree (an ingenious bit of copy protection) would bear that out! However, it was clear that Sierra had done their homework – Adam Bell and Clim of the Clough are namedropped, and life in medieval England does seem to have been portrayed quite well.

The medieval ballads are used frequently for inspiration; Robin dons many disguises off travellers he waylays, but rarely after defeating them – in fact, most of the travellers are unimpressed by Robin, and avoid conflict by simply not giving a shit what he does (treating them roughly also decreases your score at the end, cheating you of the perfect ending where you are allowed to marry Marian). He also tricks the sherrif into “dining” with him, and monks are depicted as scheming sadists.

Interestingly, Conquests is one of the few modern Robin Hood stories to not include Prince John. He is mentioned frequently, and is behind a plot to betray Richard, but never actually makes an appearance. It’s also one of the more mature games from Sierra, but it’s still quite tasteful – no Leisure Suit Larry bawdiness here.

There are several Let’s Play videos of Conquests on the internet, but the one I have a soft spot for is PawDugan’s collaboration with other Channel Awesome stars. Be warned: it’s incomplete (they only considered recording it until about a third of the way through the game) and it’s definitely not safe for work.

Roleplaying games

While I’m not a fan of the GURPS system, there’s no way I could leave out GURPS Robin Hood. Nothing I can say will properly explain what a joy it is to read. Seriously, go read it now.

GURPS Robin Hood

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