Chapter By Chapter features me reading one chapter of the selected book at the time and reviewing it as if I were reviewing an episode of a TV show or an issue of a comic. There will be spoilers if you haven’t read to the point I have, and if you’ve read further I ask that you don’t spoil anything further into the book. Think of it as read-along book club.
Remember, the book is in public domain. Download or read the ebook online legally and for free at Project Gutenberg, Google Books or the Internet Archive among other sites, or check out the audiobook from LibriVox. You can also use a print copy. In either case my copy may not match up with yours chapter-wise. Follow along with the very-long subtitle. For this chapter:
Telling How The Sheriff Of Nottingham Swore That He Would Deal Dole To Robin Hood. Also How He Made Three Trial Thereat, But Missed Each Time By A Good Bow’s Length.
In our last visit to Nottingham we saw Robin outsmart a tinker who wanted to serve him his warrant. Now I’m a bit confused. This wasn’t about the tinker bringing Robin in, just handing him a warrant. Technically Robin not getting the warrant doesn’t mean he’s automatically in jail. They still have to catch the guy and put him in irons. It’s not a teleportation signal, and it doesn’t suddenly not count that Robin took it from him (and probably destroyed it) rather than the tinker or the Sheriff’s other men “officially” serving him with it. He’s still not going so this feels more like legal procedure more than anything actually useful to their time, like actually arresting him.
Thus far Robin has gone from unwitting foil who had who could plead self-defense and into a guy who just likes to mess with the authorities. I’m not saying Robin is really the villain of this book but thus far he doesn’t quite resemble the hero we all know. I wonder what the second story will do to change this because based on the chapter title this is going to be another of Robin’s constantly chronicled outings. You’ll know which one I mean from the title, but I’m curious how it plays out given the more morally questionable Robin of the bygone era.
II: The Shooting Match At Nottingham Town
I wonder if this will go better for him than the last time he went to an archery competition. Remember, that’s how this all started.
Well, we all knew the Sheriff wasn’t going to be happy, but I think ordering the Tinker hanged as a traitor is a bit harsh. He decides to go to King Henry and Queen Eleanor themselves for help, but the plan backfires because the Sheriff brings enough armor-clad men with him that the King thinks him a fool that he can’t capture one small group of outlaws. Word of Robin’s deeds reached the King, who found the tales amusing until he heard about the King’s deer being shot…sure it was the one time, but the Sheriff doesn’t mention that…unless Robin and his crew are still doing it. Henry basically tells the Sheriff that if he can’t capture one lone outlaw with all the armored men at his disposal it might be time to open the job ads.
Two things of lore interest show up here. The first is Queen Eleanor, King Henry’s wife here and the mother of King Richard and Prince John, the two royals usually tied to Robin Hood’s story. Did the legends of Robin hit the sliding timeline long before comics? We already know much of Robin’s history is not what we know it today. No “of Locksley”, no stolen lands by greedy rulers. Also, the Sheriff refers to his own party as “merry men” on their way home as the Sheriff comes up with a plan, and thus far the word has not been capitalized to describe Robin’s crew. Usually writers treat “Merry Men” as the name of Robin’s men but here it’s more like a term for a bunch of dudes in good spirits or something. I would love to see an actual Robin Hood historian come across this series of articles and fill in some gaps when it comes to Robin Hood lore versus how he’s written in modern times.
The plan is of course one we all know: hold an archery contest with a gold arrow as the prize, draw out Robin Hood by his ego, and then nail him. Robin does hear of the tournament but rather than his own cunning telling him “it’s a trap” (most likely in Admiral Ackbar’s voice since this is the internet) but David of Doncaster, whom we were introduced to last chapter of this part, overhearing from one of the Sheriff’s men that it was a trap. It is still Robin’s plan to hide his men and take on a disguise of his own like they were ninjas (actual ninjas, if you recall from Gaijin Goombah’s Which Ninja videos I’ve posted here, would more often disguise themselves as regular people and only ran around in those dark blue pajamas) in order to attempt to claim the prize. I swear the man doesn’t learn from his mistakes, he just lucks out in avoiding the consequences. Wouldn’t it irk the Sheriff more if he didn’t show, thus making him waste all that gold on the arrow and whatever other arrangements he had setting the tournament up, than walking right in and fooling him? Either way you’re messing with the guy, but he wants that reward for winning the match. Like I said, this all started as Robin was walking to an archer competition.
Now you’d think I wouldn’t have to go over the shooting match itself. Despite the lack of Prince John (who in this version should be a baby if he’s even been conceived by her royal womb by now) this story is in virtually every telling of Robin Hood, but as we’ve seen these early tales don’t always match up to what we’re told nowadays. Yes, Robin comes in disguise per usual, but there are some modifications from the later stories we’re privy to. For example there is no sign of Maid Marian, who is usually at the proceedings in hopes of further drawing out Robin hood. We’ve seen not a mention of her since the prologue as a matter of fact. Isn’t she the love of Robin’s life according to modern versions? Since the original story dates from 1883 the readership might be more aware of some of the more famous archers in this piece, one of whom, Adam O’ The Dell, actually drops out at the last heat of the tournament because Robin’s final shot (in his traditional eyepatch and rags disguise, coming up with a dye for his blond beard) is just that good. However, that old bit about splitting the third opponent’s arrow right down the middle, a lore staple disproved by the Mythbusters as even being possible, doesn’t happen here. The third surviving participant of the tournament, the Sheriff’s own top archer Gilbert O’ The Red (sometimes shortened to Gil) shoots prior to Robin and is just shy of the center. Robin hits dead center, the only damage to Gil’s arrow being one of the feathers on the side. Somewhere along the line that was embellished.
Also embellished is how the Sheriff learns Robin’s identity. While a patch of underarm hair is caught by some of the crowd during that shot, the Sheriff doesn’t immediately realize it’s Robin because of the great shot. It’s not until he’s having dinner with his dame (the first time I heard of him having a wife or even a girlfriend) that Little John and Will Scarlet send him a poem by arrow mail revealing it was Robin, a last laugh at the Sheriff’s expense. In fact Robin’s identity isn’t revealed until they start celebrating back at camp. Of course now we all know who Robin was dressed as, but the only disguises we were told about were of the others. Robin Hood’s disguise isn’t revealed to the readers until they’re back at camp. Were the whole story not as infamous as it is today you wouldn’t know Robin hadn’t chickened out as the Sheriff accuses him of until the scene at the camp. That’s some good writing although now it’s kind of spoiled for anyone who has heard of the character since they try less and less to hide it now given how famous the story is. And yet we all know the tale wrong. Nice going, Hollywood. If one of those book-to-movie adaptation shows on YouTube compared the movies and TV shows to the classic stories they’d have a field day. I should also note that this chapter has long explanations but only as long as they need to be to set a scene. So it’s getting better already.
And we aren’t even done with part first. There’s one more tale of the Sheriff’s failures to snag Robin Hood before we finally move to part second. This one may or may not be one we all know but it’s not as famous. I have seen stories where Robin and friends had to rescue one of their own. I wonder how this version will go?
Next time: Will Stutley Rescued By His Companions