The story of Robin Hood is one of the classic tales in folklore, retold and reinterpreted for hundreds of years. Everyone knows the story of the noble outlaw who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, who is the best archer in the land and can split one arrow with another. Like any classic tale, it can be adapted many different ways to suit the times. A new film is coming out this weekend directed by Ridley Scott, who gives the story an epic, historical, action-packed telling, which is a great idea – I’m all in favor of reinterpreting classic stories for each new generation, and I hope there are many more Robin Hoods to come.
However, I just want to put in a plug for the non-historical, unrealistic, fairy-tale version of Robin Hood that many of us grew up with. It seems like over the last few generations, people have been trying to make the story more gritty and true to its medieval times. But to my mind, the essence of Robin Hood isn’t history, it’s not about a real person suffering the slings and arrows of an oppressive king – Robin Hood is a myth, an ideal.
The legend itself is mostly fictional, an amalgam of different characters and tales which were combined and embellished over the years, in the true tradition of folklore. The reason it survives and flourishes is because it embodies one of the classic themes in literature: the downtrodden hero fighting against impossible odds, using his wits and skill to come out on top. Does this stuff happen in real life? Rarely, but we keep on trying, and stories like this give us hope. We all need a bit of fantasy to make us believe anything is possible.
So while a historical telling of the legend is great, the question of whether or not it is more “true” to Robin Hood is up for debate. Personally, I’d rather see an arrow split in two.