Back to top

Robin Hood: Development of a Popular Hero


These pages were originally prepared as guide to an exhibition (5 September 2006 - 19 January 2007) in the Rossell Hope Robbins Library at the University of Rochester. They present, in broad strokes, the development of Robin Hood from his origins in medieval literature through his modern depictions. The purpose of the exhibit, and the adaptation of this guide, is to give an overview of the character and a sense of his pervasiveness in modern culture, not to give a full history of Robin Hood (for which, see J. C. Holt, Robin Hood, or Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw, among others, in the Select Bibliography).

Preface: Was Robin Hood Real?

Introductions to Robin Hood:

    A Popular Hero: The Nineteenth Century
    In Pyle's Wake: The Twentieth Century
    Robin Hood in the Media
    Two Roads: Scholars & Popular Authors
    Robin Hood Everywhere

"Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne" excerpts

Selected Films and Select Bibliography
'I kan noght parfitly my Paternoster as þe preest it syngeþ,
But I kan rymes of Robyn Hood and Randolf Erl of Chestre,
Ac neiþer of Oure Lord ne of Oure Lady þe leeste þat euere was maked.'

['I don't know perfectly my Our Father as the priest sings it;
I know rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolf Earl of Chester,
But neither of Our Lord nor of Our Lady the least that ever was written.']

                             William Langland, Piers Plowman, B.V.395-97
                             (ed. A. V. C. Schmidt, p. 230; my translation)

In this our spacious Isle, I thinke there is not one,
But he hath heard some talke of him [Robin Hood] and little Iohn;
And to the end of time, the Tales shall ne'r be done,
Of Scarlock, George a Greene, and Much the Millers sonne
Of Tuck, the merry Frier, which many a Sermon made,
In praise of Robin Hood, his Out-lawes, and their Trade.

                            Michael Drayton, from Poly-Olbion [1622], song 26, lines 311-16


Preface: Was Robin Hood Real?

Louis Rhead drawing of Robin Hood, 1912

Robin Hood is a part of our popular culture, and has been for over 600 years. This outlaw of medieval England has seemingly appeared everywhere. Medieval chroniclers like Andrew of Wyntoun (c. 1420) and Walter Bower (c. 1440) happily accepted Robin’s existence, and his wide appeal led to brief mentions in various texts. Scholars have long searched for the origin of Robin Hood, for an identifiable, historical outlaw in the Sherwood or Barnsdale area. The opening quote from Langland’s Piers Plowman (c. 1377) is Robin’s first appearance in a text, be it literary or historical, and it is not a shining reference. Sloth suggests songs of Robin Hood are widely known in taverns, implying he is a popular figure without a literary pedigree. Clearly, Robin Hood is of no importance to the aristocracy, but he holds some currency in popular circles. Sloth’s familiarity with drinking songs about Robin Hood, but utter lack of knowledge of things spiritual, also reflects the concern of the Church for the souls of people who likely attended mass grudgingly, but could readily recite popular songs. Later texts similarly present Robin as a popular figure, and few strictly medieval documents featuring Robin survive.

Robin and his fellows were a popular subject in early printed texts, with their low price and wide appeal, and it is in the early days of printing that he finally comes into his own as a literary figure. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, antiquarians were especially invested in finding the sources of their national culture and heroes, and Robin proved to be of special interest to the English. They not only reviewed these early plays and poems for clues to the historical identity of the figure, but also scoured historical and legal records to find any information that may have led to a proof for his identity. Despite the efforts of authors like P. Valentine Harris (see case 5), no verifiable Robin Hood emerged from the historical record. Today, most scholars accept Robin as a literary invention, based in part on other figures like Gamelyn and Fouke fitz Waryn, as well as real-life outlaws. Any search for the ideal Robin Hood, a dispossessed noble who robs from the rich to give to the poor, is doomed to failure. That Robin is a modern figure whose individual characteristics were added in different stages, which are roughly represented in this exhibit.

Introductions to Robin Hood

It seems as though every schoolchild knows who Robin Hood is: a noble outlaw in Sherwood Forest who fights the oppressive evil of Prince (or King) John by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. The earliest appearances of Robin are at odds with this romantic notion, as Robin is a violent yeoman who steals from the dishonest and helps those whom he pleases. Perhaps the one constant feature of the legend is his placement in the center of England, in the Sherwood and Barnsdale area. This first case presents some of the venues in which Robin Hood appears. The earliest tales of Robin Hood largely focus on Robin encountering someone in the forest, and either fighting with them or inviting them to dine, after which they would be asked to pay for their dinner. These tales were often collected in books called “garlands” (see the first text in this case). During the Tudor period, Robin was gentrified by Anthony Munday, in his two plays The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington and The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntington (both 1601). Today, most people first encounter Robin through films or children’s books, like Howard Pyle’s work.

