This instalment of the Dalek Game is for my battered, much-read copy of The Adventures of Robin Hood & his Merry Outlaws, which was “retold from the old ballads by J. Walker McSpadden and Charles Wilson, with illustrations by Howard Pyle and T.H. (Thomas Heath) Robinson”.
I am not sure if it is the illustrations, the adventures or the chapter titles I love most – “How Robin Hood turned butcher and entered the Sheriff’s service”, “How the Sheriff lost three good servants and found them again”, “How the Bishop went Outlaw-Hunting”. But this book was my first Robin Hood, and its witty Robin and brave Marian, playful (but inclined to nunnery-burning) John, battles in kitchens and marvellously archaic stylings are the Robin Hood tales my younger sister and I played in our subtropical garden in the few years we lived in Brisbane growing up, with swords my father made us and bows and arrows of bamboo and twigs, with arrowheads cut from palm bark, and a Sherwood Forest of tunnels through yellow and white jasmine. It helped that we lived two suburbs away from Sherwood, with its arboretum and Robin Hood bookstore (long gone).
The death of Robin is one of the scenes I read when I feel like breaking my own heart (also: the end of Prydain and Judy in Seven Little Australians), because, seriously, from Marian’s death abroad when “they had been married but five years”, and the death of Richard, who “came not again, and would never need his Royal Guard more” to the final arrow and “So died the body of Robin Hood…” there is nothing happy there. I’m a little bit choked up now. And I don’t believe it, really. Robin Hood can’t die.
Those years coloured all my Robin Hoods – although McSpadden and Wilson’s version strives to be so anchored in time and place, I read and played it out in Brisbane. In my mind, Robin Hood shifts about and shows up in unlikely places, as he should! In Arthur’s Britain in The Sword in the Stone (Robin playing with Marian’s hair as they sit in the forest!), in the great battle in Ivanhoe, in the post-Child-ballad forests of The Last Unicorn (and that scene is so beautifully written – whenever I read of the passing of those larger-than-life shadows through the forest I want to run after them too, shouting “Wait for me, Mr Hood! Wait for me!”), always foiling the Sheriff in 1066 and all that. Of the movies… oh, the gold lame is remarkable in the Errol Flynn version, and Alan Rickman is… Alan Rickman in the Kevin Costner version, and Men in Tights is hysterical, and the end credits were gorgeous in the Crowe/Blanchett version (I would have liked the movie a great deal if the order of some scenes had been rearranged), and although The Court Jester isn’t exactly Robin Hood I think Danny Kaye got it. But it is Disney’s animated fox Robin, quick and clever and charming and daring, and oddly (perfectly) against a backdrop of Roger Miller songs (the soundtrack of much of my childhood) who captured what I love most – that surreal, sweet, wild, quicksilver, allusive dream of Sherwood.