I WAS FACED with the problem of how to depict Robin Hood in the comic strip sections of my walks booklet (Walks in Robin Hood’s Yorkshire), so at a workshop session at this weekend’s Robin Hood Scholars Conference I’m interested to see how some of the assembled academics would picture the outlaw.
Despite protestations that they never draw, I get a group together. In our first sketch, we need to dispense with the traditional storybook image of Robin; a feather in his cap, a bow in hand and a quiver of arrows over his shoulder (left), wearing a Lincoln green costume with scalloped edges to his cowl.
My version is on the right (as it is in the examples below). Barbara says I have a tendency to make all my characters look like me! I certainly ended up with a lot of bearded characters with straggly hair when imagining the outlaws, earls, kings and peasants of the medieval world in my Robin Hood booklet.
The ‘Real’ Robin Hood
Next we imagine Robin as he might have been if he really was a historical character (as I believe he was); an outlaw living rough in the greenwood, quite a contrast to the dashing hero of storybooks and the movies.
My group of post-graduate academics get more expressive in their drawings when they’re allowed to get away from the storybook cliche.
The moody Robin (left) has a brooding physical presence. I definitely wouldn’t like to meet him as I walked through Sherwood Forest.
Robin & Reynaert
With yesterday’s talk on Reynaert the Fox in mind, I ask them to attempt an atavistic Robin, going back to the ancient roots of legend. They can draw their character anywhere on a sliding scale between a wily fox-like human Robin to an anthropomorphic character like the fox hero of Disney’s animated version Robin Hood.
Animal traits can help when designing a human character. The Robin Hood meets The Simpson’s figure (above, far left) is a cheeky, cheerful character – you can imagine his cute cartoon voice – a contrast to the Robin/Reynaert figure (right) who occupies the dappled shade of the forests we visit in fable and folk tale. I think he’s from a dreamlike Jungian world; from the animalistic depths of our storytelling collective subconscious.
Robin can be an enigma, something of a blank at the still centre of the legends. At the start of The Gest he’s just there, with no explanation of his origins, leaning against a tree in Barnsdale Forest. It’s often the other characters who actually do things. Robin can’t be Robin without his friends and, of course, his foes . . .
I’m not alone in feeling that, in most of the movies and television adaptions, the Sheriff is my favourite character. Someone suggests this is because the role of the Sheriff always requires a good actor; Alan Rickman, Keith Allan and, in the 1950s television series that I grew up with, the urbane Alan Wheatley, bring a great deal more than pantomime villain to the role.
Henry de Faucumberg, the 14th century Sheriff of Nottingham who features in my version of Robin Hood was evidently an able administrator as he is one of only two men in history to be, at different times in his life, appointed both Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Sheriff of Yorkshire. As commander of the King’s ‘Yorkshire Array’ he played a decisive role in the downfall of Thomas of Lancaster after the Battle of Boroughbridge, an event which resulted in ‘my’ Robin being declared an outlaw. And yet, in his early years in Wakefield, Faucumberg was fined for stealing wood from the lord of the manor’s barn and of refusing to take the oath in the town’s Burgess Court. An intriguing character.
My thanks to the group for allowing me to feature their drawings here.