Howard Pyle's drawing The Merry Friar Carrieth Robin Across the Water
Map from Dobson & Taylor
, Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976), p. 69.

[This map shows some locations associated with Robin Hood, both settings for the tales (e.g., Sherwood, Kirklees, and Barnsdale) and as a place name (e.g. “Robin Hood’s Well”).]

Robin Hood’s Garland: being a complete history of all the notable and merry exploits perform’d by him and his men on divers occasions: to which is added a preface, giving a more full and particular account of his birth, &c. then any hitherto published. London: R. Marshall, [1770?].

[A garland is a collection of short literary pieces. This volume is open to “Robin Hood and the Tanner,” whose subtitle, “Robin Hood met with his match,” recalls a common theme of the ballads, wherein Robin meets a stranger, they fight, Robin loses (or they agree to a draw), and Robin invites the newcomer to join his band. The work also identifies the tune “Robin Hood and the Stranger,” again recalling the theme and identifying a popular tune as an accompaniment. Were the tune not well-known, it would have been included or not mentioned at all.]

Pyle, Howard. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of great renown in Nottinghamshire. 1883. Rpt. New York: Macmillan, 1988.

[A groundbreaking work, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883) introduced new standards in publishing images. Pyle’s highly detailed, historical drawings accompanied a retelling of the story that appealed especially to children. Pyle also set the standard for later illustrators, as can be seen in other items in this display (see, especially, Gilbert in case 5). Pyle’s work has been reprinted many times in various configurations: as here, the original text and illustrations together; as a text without illustrations; Pyle’s text with illustrations by another artist; and sometimes his illustrations accompanying another text altogether.]

A Popular Hero: The Nineteenth Century

Although various texts and performances appeared in the early modern period, the nineteenth century featured an explosion in the popularity of Robin Hood. Authors like Joseph Ritson (1795), Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Love Peacock (both 1820), and Pierce Egan (1838) all featured Robin Hood in their works, either momentarily (as in Scott), or as a featured character, and the period ends with Pyle (1883) starting a new trend in Robin Hood stories. Robin’s appeal was not limited to novels, though, and this century saw a number of plays, operas, and songs featuring the outlaw. Ritson published Robin Hood: A Collection of all the Ancient Poems, Songs and Ballads, now extant, relative to that celebrated Outlaw in 1795. This collection of tales showed more sensitivity to the original works and used more scholarly notes than versions of the Robin Hood tales previously published. It was a big hit and kindled a new interest in Robin Hood.
The next watershed moment in Robin Hood studies came in 1920, with the publication of Scott’s Ivanhoe, which features Robin briefly but makes the conflict between Norman and Saxon a central point, and Peacock’s Maid Marion, published after Scott, but relying on many similar themes and characteristics. Robin’s popularity remained high, and in 1838, Egan serialized a tale of Robin Hood which was published in 1840 as Robin Hood and Little John: or, the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest. Egan’s text was wildly successful, and opened the doors to later versions, including those presented here.

Stocqueler, J. H. Maid Marian, the Forest Queen; being a companion to "Robin Hood." London: G. Peirce, [1849].

[Interest in Robin Hood had been reignited by Scott and Egan, especially, at this time. Many novels and performances featured Robin in a leading or supporting role. Stocqueler’s novel is a companion to his Robin Hood comic opera. Originally a serial publication, this collected edition presents some Robin Hood ballads as an appendix to the text.]

The Life and Death of Robin Hood, the renowned out-law: who lived and died A.D. 1198; being the ninth year of the reign of King Richard I, commonly called Coeur de Lion. Falkirk: Printed for the booksellers, [1840–1860].

[This chapbook from the mid-nineteenth century shows the continued interest in Robin as a popular figure. Printed like broadsheets, this text would likely be bound by the purchaser, sometimes with other short texts. Since it has no cover, and indeed fits entirely on one sheet of paper, the publication costs are low, and this text was likely more affordable by a popular audience.]

DeKoven, Reginald. Robin Hood, or, Maid Marion: A Comic Opera in Three Acts. London: Hapwood & Crew, [1890].

