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  • May 2010
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The Many Hoods of Robin

The latest screen incarnation of the Robin Hood legend begins today, and I read one review recently which pretty much gave it a thumbs down because the movie presents its own interpretation of the ‘prequal’ to the traditional Robin Hood legends, which the review found pointless. In other words, we find out why (or a hypothetical reason why) Robin Hood became Robin Hood. The reviewer says something like “The movie ends with the line ‘and now the legend begins’, so who cares about the prequal?”

Well, I say, why not care? In fact, truth be told, there’s more prequal to the prequal. Similar legends and heroes had appeared in the folklore of the British Isles long before the Robin Hood stories began to circulate in the 14th and15th centuries. The persona of ‘Robin’ has appeared in more than one hood.

Hereward the Wake was (according to the legend) an 11th century revolting Saxon (no pun intended….unless you’re a Norman aristocrat), who lead native resistance to that big bully William the Conqueror in Lincolnshire (the neighboring county of Nottinghamshire) in and after 1066.

Hmmm? Let’s see…Outlaw hero fighting to free his people from oppression in Ye Merry Olde Northe Englande. Now, where have I heard this before?

Before Hereward was a pain in the royal pants, the native (i.e. pre-English) Celtic populations of the British Isles circulated tales of what came to be called the ‘Green Man’, a kind of pagan nature spirit who lived in the forests and wilds of the country. This idea of a benevolent nature spirit may have influenced the idea of a forest dwelling do gooder who protected medieval travelers on the highways and byways.  It is even thought that this type of mythology is what we see in the character of the Green Knight in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and, more modernly, Peter Pan.

In Gaelic Ireland and Scotland the deeds of Fionn MacCumhail (Fin MacCool) and his band of warriors,The Fianna, are still told by traditional story tellers and have been for the past 800 years.  Most of the stories involve Fionn and his men getting into, and out of, trouble, defeating bad guys, and winning the hearts of the ladies.

 Sound familiar?

Steve, CLP-Lawrenceville

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