by Catriona Mills

Strange Things about Robin Hood

Posted 16 March 2008 in by Catriona

(Nick suggested that I call this post “This, I Do Not Like,” but . . . no.)

I really enjoy Robin Hood, despite the fact that it’s very silly in parts. I’m fairly certain that one of the main reasons I like it is that Robin is one of the few genuinely English legends out there, along with King Arthur and Jack the Giant Killer.

I discussed it with my sister at one point, and she was uncertain about the idea, pointing out that it doesn’t even employ any of the main tropes, including the archery contest. My father, on the other hand, never misses an episode.

But there are stranger things about the show than the omission of the archery contest.

I feel a numerical list is warranted.

1. The fact that I’m blogging about it instead of just watching it.

2. Nick suggested that the hats in tonight’s episode probably weren’t period-appropriate. I don’t know about that, but I’m pretty sure that belted trenchcoats weren’t popular in the reign of Richard the Lionheart.

3. Ditto Guy of Gisbourne’s black-leather duster. But, really, who cares? It’s Guy of Gisbourne (or, as a friend calls him, “Lord, Have Mercy!”)

4. Marian’s over-the-dress corsets also cause me some concern. But Nick says I’m to leave those out of it.

5. In the middle of blogging I just came across the lines
“I’m not a Judas!”
“And I’m not Jesus.”
Well, no.

6. I’m fairly certain that Robin Hood didn’t earn his name because of his predilection for khaki-coloured hoodies.

7. Where is Friar Tuck? Nick swears he saw him in an early episode, but there’s been no real sign of it.

8. Shouldn’t Alan-a-Dale be a minstrel? Sure, any regular player of RPGs, especially table-top RPGs, knows that bards/minstrels are the most irritating of all character classes (although Nick suggests that if I’d ever played Dragonlance I would have found Kenders fairly annoying), but still, Alan is supposed to be a minstrel.

9. Will Scarlet’s memorial to his father, which was on par—despite the brilliance of Harry Lloyd’s performances—with the end of Van Helsing.

10. That Nick could tell that Sir Edward was going to die from his first appearance in the episode.

11. That Robin owes less to his literary ancestors and more to Marvel superheroes in his ability to completely and utterly defy the laws of physics.

12. Poor Much the Miller’s Son being relegated to the position of comic relief. Not appropriate for a Troughton.

13. They’ve just advertised next week’s episode as including a “Terminator.” I realise that that’s a metaphor, but, honestly, let’s not push the modern references too far, okay?

14. On that note, we’ve not only had an episode called “I Shot The Sheriff,” but we’re apparently about to have one called “Get Carter.” If that includes Michael Caine, I’ll be reasonably happy. If it stars Sylvester Stallone, I’m out of here.

15. The impunity with which they can wander around Nottingham with only the barest of disguises.

16. The casino episode. I know it co-starred Dexter Fletcher, and I realise that Wikipedia suggests that craps may date back to the Crusades, but really—did you not think we would notice that the mise en scene was distinctly Vegas?

Did I miss anything?

Share your thoughts [26]


Tim wrote at Mar 16, 01:42 pm

17. That Nottingham Castle has woeful, woeful security?

18. That the Sheriff, despite supposedly being a nasty, vicious, ruthless pantomine villain psychopath, always fails to kill Robin?

19. That several of the characters appear to be acting in different shows from each other?

20. That an 80s TV show is somehow being screened in the 21st century (without being produced by Donald Bellisario)?


Catriona wrote at Mar 16, 02:16 pm

I meant to add something about the ease with which they move in and out of the castle, but everyone knows that villains can’t shoot straight.

I’m a bit surprised that the Sheriff didn’t kill Robin when Robin killed the Sheriff’s sister, actually. (And pantomime villains are great! How often, otherwise, do you have a chance to shout “He’s behind you!” at prime-time television?)

Nick also mentioned reading somewhere that Guy looks more like an eccy dealer than a mediaeval villain, but he can’t remember where, so I can’t attribute it.


Nick Caldwell wrote at Mar 16, 08:58 pm

Tim, I’d pay good money to see Gordon Kennedy star in a UK version of Magnum PI. (Being the only cast member of Robin Hood with plausible facial hair, of course)

But yeah, TV made like 80s action shows probably really is considered innovation in the UK at the moment.


Catriona wrote at Mar 16, 09:31 pm

The U.K. is still making plenty of innovative and fascinating programming, Nick—it just happens to make some truly awful stuff, as well. This isn’t truly awful, just silly and a bit naff.


Tim wrote at Mar 17, 04:07 am

Catriona, you will no doubt be surprised to learn that I disagree with your last assessment. ;)

Nick, were you thinking of the Sheriff as a drug dealer? I think it’s been mentioned a few times online, partly because he played one in Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.


Catriona wrote at Mar 17, 04:23 am

The fact that this isn’t awful? That comes as a shock, to be sure! As long as you don’t disagree that the U.K. is still capable of some quality programming . . .


Tim wrote at Mar 17, 04:43 am

Yes, I don’t disagree that the UK is still capable of some quality programming. I’m sure I’ll be able to think of some. Any minute now.



Catriona wrote at Mar 17, 04:58 am

Well, I’m nuts for Green Wing at the moment, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

I take it you remained unimpressed with Jekyll?