[Composer Reginald DeKoven seems to have been quite interested in historical fiction and outlaws. In addition to this opera on Robin Hood, he wrote music for operas based on The Canterbury Tales, Don Quixote, and Rob Roy. While this very popular opera dominated the American stage, with regular performances through 1944, it was not successful in Britain. The success of the opera in the US led DeKoven to again team up with librettist Harry B. Smith for a sequel titled Maid Marian (1902).]

In Pyle's Wake: The Twentieth Century

After the great success of Howard Pyle’s work, and continuing the trends of the last century, the early twentieth century saw further expansion of Robin Hood’s appearances. He remained a staple of the performing arts, with new plays, operas, and songs created about him, but he was perhaps most readily adopted by the new medium of film. The tale of Robin Hood is extremely suitable to young audiences. By this time, Robin’s motives have been made truly heroic: his villains are truly villainous, and Robin is portrayed as a moral figure who fights injustice. Most authors identify Robin as the dispossessed noble of the Tudor period, and this adds purpose to his rebellion. There are no inherent sexual connotations in the tale (such as lust, adultery, and revenge in Arthurian literature), and the tale itself generally ends with the overthrow of oppression and the redemption of the heroes.

Louis Rhead painting The Friar Took Robin on his Back (1912)The familiarity of Robin’s story lent itself easily to serial publications as well as opening the legend up to reinterpretations. This case shows some early publications, targeted for children, but popular among adults; short, action-driven texts were easily read by a wide audience. Soldiers especially liked the comic format, as it weighed little and was easily circulated in the field. Some authors, such as Geoffrey Trease, used Robin to make political statements for an adult audience, while other authors, such as Louis Rhead, followed Pyle’s lead, creating illustrated children’s texts.

Bradley, A. W. “To the King’s Rescue.” Aldine Robin Hood Library 43. London: Aldine Publishing Co., n.d.

[The Aldine Robin Hood Library, published twice a month, presented eighty-eight stories of Robin Hood from 1902–1905. These text-based narratives resemble comic books, and were targeted at a young audience, featuring simple, action-oriented prose and low price. Following the success of the Fairbanks Robin Hood film (1922), they were reissued from 1924–1927 at 2d. with different covers. Both covers are presented in this display.]

“Robin Hood’s Peril.” Thriller Comics 27. London: The Amalgamated Press Ltd., n.d. [early 1950's]

[This series was published weekly for most of its run, 1951 through March 1963, ultimately producing 450 issues. The tales are of varied subjects, drawing on many different genres; all of them were of interest to young boys, with some issues adapting classic stories, some presenting established characters (like Robin Hood) in new situations, and others presenting entirely original material.]

"Robin Hood." Classics Illustrated 7. New York: Gilberton Company, [1942; rpt. 1955].

[Unlike most other Classics Illustrated volumes, which adapt a single work by a recognized author, this Robin Hood comic draws upon many different popular strands, especially reflecting the story as told in Pyle (1883; case 1) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938; case 4). Originally published in 1942, this adaptation of Robin Hood was reprinted with new cover art in 1955 (represented here) and new interior art in 1957. Both reprints are probably in response to the new popularity of Robin Hood spurred by the Richard Greene television show (see case 4) and any of the four contemporary films.]

Trease, Geoffrey. Bows Against the Barons. Moscow: Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the U.S.S.R., 1934.

[Continuing the fight against tyranny, this text reinterpreted Robin Hood as a communist figure, as this striking image shows. Later editions of this work would remove such overtones and insert different images. The style recalls Pyle’s detailed line drawings with a historical basis, although the image itself is original.]

Rhead, Louis.  Robin Hood. Illus. Frank Godwin, Louis Rhead, and Walter Crane. New York: Children’s Classics, 1988.

[Originally published as Bold Robin Hood and his Outlaw Band (1908), Rhead followed Pyle’s lead in writing and illustrating the text. Like Pyle’s Merry Adventures, this book has often been reprinted, in whole or in part; this volume from 1988 features new color images by Frank Godwin and black and white images by Louis Rhead and Walter Crane; this book is intended for children. Pyle’s influence on Rhead’s illustrations is unmistakable.]

Robin Hood in the Media

Robin Hood has been a consistent presence in the history of film. Although he is not as popular a figure as some others, every generation has had a Robin Hood film, and nearly every film has been popular and profitable. He also quickly moved to television. Robin’s popularity in these visual media is easily explained. The simplicity of Robin’s motives appeals to a wide audience, and the action-orientation of the story allows for great visual spectacle. It is also very adaptable; it is easy to present on the stage and screen, as there are no transformations, no special effects, no expensive costumes or sets necessary to tell the story of the outlaw hero. The basic plot itself is well-known, and the adaptability of the story lends itself well to different audiences. As audiences have changed, Robin has been able to reflect those changes without losing his essential characteristics.

