McKinley, Robin. The Outlaws of Sherwood (2003 ed.). 342 Pages. Firebird. $6.99
He never meant to be an outlaw. But a split second changed everything.
In the days of King Richard the Lionheart, a young forester named Robin sets out one morning for the Nottingham Fair, but he never arrives. By the end of the day a man lies dead in the King’s Forest, and Robin is an outlaw with a price on his head.
From then on, Robin is on the run, hiding deep in Sherwood Forest– but he is not alone. First joined by his friends Much and Marian, then by more and more people who despise the Norman lords who tax them blind, Robin builds a community of outlaws in a forest who risk the gallows and the sword for the sake of justice. As he does, he gains a new name: Robin Hood.
A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tips as the arrow sped on its way. It shivered in its flight, and fell, a little off course– just enough that the arrow missed the slender tree it was aimed at, and struck tiredly and low into the bole of another tree, twenty paces beyond the mark.
Robin sighed and dropped his bow. There were some people, he thought, who not only could shoot accurately– if the breeze hadn’t disturbed it, that last arrow would have flown true– but seemed to know when and where to expect small vagrant breezes, and to allow for them. He was not a bad archer, but his father had been a splendid one, and he was his father’s only child.
Robin Hood is a legend who changes with every telling. Every version has its own agenda, its own twists, and its own characterization. Some even throw in their own characters, to spice things up, and make it novel again. McKinley’s Robin Hood is a different sort; an unwilling champion, who becomes infamous simply by surviving, and becomes a legend by accident. He inherits an agenda from the beliefs of his fans, and this is what makes him so different.
Robin and Marian may be one of my earliest ships. It started with Disney’s Robin Hood, when you knew they were destined for each other, because they were both foxes, and continued through every version I’ve read since. Robin loves Marian, though he never says as much to anyone, and wants her to stay safe, even if it means staying away. Marian loves Robin, and persists with her visits because she cannot help herself, because she knows she is needed, and because she longs for the freedom the forest offers.
Perhaps my favorite plot which is unique to this version is that of Cecil– a boy who refuses to be stopped by anything. He becomes Little John’s protégé, dogging his mentor’s footsteps, and learning about survival. Cecil and Little John become very important toward the end of the book, when they are the only members of Robin’s band to attend the fateful tournament for the golden arrow. Every version does this scene differently, and it’s the sort of constant which allows comparisons between interpretations. This particular tournament is done well, and serves as a sort of climax to the novel.
All-in-all, I really like this version. I have not re-read it many times, because I read it very slowly. I am not sure why it takes me so much longer, but it is worth the time it takes. It gets a 4/5.