Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Schroedinger's Robin Hood

There's an entertaining article here about the historical origins of Robin Hood. He may well have been a Yorkshireman, you know. Or he might not have existed at all.

I can't say that Robin Hood is my favourite mythical personification of England and English heritage - I'm more of a King Arthur girl. I do like Nottingham a lot, though, so I was interested enough to read the whole thing.

Stephen Knight, a professor of English in Cardiff University, is quoted in the article. He was asked if Robin Hood really existed and his response was:

"When the Doncaster News rings up and says 'Did Robin Hood really exist?', I have a variety of answers." [. . .] "One is, 'How do I know you exist?' or 'What do you mean exist?' But I like to say, 'Of course he exists, we're talking about him.' My view is that the empirical, real Robin Hood – like the 'real' King Arthur – is a 20th-century take on reality. Who cares if there was a real Robin Hood? There's a real myth which is living and breathing."

I studied English for four years. I found that when I immersed myself too deeply in the study of the humanities, my grasp of the nature ofreality got a little wobbly. Also, I developed a long list of answers to the question everyone asked me the most often, just to shake things up a little, so I have a lot of sympathy with the professor's response. But I'm also a history nerd, and I do like to know if people were real. I love knowing if the myth is historically inaccurate too. I'm fond of inaccuracies. They're interesting and make you look like a smart-arse at parties.

But the professor makes a very good point. Does it matter? I know King Arthur probably wasn't real, but I still love the stories. I love the book Forever Amber, which is largely historically accurate, but if I discovered a huge mistake in it, I'd like it just as much.

How important is historical accuracy? If you discovered that George IV was really smart, would you enjoy Blackadder less?


  1. Historical accuracy may be an oxymoron (except for modern times with our expanded capabilities to record), because so much is taken from the writings of a few. They may be biased or coerced by the political forces of the time to record things that were far from accurate. I always find it fascinating that Hollywood has no problem rewriting history to fit the entertainment format. And, for all we know, that's been going on throughout time.
    I enjoyed your post since it made me think about this. Thanks.

  2. I have to agree Arthur is much more fun than Robin. But I really prefer an Arthur or Ambrosius type character as a post Roman war leader rather than king of a chivalrous court. I still remember with great affection Rosemary Sutcliff's books.

  3. Accuracy, or a grain of truth (and when I say a grain I'm talking acers of fields here)? As with the Arthurian legends there may have been a man, who won a battle who may have had a name that was not dissimilar to Arthur. Then the poets got a hold of the name and things went from there ... to France, where the party really got started.

    As you know, I'm all for taking an historical period and going wild with the fiction, I get to indulge two of my biggest passions in one go - writing and researching history. So in fiction, historical accuracy is just the icing on the cake, it may sweeten the deal but the real body is what it underneath. (I’m all full of metaphors today. :))

  4. You have to remember the bards were the original newspapers, radios and internet. The keepers of history. I do believe the basic truths; though I will concede an arm and a leg may have been added. If these stories are dismissed as untruths because there is no written proof, what of the traditional tales of other cultures? Do they all get dismissed? I personally would miss both Arthur and Robin Hood along with many others!

  5. Hey Hon!

    Me...I love history and I'm a firm believer in a grain of truth behind every myth.

    As an author I always use something from my own personal experience in my I creating a myth? In time, I hope.
    There is always truth somewhere in my stories.

    BTW...I added those pages to the blog that you were talking about last week on one of your post...You said you weren't sure what to do with them...well, you'll see what I did with them at the top of my blog right under the header...and you'll see some of the themes I've written about in my books and where their based from....myth or reality?

    How are you guys doing over there with the Iceland volcano's ash? Looks pretty bad for you and England.

    Do take care

  6. As a child I adored stories about Robin Hood, and now that I know he may not have existed, or may just have been an amalgation of similar characters, no one can take away the childhood magic. Regards...

  7. To be honest, I don't really mind liberties taken with historical fact as long as it's presented as such. If it makes it more interesting, I'm all for it!

  8. Sounds like it's nice but not critical for most people :)
    I hadn't thought about the fact that history is, by definition, the interpretation of very few. Very good point though!

    @Hawk, we haven't been affected by it at all at ground level, it's too high up to bother us, but our airspace was closed for a day. The airspace is open again but we can't fly to countries still affected. Hope it clears more soon, I'm going to Amsterdam in two weeks!

    I love what you did with the Pages feature, I'm especially taken with the outline of Black Thunder :) I do love the history of the American West.

    Carole Anne, thanks for the follow :)


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