HERE’S THE PLAN: to pull out a book from my tight-packed bookshelves and
share it. Qualifications? It has to be one I’ve read over and over again, one
that has inspired my own writing, and one that gave me a lasting experience of
some sort. There are so many older books that are just too damned good to be
buried in the mosh pit of publishing fashions and frenzies. So I’m going to
pull them out and have another dance with them. And hopefully encourage others
to do the same.
The first time I tried to read Sherwood, by Parke Godwin, I didn’t get very far. I wasn’t sure I fancied it.
This was entirely my own fault.
It had nothing to do with the book or its author. Parke Godwin, even in my younger days, ranked high upon my pantheon of amazing & talented persons of sheer word-craft. And Robin Hood, as you might know, has been a bit of an obsession of mine since I was seven years old.
No, this lay upon my own short-sightedness as a reader, and the belief that having my own expectations confirmed was somehow of more import than letting a well-told story stretch those expectations.
Well. Breaking perceptions needs to hurt us just enough so we learn from it.
So, after giving myself a well-deserved slap upside the head, I tried again. What an experience I would have missed, had I followed my first, foolish reaction!
For Sherwood indeed wasn’t what I expected… it ended up being so much more.
It’s another re-imagining that takes the original, twists it just enough to make it cry out with a fresh and meaningful voice… and, all the while, respects, loves… honours the source.
The thing that threw me? Sherwood takes the somewhat-newer concept of Robin Bravely Fighting the Norman Invaders, and puts it in a singular and ultimately proper place: the Norman Conquest, with Robin himself a Saxon landholder fighting the takeover of his homeland.
This was—and still is—extraordinary territory within the growing canon of Robin Hood. And beautifully done. Take this passage:
“He listened and let the forest tell the time. There always came this hush when all nocturnal creatures were back in nest or burrow. First this heavy silence as the rag-end of night slid by, then a wind whispering through Sherwood as a sleeper inhales and sighs before waking, and then the birds piping from cough to bough before black lightened to grey. When he and Will hunted far from Denby and slept in the forest, this hovering silence like a missed heartbeat or the world holding its breath, always woke Robin.
“A lonely time of day, night dying and day not yet born…”
Not only the forested or farmstead surround is beautifully drawn; the characters all lay out, and wonderfully so, what it means to be human. Flawed, each and every one, for you equally want to smack them or hug them; you breathe with them, love with them, hate with them, hurt for them. Godwin is also one of the few to give the Sheriff of Nottingham’s character full realisation and his own arc—it is masterful. I also wonder why, when people mourn the lack of agency in so many of Marian’s incarnations, that they don’t mention Godwin’s Marian, and marvel at how she has that agency, and her own strength of character. Indeed, all of Godwin’s women are well drawn, each their own person: from Marion to Matilda, the diminutive Queen (in height only, believe me), to Judith, very much the Saxon queen, to Maud, Robin’s fascinating mother. The ‘Merries’ are also there, but in thankfully unexpected ways: Will, Alan, John, Tuck and some others make their appearance. And while this Robin isn’t my Robyn, he is one of the best: remarkable, down-to-earth, a terrific re-imagining of Robin Hood.
Godwin also knew his historical beans when it came to the period of the Norman Conquest; everything is visceral and authentic. He wrote more than a few books in this timeframe, and I encourage you to seek them out, too. Seek out all his books; you won’t be disappointed.
The main thing I regret? That I never had the privilege of meeting Parke Godwin in this time-space continuum. He is sadly lost to us… but his work will live on.
Another regret—common to many of my Retro Recs—is that Sherwood is out of print and only available as a ‘used’ copy. Try your local used bookstores; I found my own treasure—a beautiful signed hardback of the 2nd book, Robin and the King, at Worldcon just this past year. I have heard, though, that the Godwin estate is planning on re-releasing these—as well as releasing a few works not yet seen, woot!—in ebook. One can hope!