Authors: Matthew Cody
And lastly to my first-reader and wife, Alisha, who didn’t know she was getting an author when she married me but, I think, has adjusted nicely regardless.
A question that some of you may be asking yourselves at the end of this tale is “But is this the
Robin Hood story?”
Well, as it reads on the copyright page, this is a work of fiction. What’s more, this is a work of fiction based upon a legend, which is itself a work of fiction. And while there is some evidence that there may have indeed once been a bandit named Robin Hood, I’m just not all that interested in that guy. I’m interested in Robin Hood the legend. So much so that I decided to write a book about him.
I will admit I was intimidated at first. Tackling such an iconic figure as Robin Hood invites comparison. What if I got him wrong? But I quickly discovered in my research that the character of Robin Hood had changed drastically over the centuries. The more I looked, the more Robins I found scattered throughout history.
Some of the earliest versions of Robin were nothing like the good-natured, green-tights-wearing hero that exists in popular culture today. Robin Hood tales from the fourteenth century portrayed the bandit as a freeman who robbed from the rich—and gave to himself! Later versions introduced the idea of Robin as more of a revolutionary hero, fighting a corrupt and tyrannical government. But it wasn’t until the sixteenth century, when certain people were less comfortable with the idea of such an antiestablishment hero,
that Robin was recast as a displaced nobleman, a bandit by necessity, yet still loyal to good King Richard.
All this research filled me with a Robin-like sense of bravado—a swashbuckling derring-do. I was free to do whatever I wanted! I could add my voice to the tale without worrying about tarnishing the definitive version
because there was no definitive version
There was only one problem: The more I read about Robin, the less I saw him as my hero. The quality that I connected to in so many of the stories was the world-weariness of the outlaw leader, and world-weariness is just not a strong selling point in the world of middle-grade fiction.
But I still had a story I wanted to tell. My research had given me permission (or so I felt) to tell it as I saw fit, but who would tell it for me? If not Robin, then who?
Enter Will Scarlet. He was one of Robin’s core Merry Men, and yet I’d never really had a strong sense of the character other than liking the name. And just as history had given us multiple Robins, there were half again as many different Wills. Scarlet-clad dandy, vengeance-driven widower, even Robin’s young cousin—these have all been Will Scarlet at one time or another. Unlike, say, Little John, whose very name conjures up a specific and archetypal image of the gentle giant, the character of Will Scarlet has always been something of a blank slate. He shifted and molded himself to fit the needs of the particular Robin of the day, without much of a story himself. Poor guy.
Which is where it all clicked for me, where my mind started to race with possibilities. My Will could be young. There would be no world-weariness about him—in fact, he would just now be discovering his world. His journey from sheltered innocent to fighter for social justice would be the catalyst that started a legend. He could turn a drunken outlaw into a hero, by finding the hero in himself.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide if I succeeded, but I am happy
that I found my Will. And I’m pleased that I could, with my little book, contribute to a legend that has been in the telling for seven hundred years or more. I got to add another Robin, another Much, another Little John, another Sheriff and, best of all, another Will Scarlet to the mix.
So back to our original question: Is this the real Robin Hood? Maybe. I doubt it. But I guess he could be. I think the mysterious longbowman of the book’s epilogue puts it best:
“Who’s to say I’m the real Robin Hood?.… And who’s to say all the tales are true?”
New York City,
October 8, 2013