The Adventures of Robin Hood. Vol. 1, No. 8. New York: Sussex Publishing Company, Inc., 1957.

[This comic features Richard Greene on the cover, and is a tie-in to the popular “Adventures of Robin Hood” television show, which ran from 1955–58. The story itself is not otherwise connected with the television series.]

Adventures of Robin Hood. Dir. Michael Curtiz and William Keighley. With Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Olivia De Havilland, and Alan Hale. Warner Brothers, 1938.

[Errol Flynn’s turn as Robin Hood, while not the first, is perhaps the most recognized (see, especially, case 6). An action-oriented telling of the legend, it draws upon the earlier Fairbanks film, Robin Hood (1922), for some of its sequences, but ultimately outshines the silent feature in brilliant technicolor.]

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Dir. Kevin Reynolds. With Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, and Mary-Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Morgan Creek Productions, 1991.

[A big-budget film that did very well at the box office, “Prince of Thieves” is not a favorite with Robin Hood scholars and fans. This film abandoned the high action and technicolor swashbuckling of 1938’s Adventures for a more “realistic” (that is, dark and dirty) portrayal of the period. Despite its problems, it served to introduce a new generation to the Robin Hood legend, and it highlights certain trends in medievalism. As the DVD case shows, many Robin Hood films are gaining new life when released on DVD, with extra features, including cut or extended scenes, interviews, trailers, short featurettes, and other information.]

“Robin Hood Daffy." Dir. Chuck Jones. With Mel Blanc. Warner Brothers, 1956.

[A short Warner Brothers cartoon in which Daffy Duck tries to prove to Friar Tuck (Porky Pig) that he is the notorious outlaw Robin Hood.]

The Legend of Robin Hood. Famous Classic Tales, 1971.

[A low-budget Australian production, by the time of this short (47 minute) feature, Robin was recognized as a bankable commodity. Clearly intended for a young audience, this cartoon is unremarkable except as an example of the commercial possibilities of this widely-known figure.]

Robin Hood. Dir. Wolfgang Reitherman. With Brian Bedford, Monica Evans, Peter Ustinov, and Roger Miller. Walt Disney Productions, 1973.

[Walt Disney’s second attempt at presenting the Robin Hood myth, this animated feature was more successful than their 1952 live-action The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men. By presenting the characters as animals, the movie delights children and establishes characteristics at a glance. Although not one of Disney’s finest animated works, the marketing of the film is incredible (see the book and pin in case 6), and continues today; the songs sung by Roger Miller have proven to be perhaps the most durable aspect of the film.]

Robin Hood. Dir. John Irvin. With Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman. 20th Century-Fox, 1991.

[This film was originally slated for release at the same time as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but Fox recognized the power of its competition and decided to release this film directly to television and video. Most Robin Hood scholars and fans feel this is the better film. The story is much better (and more in keeping with the traditional legend), John Irvin’s direction is stronger, and Patrick Bergin’s Robin recalls the capricious and dangerous figure of the early ballads. The medieval character of the film is more historically accurate because J.C. Holt, a noted Robin Hood scholar, served as a consultant.]

Two Roads: Scholars & Popular Authors

In the twentieth century, scholars started to pay more attention to popular culture, regarding it as a proper venue for academic study. Perhaps the two most important figures for Robin Hood’s place in academic study are J. C. Holt and Stephen Knight. Both have written many articles and books discussing the importance of the figure from historical and literary standpoints. Many others have written about Robin Hood in some way or another, and every facet of the legendary hero is recognized as having some intellectual value. Despite Robin’s lack of a literary pedigree, he is now recognized as a worthwhile object of serious study.

At the same time, Robin again gained prominence in popular fiction. Authors like Frasier, Roberson, and McKinley reclaimed Robin as a hero for adult fiction, and the legend provides a source for various genre pieces, such as Carey’s romance featuring Will Scarlet. Many of these novels have done well, and Robin Hood continues to be a popular figure in literature for any age. His continued presence on the stage, as well as the screen, is assured.

Knight, Stephen, and Thomas Ohlgren, eds. Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997.

[The TEAMS Middle English Texts Series offers good, affordable student editions of difficult-to-find texts. This compilation brings together verse and prose texts from Robin Hood’s earliest appearances through the early seventeenth century. I have copied an excerpt from “Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne” (lines 21ff) for comparison to Thomas Percy’s 1864 edition, below. A good, modern edition intended for a wide range of audiences, this is one of the most popular METS volumes.]

