Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography

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The legend of Robin Hood has captured our imaginations for more than 500 years. He's that trickster-like character, a roving outlaw and nobleman who robs from the rich, gives to the poor, and is one of the most romanticized figures in English literature.

In this mythic biography, Stephen Knight traces the origins of the legend, providing invaluable insights into why Robin Hood is still such an essential and evolving legend in our culture and literature.

Here, Knight presents many of the truths and fallacies of Robin Hood, as he explores our conceptions and representations of the legend. Beyond just an entertaining book, this work offers an unforgettable look at how a legend is created.

Of course, we always come back to the origins of the tale. Was Robin Hood ever "real"?

The Reality of a Legend

We may never know for sure whether or not Robin Hood was a real historical figure. Knight draws from Wyntoun, Bower and other medieval writers to suggest the view that Robin Hood existed in the same way as King Arthur, Herne the Hunter, the devil, the saints, etc. These figures are enduring forces in our culture, and thus can be said to exist. But other scholars want a more definitive answer.

Knight follows the various Robin Hood searches, which have culminated in reports by L.D.V. Owen (1936), Robert Crook (1984), J.C. Holt (1960), Joseph Hunter (1852), J.R. Maddicott (1978), and others.

Of course, as Knight says, the assumption that Robin Hood was real has made life extremely difficult for historians.

"It is far more likely," Knight says, "that this social bandit is a special creation of a specific context... and that the play-game figure is the original Robin Hood, real only in the sense that he is the focus of a real myth."

The question of Robin Hood's existence may never have a definitive answer. The Robin Hood legend has now taken on a life of its own, influenced by other outlaws like William Wallace. In fact, "The resemblance between Robin Hood and William Wallace is striking: both are provoked to outlawry by legal violence, both go disguised as a potter, and both command substantial numbers of well-disciplined men." So, the legend continues--an ever-evolving tradition in our culture and literature.

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