recess radio program

07/19/06
Robin Hood Festival
    by John Cech

Brief Sound Clip:

That's Roger Miller, playing the Dukes-of-Hazard-style minstrel Allan a Dale, with one of the songs from the 1973 cartoon version of Robin Hood. In Sherwood, Oregon, this weekend, they're holding their annual Robin Hood Festival, complete with an archery contest that pits a group of bowmen from Nottingham, England, against a band of our native Sherwood's merry men. For some six hundred years now, there have been celebrations of various kinds for the English outlaw turned champion of the downtrodden and the oppressed.

The early legends and ballads about Robin Hood were part of the vital folk tradition of England, though the church and the ruling classes tried to banish the stories themselves because Robin was a far too threatening and revolutionary a figure for them. But the tales about the noble bandit, like the fairy tales they sometimes resemble, took on a life of their own as they were passed around market places and inns, where travelers democratically warmed their feet together by the fire.

Today, like fairy tales, the Robin Hood stories belong almost exclusively to childhood, and to children's books in particular. The American author and illustrator, Howard Pyle began the revival of interst in 1883 with his The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (an elegant volume that is still available in an inexpensive paperback). More recently, there have been several new books about the fabled bandit, including a rerelease of Paul Creswick's Robin Hood from the 1930s and Robin Hood, A Classic Illustrated Edition by E. Charles Vivian, which retells the stories with pictures from the 15th to the 20th centuries, culminating in the amazing paintings of Robin Hood from the 1930s, done by Howard Pyle's student, N. C. Wyeth.

With the exceptions of the Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner movies, the fate of the Robin Hood stories shows just how important and urgent the links to childhood are for us all. Like the mythical figure himself, who is banished into the woods, that's where adults tend to locate acts of noble derring-do -- in the land of fantasy, which is one of childhood's places. Here the forces of evil, greed, and corruption can be vanquished; here the prize can be won with the miraculous, final shot that splits the arrow that is already in the bull's eye; here one can dream large.

Copyright 2006 John Cech

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