Robin Hood: This is an excellent series

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsRobin Hood by Neil Smith MYTHS AND LEGENDS series OspreyRobin Hood by Neil Smith

Robin Hood is one of the generally excellent series of MYTHS AND LEGENDS by Osprey Publishing, this one written by Neil Smith. It follows the same general format as the others, with a brief intro, retellings of the stories, examination of historical background to the stories and the setting, a brief look at the legend in modern multi-media retellings, all while interspersing throughout some sidebars to fill in some non-essential but often quite helpful and interesting information. Finally, the series almost always has some wonderful artwork associated with each book. Unfortunately, as I had an early e-book copy, I can’t say for sure how the art is in Robin Hood, but going simply based on prior works, I would imagine it is top notch (there are some very good line drawings in my copy, and references to some of the included artists, including probably the best known — Howard Pyle).

The introduction is a nice, quick overview. The legend retellings include some of the best-known ones (the archery contest, the fight with Little John on the bridge, the river crossing with Friar Tuck, Guy of Gisborne) and some others that people might not be quite as familiar with. However, even the “familiar” ones might be slightly different than what one recalls, as there are variant versions of many of these stories. The retelling section closes, of course, with Robin’s death at the abbey. The stories themselves are well told, reading as actual tales rather than summaries. I’d say they are one of the better examples of retellings in the series.

Following the stories, we get a look at some possible historical sources for the actual Robin, though it is consistently made clear that these men were more likely to have had their exploits coopted into Robin’s stories rather than being an “actual” Robin Hood. Smith then marches us through the best-known Merry Men (and one woman), explaining when they arrived in the stories and how they met Robin Hood, discussing their role in the tales, and then recapping some of their portrayals in modern film and TV. He then does the same for Robin’s villains, including the Sheriff of Nottingham, Guy of Gisborne, and a few others. After the historical background, where Smith also does a nice job of giving some larger context (writing for instance of the Baron Battles or the Crusades), he moves into the modern era and the various portrayals of the legend on big and small screen, focused on the USA and England. This is probably the sketchiest part of the book, but there’s so much material it’s hard to see how he could have delved into it in any greater depth and keep to Osprey’s goal of concision (a good decision I’d say).

The sidebars seemed fewer in number than in prior works, but I can’t say for sure if that’s true or not and I can’t speak to their placement as the ebook/Kindle format bounced some of them around in funny fashion. I will say I found them useful, especially for the more concrete details that often get overlooked, such as a mini-essay describing the weapons Robin Hood carried (especially the type of bow) and how he would have used them.

I’ve read several of the MYTHS AND LEGENDS books by now, and I’ve found only one of them relatively weak. They make great quick overviews for anyone interested in knowing more and good starting points for further research. They’re also excellent for middle school and high school students. Recommended.

Publication Date: January 21, 2014. From the early ballads that established his stories to the later additions of Little John, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian, and Alan-a-Dale, this book explores how the legend of Robin Hood grew. He robbed from the rich to give to the poor, or so the legend goes. But who was the outlaw known as Robin Hood? How did his legend develop and how has it changed over the passing centuries? This new book in the Osprey Myths and Legends series takes a detailed look at Britain’s most famous outlaw. It also enters the perilous world of Robin Hood scholarship with a critical review of the case for a ‘historical’ Robin Hood and a review of the mostly likely candidates. A perfect primer for young and old, this book covers both the fact and the fiction of Robin Hood.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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