Books: Hood

I’ve enjoyed reading the stories of Robin Hood, retold by various authors, since my father gave me Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood when I was growing up. (I guess my father must have liked that book; he gave it to our older son when he was growing up also.) I’ve also enjoyed the novels by Stephen Lawhead, since someone loaned me a copy of In the Hall of the Dragon King when I was in my mid-twenties.

So when I discovered that Lawhead was working on a trilogy retelling the legend of Robin Hood, naturally I wanted to read it. I waited until I could get a boxed set – I had plenty of other books to read in the meantime. And then life got busy, and the boxed set sat on a shelf, until I finally pulled out the first book, Hood, several months ago.

It’s a good book, full of fascinating historical detail and interesting characters. But it’s not what I expected. I kept waiting for Robin Hood to show up, but the story continued to revolve around a Welsh boy, heir to his father’s kingdom of Elfael until Norman invaders take over. Sometimes I let the book sit for weeks or even months before I picked it up again.

Eventually I realized that this young man was Lawhead’s Robin Hood, although his name is Bran ap Brychan, later dubbed Rhi Bran y Hud (Rhi Bran means King Raven). He does become an outlaw, and he and his people take refuge from the Norman oppressors within an immense forest, and they do rob a wagon train carrying a load of gold. Bran had originally hoped to use this gold to buy back his kingdom, but this hope proves futile. The Normans have no intention of dealing honorably with the Welsh, so he and his people will remain outlaws.

At the end of the novel, Lawhead provides a section explaining why he chose to set his story in eleventh century Wales, rather than late twelfth century England. His arguments make good sense, and his Rhi Bran y Hud may well be closer to the original “Robin Hood” that inspired the legends. It’s just not anything like the stories I’m used to – not so much a retelling of the Robin Hood legends as a reimagining of the entire body of legends.

There is a fat friar nicknamed Tuck (easier to pronounce than Aethelfrith, and perhaps more descriptive of him than “nobility and peace”). There is Iwan, battlechief to Bran’s father and his own close friend, nicknamed Little John (Iwan means John) by Friar Tuck (though, unlike Tuck, Iwan continues to be known by his given name). There is a young woman named Mérian whom Bran had a fancy for, before the Norman invaders upended their lives. And the next book in the trilogy is Scarlet, so at least one more of the traditional cast will be included.

Perhaps now that I know what to expect, I can enjoy Lawhead’s richly reimagined story of a legendary outlaw on its own merits, without comparing it to the stories I have read before.

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