And I was pondering how best to honour a Favoured Outlaw. Some time ago I wrote Some Musings about a few of the reasons Robin Hood always lurks in the collective unconscious, and I could certainly ponder further upon that, but…
Well, it seemed that to list some creative retellings of Robin’s many faces would be a far more fitting tribute. I certainly cannot list them all — nor would I choose to, in some cases 😉 — but here are some of the prose examples that have, over the years, lain very close to my heart.
Top of my list now, but at first I was hesitant to read them. Not because of the quality of writing (duh, it’s Parke Godwin), but due to the unexpected time frame. Robin Hood circa 1066 ACE? But I was young and foolish. Because why not? and yes!–Godwin took the Saxon/Norman conflict and put it where it truly belonged, with an amazing surround and strong, well-rounded characterisations… which meant, of course, they break your heart in all the right places.
Last of the Greenwood by Sharon Whitby
This one has all but disappeared, which is a shame. (Even the verrry dated cover that really doesn’t do the story justice is my old battered copy scanned in–couldn’t find it online.) I discovered Last of the Greenwood years ago whilst first researching the rest of the then-trilogy begun in Greenwode… and the dark mysticism in it was familiar, compelling… and reassuring, particularly to a young writer trying her own wierd new take on a warhorse of a legend.
The Sheriff of Nottingham by Richard Kluger
Told from the titular P.o.V., this was a refreshing take. An anti-hero, certainly, but not a shallow villain with no story of his own.
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
Robin is, in this book, a minor–and nicely ambiguous–character, but the Wood is the true wonder; a character in its own right, dark and magical and not-quite-friendly.
In all these examples, the prose runs from brilliant to sublime. Beautiful and evocative writing.
Of course, I also must mention the ones that lie closest to my heart.
If I didn’t care about my own characters, didn’t love and hate and suffer with them… believe in them… even more than I cherish these other examples? There would be little point to living, loving, and suffering with Robyn Hode and his covenant of the Shire Wode.
So to the spirit of Robin and his band, in all their many incarnations — I salute you!
No, I really won’t. Begin at the beginning, that is, because the beginning was bloody awful. United Airlines, I am looking at you. Not that I’ll look at you again after this. Stuck in Houston for a day and a half… gah.
Instead, we’re going to merrily leap ahead and take the road to York. Two freaking days late (yes, I am trying to let it go…), but game. I’ll say it again: the road to York. The mere historical implications of it! Traversing the wake of the Great North Road, (with modifications, natch) used since before the Romans came in and, er, remodelled. Signs all the way up that made my ears prick: Nottinghamshire, Robin Hood Country. Sherwood. Blyth. Worksop. Sheffield. Hathersage. Selby, next door to Temple Hirst…
I know, it’s beyond silly. But every time I’ve been to the UK, even the mundane reality of road signs are markers to magic. The beginning forge of Story.
Driving must be mentioned, by the way. There is undoubted exhilaration in that first-15- minutes-of-sheer-terror followed by mind-blowing-rip-hell-out-of-curvy-roads fun that is also known as ‘accustoming oneself to right hand drive’. The little VW Golf we ended up with handled like slick damn–both fun and necessity, between the lovely twisty roads and keeping up with the status quo on the motorways. (Status quo=drive like autobahn, b.t.w.) Refreshing, actually, for one who’s foot often follows the pace of one’s thoughts… But ’tis time for true confession: Amazing Spouse parked the car the first several nights. Because yes, whilst parking a 12-horse lorry doesn’t faze me, the reality of having to put a tiny car in that even tinier space surrounded by stone walls? Aye, I quailed. Like a puling, quail-y thing.
The road to York, the capital for all that Yorkshire independence and determination, a melting pot even before Robyn’s days. Brigantes, Vikings, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans. Eboracum, Eoforwic, Iorvik, Yeork. The seat of archbishops who proclaimed themselves as powerful as the ones in Canterbury. The walls still stand, mostly and miraculously, and We walked the walls of York… all right, we stalked the walls of York, and pretended to hide from our foes behind the sturdy merlons. Stones dating from the 11th century–tell me you wouldn’t have done the same!
We also took in the main gates (or ‘bars’) leading in: Bootham Bar, Walmgate Bar, Mickelgate Bar, and Monk Bar, (pictured) in which lies a museum to Richard III. York is pretty fond of their Richard, not so fond of the Tudor upstart who took his throne. 😉
(So, gather round and tell me true: is it a sign that you are ‘way too much a history geek when you ask a question the tour guide can’t answer? I really wanted to know, too!)
Our B&B, Chelmsford Place, was run by lovely people, restful, and just a short walk from the River Ouse. The weather was warm and sunny; we’d little need of our waterproof windcheaters. Time being short, we decided upon something we never do–a guided tour. We prefer wandering for ourselves, usually. But we did get to see things we would have missed. For instance the Roman encampment, complete with crypts, excavated amidst the Medieval Gardens:
The Abbey of St Mary’s, another victim of the Dissolution of the monasteries
St Leonard’s Hospital, known as the largest one in England after the Norman Conquest, which also succumbed to Henry VIII’s marital tantrums (i.e. Dissolution). I dearly wanted to go into the undercroft and couldn’t (it was closed).
And in no way was I going to miss Clifford’s Tower, the remains of which were originally built by William the Conqueror. The stark beauty of the keep is leavened, like most such things, with a bloody and violent history. It was one of a series of motte-and-bailey keeps erected in the area, stony preface to the brutal Harrying of the North. And in 1190, it was the scene of an horrific massacre of a large settlement of York’s Jews, who barricaded themselves in the tower–in vain–against a backdraft of anti-Semitic fervour.
Blood sacrifice always leaves its mark, and a strangely soft and sombre atmosphere remains within the walls of Clifford’s Tower. It made me think much upon effects and causes; of the underlying atmosphere–the memory–that places can retain, eternal vibrations.
The stones weep… and sing.
Here’s a small snippet from the upcoming book, Winterwode. I’m thinking I might find an apropos bit for each one of these posts; a connection between the reality of research and how it resonates into the creative space.
“This is his,” Robyn murmured. “All of him, and none of me. Gamelyn was born here, was marked with their prayers and incense. Was raised in these walls, taught to walk and run and fight with the steel rendered from their stones and fire, and he… he feels sommat here, sommat powerful t’ fill him. But all I hear are the stones… weeping.”
We walked the Wall… and the Wall won!