Robin McKinley,
The Outlaws of Sherwood
(Greenwillow, 1988; Ace, 1989)

In most stories about England's most famous outlaw, Robin Hood is presented with a wink and a grin, a skillful and noble-hearted Saxon hero who flouts authority and tweaks the noses of his Norman overlords with blatant delight.

In The Outlaws of Sherwood, Robin McKinley gives us another look at the famous Hood. He's not quite so dashing, charming or bold; he's a young man caught up in an unwinnable circumstance and, with the help of his friends, makes the best of it -- and helps a lot of people along the way. Heck, he's not even all that good with a bow.

But McKinley's take of the hero is all the more believable for those very reasons. She strips away the legend and finds a living, breathing man who was much more likely to exist at that time and place in history. (McKinley, in her afterword, has several cogent points to make about Hood's real place in history and legend.) Her take on Robin's supporting characters -- Marian, Little John, Much, Scarlet and Tuck, among others -- likewise hits the bullseye, and she provides a detailed look at the realities of an outlaw's life in England's deep forest.

That's not to say the book is perfect. Dialogue, for instance, sometimes sounds scripted and stiff. Action lags on occasion (although it also kicks into high gear on several occasions that are well worth the wait). And the ending doesn't entirely sit well with me, either. But, despite a few failings, The Outlaws of Sherwood remains one of my favorite versions of the Robin Hood myth. McKinley has crafted an outlaw worth cheering.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 16 July 2005

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