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Robin Hood: The Man Behind the Myth by…
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Robin Hood: The Man Behind the Myth (1995)

by Graham Phillips, Martin Keatman

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New evidence regarding the existence of Robin Hood but at a different time and place allowing the myth behind the man to be revealed.

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Too complicated.

That is the only description I can offer as a summary of the thesis -- or, rather, the very many theses -- in this book.

Be it stated that I have studied the origins of the Robin Hood legend at great length, and have my own opinions. So I perhaps have a "conflict of interest" here. But I am also a folklorist, and I know how these things work. There is a core legend, arising perhaps from some minstrel tale, around which details accumulate. In the case of Robin Hood, we don't know what the core was like. But there almost certainly was one.

Yet Phillips and Keatman posit that there were three original inspirations for the Robin Hood legend, all real but poorly documented: Robert Hood of Wakefield, Robert Fitz Odo of Loxley, and Fulk FitzWarren.

Some of this makes sense. The single most important source for the Robin Hood legend, the "Gest of Robyn Hode" (probably printed at least five times by 1520), unquestionably shares many elements with the legendary story of Fulk. And many references in the "Gest," including a mention of "Edward our comely king," place us in the reign of Edward II (1307-1327), when Robert Hood of Wakefield was alive.

But the whole Robert Fitz Odo business is a red herring to explain references to "Loxley." There are no references to Loxley in the early Robin Hood ballads. Even the links to Fulk FitzWarren look like strap-on elements, not source material. Every indication is that tales of an outlaw named Robin Hood were in circulation by the early thirteenth century. By the late fourteenth century, these were probably reaching a somewhat settled form consisting of several ballads. In the fifteenth century, some unknown poet took these materials and collated them together. He or, more likely, some earlier poet had brought in materials from the story of Fulk, and of other legendary characters such as Gamelin and Hereward the Wake and Eustace the Monk. The result was the "Gest."

A century after that, a hack writer by the name of Anthony Munday took the materials known to him and rewrote again, taking Robin Hood the yeoman archer and converting him to Robin Hood the displaced nobleman. He also took Robin Hood the bachelor and gave him a wife, and stuck him, most improbably, in the reigns of Richard I and John -- before the longbow was even in use!

To understand the Robin Hood legend requires understanding legends in general, and the way they grow and change. Phillips and Keatman make some interesting points, but their thesis just doesn't make folkloric sense. And it's much too complicated. If you want some interesting notes about the evolution of the legend, there is good material here. But the whole is less than the sum of its parts. ( )
1 vote waltzmn | Feb 25, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Graham Phillipsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Keatman, Martinmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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The Legend of Robin Hood -- In the early 1990s the Hollywood movie, Robin Hood -- Prince of Thieves, captured the hearts and minds of millions, its phenomenal success reflecting a timeless fascination with the world's most famous outlaw.
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