Percy, Thomas, ed. Reliques of Ancient English Poetry: consisting of old heroic ballads, songs, and other pieces, of our earlier poets, together with some few of later date. London: Bohn, 1864.

[An important early edition, Thomas Percy’s Reliques is a three-volume collection of historical and lyrical ballads that reflects the antiquarian interest of the time. The Reliques were intended to be an important early history of English literature. It also reflects the anxiety early editors felt about their presence in the text, as these ballads were seen as records of an earlier, oral tradition. Percy’s creative license with the text is especially clear when compared to the Knight and Ohlgren edition. See pp. 22–23.]

Harris, P. Valentine. The Truth About Robin Hood: A Refutation of the Mythologists’ Theories, with New Evidence of the Hero’s Actual Existence. London: P. V. Harris, 1951.

[Harris tried to prove Robin Hood was actually a living person in Edward II’s reign (1307–27). Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for Robin Hood surpasses his scholarship; he finds evidence where there is none, or sees it because he wants to prove Robin’s existence.]

Keen, Maurice. The Outlaws of Medieval Legend. 1961. Rpt. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977. Third edition 2000.

[In the early 1960’s, Maurice Keen and J. C. Holt invigorated Robin Hood studies by debating positions on the Robin Hood legend in a series of articles published in Past and Present. This book is, in part, the result of Keen’s research. The Outlaws of Medieval Legend includes four chapters specifically on Robin Hood, including “The Historical Background of the Robin Hood Legends,” where Keen discusses the historical events that might have led to the creation of the outlaw, and “The Historicity of Robin Hood,” where he suggests that any historical figure that may have inspired Robin Hood is too distant from the sources we now have to be of any real use in illuminating the tales.]

Pollard, A. J. Imagining Robin Hood. London: Routledge, 2004.

[A historical look at Robin Hood, Pollard is not interested, as P. Valentine Harris, in identifying Robin as a historical individual, but instead discusses the society from which Robin arose. His chapters discuss yeomanry, the greenwood, crime, and religion in mid- to late-medieval culture in an attempt to identify the period of the early ballads and tales, and illuminate the tales themselves.]

Knight, Stephen. Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.

[A brief history of Robin as a character, Knight has published extensively on Robin Hood, including the TEAMS edition and a number of other books and articles. This book looks at the development of Robin in four general stages: “Bold Robin Hood,” which focuses on the Medieval tradition; “Robert, Earl of Huntington,” about early Modern tales; “Robin Hood, Esquire,” which discusses the nineteenth century tradition; and “Robin Hood of Hollywood,” which treats the twentieth century.]

Ohlgren, Thomas H., ed. Medieval Outlaws: Ten Tales in Modern English. Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 1998.

[Includes a translation of “The Gest of Robin Hood” by Ohlgren. This text presents Robin in the context of other Medieval outlaws, such as Fulk fitz Waryn, Hereward the Wake, and William Wallace.]

Gilbert, Henry. Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood. Illus. H. M. Brock and Walter Crane. New York: T. Nelson and Sons, 1912.

[An early twentieth-century retelling of Robin Hood for children, the debt owed to Pyle (see case 2) is unmistakable. Especially compare the two images here, from Gilbert and Pyle; the style, design, and content of the Crane image are all taken from Pyle’s original. The idea of Robin Hood as an appropriate subject for children was reinforced by these and similar works.]

Blamire, Larry. Robin Hood. Boston: Baker’s Plays, 1991. 
Dobson, Mary Lynn. The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood. Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Publishing, 2000.

[These short, two-act plays continue a long tradition of Robin on stage, including DeKoven's opera, Munday's plays (1605), and the popular May games of the late medieval and early modern periods. Both plays offer humor and action, set in "The Middle Ages." Anachronism abounds, but it is usually recognized and consciously used to humorous effect.]

Fraser, Antonia. Robin Hood. Illus. Rebecca Fraser. St. Alban’s: Dragon Books, 1973.

[Originally published in 1955 under her maiden name, Fraser’s Robin Hood has had at least three illustrators: 1, Geoffrey Whittam, 1955; 2, Rebecca Fraser (Antonia’s daughter), 1971; and 3, Victor Ambrus, 1977. Like so many modern novels, this tale is set during Richard I’s reign, and highlights the tension between Saxon and Norman. Richard returns and sets everything right, and Robin and Marian live a long, happy life. Unlike many other modern tales, Fraser recalls an earlier tradition and presents Robin’s death in her final chapter. After suddenly becoming sick with a fever, Robin stops at a nunnery for help. While there, Black Barbara, a villain who had troubled him earlier, bleeds Robin to death.]

