Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Robin Hood Week: Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography by Stephen Knight

Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography

Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography by Stephen Knight is a great place to start reading about the Robin Hood Legend.  It won the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies.  It has been well-reviewed by scholars but is accessible to the armchair reader, too. 

Book description from the publisher:

The only figure in the Dictionary of National Biography who is said never to have existed, Robin Hood has taken on an air of reality few historical figures achieve. His image in various guises has been put to use as a subject of ballads, nationalist rallying point, Disney cartoon fox, greenclad figure of farce, tabloid fodder, and template for petty criminals and progressive political candidates alike.

In this engaging and deeply informed book Stephen Knight looks at the different manifestations of Robin Hood at different times and places in a mythic biography with a thematic structure. The best way to get at the essence of the Robin Hood myth, Knight believes, is in terms not of chronological and generic progression but of the purposes served by heroes. Each of the book's four central chapters identifies a particular model of the hero, mythic or biographic, which dominated in certain periods and in certain genres, and explores their interrelations, their implications, and their historical and sociopolitical contexts.

The cover blurbs with some impressive names:

"Stephen Knight's astute, readable, and thoroughly researched analysis of the whole history of the Robin Hood phenomenon follows the hero from Sherwood bandit to Hollywood star, leader of an all-male band to object of feminist parody, Crusader to puppet frog. This is a book to be read by everyone interested in the growth of the Robin Hood story, and from which future scholars should take their bearings." —Helen Cooper, Oxford University

"Stephen Knight's book about the noble-hearted outlaw has caught the spirit of its subject: fresh, forthright, engaged, witty. It is also richly packed with insights and scholarship. Robin Hood was a hero five hundred years ago; he's still undimmed, a most compelling version of the male hero." —Marina Warner, historian and novelist

"Stephen Knight is the premier Robin Hood scholar in the world. Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography sets out the remarkable links and patterns that Knight was the first to trace or call attention to. It makes available all the rich and often surprising details, plots, and themes that increasingly attract writers, visual artists, and those interested in entertainment, children's literature, theatrical traditions, sociology, and folklore." —Thomas Hahn, University of Rochester
And as always, here is the Table of Contents:

List of Figures ix
Introduction xi
Note on References xxi

Chapter 1: Bold Robin Hood

Bold and Strange 1
Glimpses of an Outlaw 3
Gatherings of Robin Hood 8
Rhymes of Robin Hood 13
A Proud Outlaw 21
Garlands for Robin Hood 33

Chapter 2: Robert, Earl of Huntington

Toward a Lord 44
Dramatizing Gentrification 49
The Noble Earl on Stage 52
A Lady for a Lord 58
Lord Robert's Origin 63
Pastoral Lordship 65
Gentrified Broadsides 73
A Real Lord Robin 83
A Gentleman on the Eighteenth-Century Stage 89

Chapter 3: Robin Hood Esquire

Transmitting an Outlaw 94
Romantic Yeoman 98
Lord of the Forest 119
A Novel Outlaw 124
Outside the Mainstream 142

Chapter 4: Robin Hood of Hollywood

The Outlaw on Screen 150
A Visual Image 150
Varying the Pattern 162
Alternative Screen Robins 170
Robin Hood in Fiction 174
A Schoolchild's Hero 174
The Outlaw in Historical Fiction 182
Marian Takes Over 185
History and Myth 193
Outlaw Identifications 193
Outlaw Politics 198
A Forest Spirit 202
How Many Robin Hoods? 204

Notes 211
Works Cited 231
Index 241
Finally, "Stephen Knight is Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University. Arguably the world's foremost authority on Robin Hood, he is the author of Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw and many other books, including several on the outlaw tradition."

So if you are looking for just one book about Robin Hood, this would be an excellent choice.

Also 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.


  1. Might pick this up some time. Stumbled across some very interesting articles he wrote online last week after reading the less-than inspirational 1950s book 'The True History of Robin Hood'. I look forward to seeing how you fill a whole week with Robin Hood!


  2. I studied Robin Hood and the Arthur myths with Stephen at Cardiff and he's great fun in person, a fantastic teacher! I can thoroughly recommend his book, as his writing style is much the same as his speaking style, very accessible to everyone.