Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Robin Hood Week: The Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw

The Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw (Sutton History Paperbacks)

The Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw was originally published in 1976.  I have a later edition with an updated foreward. It predates this unfortunate cover which makes the book look like a children's book.  It most definitely isn't.  Mine was a gift from a friend who visited Sherwood Forest and brought me the book, much better than a t-shirt. You can see my cover here.

Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw is considered a classic of Robin Hood scholarship and is on my short list of recommendations for anyone wanting to read more about the history of the legend, from original texts to criticism.

Book description from Amazon:

Leading scholars use 13 of the earliest known ballads about Robin Hood to explore the development of the myth from his medieval portrayal as a common criminal to his Victorian idealization as a rustic hero.
That's not very helpful though, is it? So I scanned the back of my book to provide a better description:

Attend and listen, gentlemen,
That be of freeborn blood;
I shall tell of a good yeoman,
His name was Robin Hood.

Romantic folk hero, prince of thieves, depraved outlaw, or ‘a creation of the ballad-muse’ — Robin Hood has been seen in all these roles. But did he exist? Or was he born only in the ribald traditional songs of the fourteenth century, to be kept alive through the years in stage-plays, poems, novels and, latterly, the swashbuckling Hollywood movies of Fairbanks and Flynn?

Only recently have historians begun seriously to study the legend and its controversial historical origins, taking as their starting point the earliest known ballads. Fourteen of those thirty-eight surviving texts are faithfully reproduced here, with accompanying commentary and an additional selection of related poems and play extracts. Together they illustrate the development of the Robin Hood myth from his medieval portrayal as a common criminal; through his elevation on the Elizabethan stage to an unjustly dispossessed Saxon noble and his celebration in popular broadsheet songs; to the romantic idealization of pre-industrial ‘Merry England’ in the nostalgia of the nineteenth century.

In a new foreword, respected historians R.B. Dobson and J. Taylor have outlined the continued research since the original publication in 1976, ensuring this remains the most comprehensive and accessible guide available to the general reader.
The table of contents is really too long to post here--and I couldn't find a copy of it online--so here is the summary of it from

The genesis of Robin Hood; the medieval background; the legend since the middle ages; rymes of Robyn Hood; plays of Robin Hood; other outlaw songs; appendices: titles and first lines of Robin Hood ballads; note on the Sloane manuscript "Life of Robin Hood"; a selection of proverbs of Robin Hood; a select list of Robin Hood place-names.
This book makes for excellent reading and I'm glad I've held onto it for several years. When I first received it--I was in high school--it was too dense and not romantic enough for me. I wanted novels and romance, not scholarship. Now it better suits my interests and understanding after years of folklore and fairy tale reading. It's not light reading, but it's not too scholarly either, quite accessible for the armchair enthusiast. In other words, it's full of great content but not dry or verbose.

For further reference, here are two lists I have created on Amazon for the week: Robin Hood: Novels and Other Fiction and Robin Hood: Nonfiction. I will be highlighting several, but not all, of the titles on these lists during Robin Hood Week on this blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment