In today's world, where children have so many events organized for them, where the activities of childhood begin to mountain into a stack of soccer schedules and field trip permissions, you begin to wonder, perhaps, if anyone still plays at Robin Hood. Maybe I'm hopelessly dated, but I hope a few still do. I'd like to hope that if you let a child free to run or explore in the woods for just a little while, it is inevitable that before too long, he or she will take to the branches above, quarter staff in hand, and be on the lookout for the Sheriff of Nottingham. For the legend of Robin of Loxley, is a peculiarly enduing one and it has been a part of the public imagination for more than eight hundred years, and it would be a shame to loose it now.
Though there are competing theories as to who the real Robin Hood was, it is interesting to know that there is evidence to suggest that Robin may have been a real person. In the year 1160, a man named Robert Fitzooth was born near Loxley England. Fitzooth became the Earl of Huntington, and legend says, he also became Robin Hood. There is also an old parchment, dated about the year 1230 that list a fugitive from the law named Robert Hood. By the 1300s, songs and poems about Robin Hood began to spread far and wide in England. It was not until 1500, however, that the murderous thief Robin, was rewritten as one who stole from rich and gave to the poor—a heroic trait which more than any other, cemented Robin’s place as a folk hero. In the world of children’s books, Robin has been a fixture ever since, most famously in America perhaps in Howard Pyle’s lengthy 1883 release, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.
In the 20th century, Robin and his merry band of thieves have had their legend made fresh by dozens of film versions. The first Robin Hood blockbuster smash in the theatres was a silent film from 1922 staring Douglas Fairbanks. The swash-buckling heir to Fairbanks famous tumbles was Errol Flynn, and at the dawn of the sound era he too hit the big screen as Robin. Disney, of course, saw the potential in Robin Hood and the company produced two films, including the 1973 full-length animated version. In the 1990s, Kevin Costner, with a suspiciously American accent, took his turn in the branches of Sherwood.
Today, visitors to England are able to visit the real Sherwood Forest and play among the trees in themed walks and attractions. Despite 800 years of changing fancies in how the business of childhood should be conducted, the appeal of Robin Hood’s legend has not varied one bit. As Tom Sawyer and Joe Harper agree, they "would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever."
Copyright 2003 © Kevin Shortsleeve
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