My Robin Hood – a hero I’ve lived with for nearly 20 years
I first started thinking about Robin Hood as a protagonist for a series of historical fiction novels in 2002, when I had just got back from Afghanistan. And as I publish my ninth Outlaw Chronicles novel (cover below) featuring the Earl of Locksley, this seemed an appropriate time to muse on someone who has played such a large part in my life over the past eighteen years.
I’d been a freelance reporter on the Pakistan/Afghan border for a few action-packed months in the autumn and winter of 2001, and I came home, broke, exhausted and troubled about my future – unsure if I really wanted to risk my life for a pittance (£70 per day) in war zones. I liked the danger – coming back from a battlefield in one piece at the end of a day is a euphoric experience – but I knew the risks were terrifyingly high.
While I was deliberating in England, I took some shifts at The Times newspaper in London, to get a bit of money coming in, and started thinking about my long-term future. I decided that what I really wanted was to be a novelist, a historical novelist, and to write about the medieval period.
After that, Robin Hood jumped out of the pages of all the history books I was studying. I read as much about the man and the myth as I could, including some of the early ballads, and a picture emerged of a character who was very different to the Hollywood Robin portrayed by Errol Flynn (below, with Olivia de Havilland). The earlier Robin was a trickster, an unabashed thief and outlaw, a man who merrily killed the sheriff’s men. He was brutal and murderous and so were his loyal followers.
In one of the early ballads, Robin Hood and the Monk, c1450, Robin is informed on by a monk to the sheriff, who sends men to capture him. To punish the monk for “snitching”, Little John kills him, and Much the miller’s son kills a little page boy who witnessed the murder. These are not Merry Men, I thought, they behave like the Corleones, like proper gangsters.
And so my Robin Hood was born – a gangster who, like all gangsters, seeks money, and uses violence to maintain his power and prestige. But it became obvious to me that this kind of Robin Hood was not particularly likeable. What to do? So Robin was demoted. He was no longer the protagonist. A softer, younger, more chivalrous character was necessary – Alan Dale, who is the narrator of the Outlaw Chronicles, and is the real hero of the books.
Of course, in the final book in the series The Death of Robin Hood (below), the Earl of Locksley discovers the joy of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, but for most of the series, he’s a bit of a bastard. And I think he’s more interesting that way and closer to the real man, if there ever was one.
In the latest and ninth instalment of the Outlaw Chronicles, Robin Hood and the Caliph’s Gold, the Earl of Locksley is chasing after money once again; this time a fabulous glittering prize, greater than the dreams of money-lenders, as one character says – the Caliph’s Gold. Does Robin Hood get hold of the treasure in the end? To find out, you’ll just have to buy the book.