Roberson, Jennifer. The Lady of the Forest: A Novel of Sherwood. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 1992.

[Roberson’s novel focuses on Marian. “Lady Marian of Ravenskeep” flees her “sheltered life ... to join a shadowy band of outlaws” (back cover). Roberson writes historical fiction, and offers a plausible explanation for Robin and Marian’s love (and the Robin Hood myth in general).]

Lawhead, Stephen. Hood. Advance Reader’s Copy. Nashville, TN: West Bow Press, 2006.

[The first book of a trilogy, Lawhead attempts to historicize the tale and adds a spiritual element to Robin Hood by placing his novel in Wales during the reign of William II (Rufus, 1087–1100). He spent much of his reign extorting money from his subjects and the church in an effort to wrest Normandy from his elder brother; this situation resonates with the modern idea of (Prince) John raising taxes to ransom Richard I (1189–99) or simply for his own purposes when king (1099–1216). An unpopular king, William also continued his father’s attempts to take Wales by granting its land to his barons. In Lawhead’s book, Robin is one of the dispossessed Welsh nobles who fights back.]

McKinley, Robin. The Outlaws of Sherwood. New York: Ace Books, 1989.

[McKinley attempts to be “persuasive and genial” (Afterword, p. 278) in this novel, not historically accurate or even encompassing. McKinley acknowledges her debt to Howard Pyle, whose work she read as a child.]

Carey, Diane. Under the Wild Moon. New York: New American Library, 1986.

[Classified by the publisher as “historical romance,” this novel focuses on Will Scarlet and his love Katie. Carey acknowledges Errol Flynn and Patric Knowles (from the 1938 film). The novel itself is set in 1192, while Richard I is a hostage of the duke of Austria. It also portrays a truly villainous John, raising taxes for his own profit.]

Robin Hood Everywhere

Over his long career, Robin Hood has been adopted — and adapted — into nearly every aspect of popular culture. This final exhibit case features some of the many different appearances he has made, in name or intent, through the last fifty years. Robin has truly become an icon of popular culture, appearing in toys, comics, jewelry, and ephemera. The foreign language books presented here further illustrate the spread of Robin, a distinctly English hero, into other cultures. Despite his connection to a specific period in English history, Robin’s appeal goes far beyond the limitations, and his continued life as a popular, legendary hero is assured.

“Camouflaged Outpost.” Lego set, 1987.

[One of the earliest themes of the Legoland building system was the “Knights Adventure,” a roughly medieval/fantasy realm. The Foresters was the first expansion beyond simple knights and castles. The Robin Hood theme is unmistakable, as these archers clad in green hide in a forest outpost.]

Abbott, Frank. The Tales of Robin Hood. N.p.: Arrowdam, 1991. [Cassette]

[This recording features a story by Abbott as read by Roy Harris. It also includes musical backgrounds and interludes.]

“Robin Hood: He Bore A Harp In His Hand.” Greg Hildebrandt collectable card, 1993.
McSpadden, J. Walker. Robin Hood. Illus. Greg Hildebrandt. Morris Plains, NJ: Unicorn Publishing House, 1989.

[Updating old stories with new art has been a regular feature of Robin Hood revisions since the early days of printing. Pyle has often been recycled, and the Gilbert volume (case 5) has received the same attention. Noted fantasy artist Greg Hidlebrandt has created new color illustrations for McSpadden’s 1904 publication, thus modernizing the look of Robin Hood. Interestingly, the artist is considered more significant than the author, as Hildebrandt’s name is more prominently displayed on the cover and title page. Hildebrandt later produced a series of trading cards based on his art, and his Robin Hood illustrations were no exception. On the back of the card, the artist is credited with researching his subject to present “proper period costume.”]

“Bertrand the Brigand, Hugo le Petit, and Gui le Gros.” Miniatures, Games Workshop, ca. 1996.

[Although the characters are not identified as Robin Hood, Little John, and Friar Tuck, the likenesses are clear. The figures are used in tabletop war-gaming, and lead a unit of archers called “The Bowmen of Bergerac.”]

Refrigerator magnet, ca. 2004.

[This magnet features a very active scene from the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn. Here, Robin and Guy of Gisborne (Basil Rathbone) duel in the climactic scene. It is interesting to note that the magnet is a black and white reproduction of a color film. The original image may have been a promotional photo.]

Mardi Gras coin, 1975.

“Oo-De-Lally.” Disney collectable pin, ca. 2001.

