Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
I’ve never read a book about Robin Hood before. I think that most of what I know about him comes from the cartoons that I used to watch on TV as a kid. I have a vague idea of his story but I don’t know the details. So it was interesting to pick up Robin McKinley’s The Outlaws of Sherwood and read about one of the most popular thieves in fiction. This is an oldie but goodie that I bought from Better World Books. I would’ve probably read it earlier if the book was available here because Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors. Also, Angie has this book on her Beloved Bookshelf and that made me want to read the book more.
Here’s the summary from Robin McKinley’s website:
Robin is an apprentice forester in the woods of Nottingham, but the sheriff’s men harass him at every opportunity. When he accidentally kills a man in self-defense, he flees into Sherwood Forest, knowing he will live the rest of his days as a hunted man.
But his friends believe the disaster is also an opportunity: an opportunity for a few stubborn Saxons to gather in secret under Robin’s leadership and strike back against the arrogance and brutality of the Norman overlords.
Robin McKinley’s Robin Hood surprised me in the sense that he didn’t behave the way I expected someone who leads a band of outlaws to behave. He was very much a reluctant leader from start to finish. I imagined him to be a merry kind of thief, eager to be an outlaw and passionate about leading his people against their oppressors. Instead, we get a Robin who’s very practical and whose primary concern is to protect the people he’s responsible for. When he accidentally kills a man, he was resigned to his fate and he didn’t even want to bring down others with him. But his friends are steadfast and loyal and they insisted on sticking by him. Another surprising thing is that Robin’s not much of an archer in this retelling. Marian is the one who can direct an arrow wherever she wants it to go. Can I just say that I love how there’s always a strong heroine in any McKinley book? This one is no exception and Marian is such a wonderful character. Against Robin’s wishes, she leads a double life as an outlaw in Sherwood Forest and as a lady in the town of Nottingham. Go Marian! Some of the other outlaws – like Little John, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck – are fully developed and their individual stories are highlighted just as much as Robin’s is.
I believe The Outlaws of Sherwood is a good literary introduction to Robin Hood’s story (or maybe I’m just biased because I love Robin McKinley) and I hope more people get to read this. Who wouldn’t love a story about a group of people fighting for a better life by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor? It’s one of the best kinds of stories out there. Yay for thieves who believe in a cause! Thieves in fiction are awesome. There’s also a bit of romance in the book but I think the theme of friendship is much more evident. It’s a quiet kind of story and the writing reminded me of Chalice and Pegasus even if those two are fantasy and this one is historical fiction. I recommend this book to all fans of Robin McKinley, Robin Hood and historical fiction. Sorry for all the Robins in there, I hope it doesn’t create confusion. I already have a copy of Lady of the Forest by Jennifer Roberson on hand and I’m eager to see the similarities and differences between these two Robin Hood retellings.