It took me rather a long time to read this because it was so delightful, I didn't want it to end. And, to be truthful, I did not read the epilogue. When I was young, maybe under ten, I made a vow never to read the end of a Robin Hood story that ended with him dying. That way I can always think of him still merrily having bold adventures somewhere in the wide world. And so, I never have. I only know he dies at the end of many retellings because the one I was reading when I made that vow had a chapter called "The Death of Robin Hood," and I couldn't bear to read it.
So imagine my joy when the epilogue of this book began with these words: "And now, dear friend -- you who have journeyed with me in all these merry doings, -- I will not bid you follow me further, but will drop your hand here with a "good den," if you wish it" (p 319). Pyle himself acknowledged that people like me won't want to read this part, and he readily excuses us from doing so. What an obliging person!
Okay, but anyway, I loved this book. Dearly. It is, at the moment, my favorite retelling -- even surpassing the Henry Gilbert, which I read so often in my youth. I might even have to rearrange my list of favorite books so this can be probably in the top ten.
This of course is a pretty basic retelling of Robin Hood's adventures, though I was surprised that Maid Marian is really not in it at all. Robin mentions her once or twice in a vague way, but she never appears at all. However, Little John and Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet and Will Stutely and Alan a Dale are all here. And the Sheriff of Nottingham is the main antagonist. Guy of Gisborne only shows up at the tail end in one chapter, and is swiftly dispatched. And Prince John isn't around at all -- for most of the book, King Henry and Queen Eleanor are on the throne, and then at the very end, King Henry dies and King Richard arrives. It isn't until after the main book ends that Robin goes crusading, unlike many versions that have him coming home from the wars and becoming an outlaw then.
I especially love the characterization of Robin Hood. As King Henry said toward the beginning, "He is a saucy, rebellious varlet, yet, I am fain to own, a right merry soul withal" (p. 32). He is a cheerful, happy man, not given to brooding even when he accidentally kills a man and has to go into hiding at the very beginning of the book. He is repentant of that killing, and mentions several times how it gives him sorrow, but overall, he's happy-go-lucky. As it says elsewhere, "it took but little to tickle Robin's heart into merriment" (p. 222-23). Doesn't he sound fun to hang out with?
I have lots of favorite lines, so I'm going to share many of them here to show you the book's delightful, joyous flavor, which is much of what makes me love it.
Particularly Good Bits:
As for mine host, he knew how to keep a still tongue in his head, and to swallow his words before they passed his teeth, for he knew very well which side of his bread was spread with butter, for Robin and his band were the best of customers, and paid their scores without having them chalked up behind the door (p. 26).
"Hold, friend!" cried Robin to the Miller; whereupon he turned slowly, with the weight of the bag upon his shoulder, and looked at each in turn all bewildered, for though a good stout man his wits did not skip like roasting chestnuts (p. 119).
Now happenings so come upon us in this world that the serious things of this world become so mixed up with the merry things that our life is all of a jumble of black and white, as it were, like the boards of checkered black and white upon which country folk play draughts at the inn beside the blazing fire of a winter's night (p. 123).
So passed the seasons then, so pass they now, and so they will pass in time to come, whilst we come and go like leaves of the tree that fall and are soon forgotten (p. 174).
"Gaffer Swanthold speaks truly when he saith, 'Better a crust with content than honey with a sour heart" (p. 208).
If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for mild violence.
This is my 23rd book read and reviewed for The Classics Club. I'm almost halfway done with my challenge!
Because I'm spending a year reading about Robin Hood, I treated myself to something special back in May: a handmade Robin Hood-themed bookmark! I got it from the Etsy shop BookNiche and I like it a whole lot. Do check out their shop if you like thong bookmarks! There are nearly a hundred of them in stock right now, all different and all nifty.