[Another tie-in to the 1973 Disney animated film, these pins are extremely collectible, and are generally only available at the Disney theme parks. The song alluded to here is the opening number from the film, sung by Roger Miller.]

Philip, Neil. Robin Hood: Der legendare Held der Unterdruckten, seine Geschichte und seine Zeit. Illus. Nick Harris. Hildesheim: Dorking-Kindersley, 1997. [Robin Hood: The legendary Hero of the Oppressed, his Story and his Age.]

[The Dorling Kinder series of eyewitness books is targeted at a young audience. They usually focus on a historical figure, period, or event, presenting information about the chosen subject. Robin Hood is one of very few literary figures in the series, and the book uses him to illustrate medieval civilization through a telling of his story. It ends with a collage of images of Robin Hood from the early prints through Costner’s appearance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991).]

Robin Hood. Moscow: Egmont Rossiia, [c. 2001].

[A Russian translation of a book based on Disney’s 1973 film.]

Adventures from England: Adventures of Robin Hood. Printed with Zinaida Shishova’s Jack Straw. Minsk: n.p., 1993.

[“Based on old legends of England,” this high school-level text juxtaposes two English heroes who fought tyranny: Robin Hood and Jack Straw, a leader of the revolt of 1381. The volume also includes a brief critical article on Jack Straw, by a noted literary critic. This book was published shortly after the dissolution of the USSR, and the heroes would have resonated with the new freedom encountered in Belarus.]

Dumas, Alexandre. Robin des Bois: le prince des voleurs. Paris: Éditions J’ai lu, 1996. [Robin Hood (lit., Robin of the Woods): Prince of Thieves]

[Dumas’ book, first published in 1872, is largely based on Pierce Egan’s 1838 Robin Hood and Little John: or, The Merry Men of Sherwood Forest. It is telling that Flynn’s Robin Hood has such a strong place in the public imagination still that he is used for the cover, some 58 years after his appearance in the role.]

Patience, John. Les enfants de Sherwood: Robin des Bois n’est pas invite! Paris: Peter Haddock Limited, 1996. [The Children of Sherwood: Robin Hood (lit., Robin of the Woods) was not invited!]

[Robin is a children’s hero in other countries, as shown by Patience’s series of children’s books. Robin’s rebellious nature is emphasized in this picture book for early readers.]

Robin Hood Flour, 2006.

[The Robin Hood Flour Company was founded in western Canada in 1909. “Its green-and-red archer emblem has become a familiar and highly regarded symbol of quality and good value from coast to coast” (from the Robin Hood Flour Company website,]

Various authors. Jack Kirby’s Green Arrow. Illus. Jack Kirby. New York: DC Comics, 2001.

[A character created in 1941, during the golden age of superheroes, Green Arrow’s costume and theme are clearly based on Robin Hood, especially the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood. The stories herein were originally published from 1958–59.]

Wolfman, Marv. “… and with the word there shall come death!” Tomb of Dracula 49. Illus. Gene Colan and Tom Palmer. New York: Marvel Comics Group, 1976.

[Wolfman accords Robin Hood literary status equal to Dracula, Frankenstein, Tom Sawyer, and D’Artagnan (from Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers), all of whom are featured on the cover and in the story. Dracula is transported from the real world into a library. When he shows he is not the same person as the literary character in Bram Stoker’s novel, Robin Hood and the other characters try to protect the librarian who summoned him; ultimately, the librarian exiles Dracula from her library and is comforted by Robin and D’Artagnan.]

Storrie, Paul. Robyn of Sherwood. Illus. Michael Larson. Plymouth, MI: Caliber Comics, 1998.

[This is the first issue of a short-lived series that takes place after Robin’s death. His daughter picks up his mantle to fight the king’s injustice. Despite the especially flashy cover art, the interior art consists of understated black-and-white drawings.]


"Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne" excerpts

   Opening Lines from "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne"


From Percy

  Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, pp. 21–22

From Knight and Ohlgren

  Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, pp. 173–74:





When shaws beene sheene, and shradds full fayre,
     And leaves both large and longe,
Itt is merrye walking in the fayre forrèst
     To heare the small birdes songe.

The woodweele sang, and wold not cease,
     Sitting upon the spraye,
Soe lowde, he awakened Robin Hood,
     In the greenwood where he lay.

Now by my faye, sayd jollye Robin,
     A sweaven I had this night;
I dreamt me of two wighty yemen,
     That fast with me can fight.

Methought they did mee beate and binde,
     And tooke my bow mee froe;
If I be Robin alive in this lande,
     Ile be wroken on them towe,

Sweavens are swift, master, quoth John,
     As the wind that blowes ore on a hill;
For if itt be never so loude this night,
     To-morrow itt may be still.
When shawes beene sheene and shradds full fayre,
And leeves both large and longe,
Itt is merry, walking in the fayre forrest,
To heare the small birds singe.

The woodweele sang, and wold not cease,
Amongst the leaves a lyne.
"And it is by two wight yeoman,
By deare God, that I meane.

"Me thought they did mee beate and binde,
And tooke my bow mee froe;
If I bee Robin a-live in this lande,
Ile be wrocken on both them towe."

"Sweavens are swift, master," quoth John,
"As the wind that blowes ore a hill,
For if itt be never soe lowde this night,
To-morrow it may be still."

"Buske yee, bowne yee, my merry men all,
For John shall goe with mee,
For Ile goe seeke yond wight yeomen
In greenwood where the bee."

Louis Rhead drawing Robin Shoots His Last Shaft (1912)

Selected Films (in chronological order)

Robin Hood. Dir. Allan Dwan. With Douglas Fairbanks, Enid Bennett, Wallace Beery, and Alan Hale. United Artists, 1922.

Adventures of Robin Hood. Dir. Michael Curtiz and William Keighley. With Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Olivia De Havilland, and Alan Hale. Warner Brothers, 1938.

Robin Hood. Dir. Wolfgang Reitherman. With Brian Bedford, Monica Evans, Peter Ustinov and Roger Miller. Walt Disney Productions, 1973.

Robin and Marian. Dir. Richard Lester. With Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. Columbia, 1976.

Robin Hood. Dir. John Irvin. With Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman. 20th Century-Fox, 1991.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Dir. Kevin Reynolds. With Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman and Mary-Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Morgan Creek Productions, 1991.

Select Bibliography

Carpenter, Kevin, ed. Robin Hood: The Many Faces of that Celebrated English Outlaw. Oldenburg: Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Universität Oldenburg, 1995.

Dobson, R. B., and J. Taylor. Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw. London: Heinemann, 1976.

Drayton, Michael. The Poly-Olbion: a chorographicall description of Great Britain. 1622. Rpt. New York: B. Franklin, 1970.

Evans, Thomas, and R. H. Evans. Old Ballads, Historical and Narrative, with Some of Modern Date: collected from rare copies and mss. 4 Vols. London: R.H. Evans, 1810. [Robin Hood appears in vol. 2.]

Gable, J. Harris. Bibliography of Robin Hood. The University of Nebraska Studies in Language, Literature and Criticism, No. 17. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, 1939.

Groom, Nick. The Making of Percy's Reliques. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999.

Hahn, Thomas, ed. Robin Hood in Popular Culture: Violence, Transgression, and Justice. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000.

Holt, J. C. Robin Hood. London: Thames and Hudson, 1982. Rev. Ed. 1989.

Keen, Maurice. Outlaws of Medieval Legend. 1961. Third edition, London & New York: Routledge, 2000.

Knight, Stephen. Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.

Knight, Stephen. Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.

Knight, Stephen, ed. Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism. Cambridge: Brewer, 1999.

Knight, Stephen, and Thomas Ohlgren, eds. Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997.

Langland, William. Piers Plowman: A Parallel-text Edition of the A, B, C and Z Versions. Ed. A. V. C. Schmidt. London: Longman, 1995.

Munday, Anthony. The Death of Robert, Earl of Huntington. 1601. Rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Munday, Anthony. The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntingdon. 1601. Rpt. Oxford: Malone Society Reprints, 1965.

Percy, Thomas. Reliques of Ancient English Poetry: consisting of Old Heroic Ballads, Songs, and other Pieces of our earlier Poets, (Chiefly of the Lyric Kind.) Together with some few of later Date. 1765. Numerous reprints, including Bishop Percy's Folio Manuscript: Ballads and Romances. Ed. John W. Hales and Frederick J. Furnivall. London: N. Trubner, 1868. Rpt. Detroit, MI: Singing Tree Press, 1968.

Phillips, Graham, and Martin Keatman. Robin Hood: The Man Behind the Myth. London: Michael O'Mara Books, 1995.

Phillips, Helen, ed. Robin Hood: Medieval & Post-Medieval. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005.

Pollard, A. J. Imagining Robin Hood: The Late-Medieval Stories in Historical Context. London: Routledge, 2004.

Potter, Lois, ed. Playing Robin Hood: The Legend as Performance in Five Centuries. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1998.

Pyle, Howard. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire. New York: Scribner's, 1883.