Tim wrote at Mar 17, 05:58 am

I haven’t seen Green Wing, but I suspect I would like it, not least because it has Tamsin Greig in it.

Jekyll started off interestingly but rapidly turned lame, IMNSHO. Would have been better in four parts than six.


Catriona wrote at Mar 17, 06:12 am

Tamsin Greig is fabulous in it, too. (Frankly, I think that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to like a show, as I suspect you already know; one of the major reasons I like Green Wing—but not the only one—is because it has Julian Rhind-Tutt in it.) The first season’s just come out on DVD, and really I can’t recommend it enough.

I’m not sure I disagree with you on the length of Jekyll, but it was the middle section I was a little uncertain about. I felt last night that the first two and the last two episodes compelled my attention more thoroughly than the middle two.


Nick Caldwell wrote at Mar 17, 07:32 am

The middle two episodes fleshed out a lot of backstory, though reasonable people can disagree about how much fleshing out was required. Certainly some events could have been compressed — but I wouldn’t want to remove cut moments like the demonstration of how Jackman kept himself locked up before finishing off his high-tech dungeon.

The Mark Gatiss cameo in episode 5 was very welcome but, bloodthirsty soul that I am, I wanted to see a bit more carnage later on.

I was amused and disturbed during Mr Hyde’s escape through the ducting — Moffatt was bloody writing Hyde as a psychotic Doctor Who! And James Nesbitt rose to the occasion. That was the first time I really came on board with the idea that he’d make a good Doctor (though he since has said he’s not really interested in the part).


Tim wrote at Mar 17, 11:12 am

There was a lot of fat that could have been trimmed. Also, they camped Hyde up too much for my liking, and the plot just got silly by the end.

Hey, are those boxes for alternating comments new?


Catriona wrote at Mar 17, 11:16 am

Yes, they’re new—but it’s Nick’s idea to make my comments as site writer stand out—they won’t alternate unless the comment thread is a dialogue with me.

Nifty, huh?

I agree Jekyll seemed a little flabby in parts, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless.


matt wrote at Mar 17, 11:51 am

I’m pretty sure Friar Tuck was a Franciscan as they were the craze in the 13th and 14th century which is when I think Mr Hood was getting about. Although I’m not sure when they came to England, it may be that Friar Tuck didn’t arrive until the 14th century after Robin Hood was pushing up apple trees.


Catriona wrote at Mar 17, 12:00 pm

Yes, but Alan-a-dale was a seventeenth-century addition, I believe, and he’s a major character.

I think Friar Tuck’s a fifteenth-century addition, which ties in with your suggestion about the movement of Franciscans into England.


Tim wrote at Mar 17, 12:32 pm

The boxes are neat, though they kind of throw out the colour scheme.

In the sources in which Friar Tuck appears (which are late in the ballad tradition, late 15th century I think), Tuck is usually either an ex-Cistercian or an ex-Benedictine monk.


Catriona wrote at Mar 17, 12:52 pm

Damn—that throws off Matt’s very neat suggestion.


Nick Caldwell wrote at Mar 17, 01:03 pm

The dominant tone in the colour palette for the site is a bluish-green, so to complement that I’ve used some pinks and beige colours, thus forming a balanced triadic scheme.


Catriona wrote at Mar 17, 01:05 pm

Also, hang on a minute—if he’s an ex-monk, why does he still get to call himself Friar? That seems a little unfair—I can’t imagine the Catholic Church would agree to that these days.


Tim wrote at Mar 17, 01:27 pm

Which works fine in principle, Nick, but the strong blue-green patterning at the sides doesn’t work well with the unpatterned pink. I think a beige would work better. But that might just be me.

Catriona, remember that friars and monks are different things. Tuck can be an ex-monk who becomes a friar.


Catriona wrote at Mar 17, 09:35 pm

I’m not sure that I ever knew that friars and monks were different things—no, wait, I’ve just looked that up. So the difference lies largely in the fact that monks are cloistered, where friars still live a life of poverty, but in service to a community? (I think I can hear my sister-in-law being ashamed of me all the way from Tasmania, especially if Tuck was a Cistercian.)

But hang on, there are mendicant orders, like the Franciscans and the Dominicans (the friars of choice for anti-Catholic, eighteenth-century Gothic Lit. writers)—so Friar Tuck left a cloistered order and joined a mendicant order? Is that right?

I’ve only just realised that I’ve always assumed that “ex-monk” meant he got kicked out of the order—I blame all those film representations of him as a violent, drunken fool.


Tim wrote at Mar 18, 02:38 am

Tuck’s background varies, depending on the sources you use, and isn’t always clear.

I imagine it would be possible for a friar to become a monk, or vice versa; a bit like a research-only fellow taking on a lecturership.

Such a transfer wouldn’t necessarily mean joining a mendicant order, I think. Tuck might be an independent friar, so to speak; his abbot or prior might have decided that he wasn’t suited to monastic life but should still carry out some religious duty in the area, without sending him to join an order.

It’s also possible that Tuck has left (or been expelled from) a monastery and has simply decided to call himself a friar. (I think his character in Ivanhoe fits somewhere between these two options.)


Catriona wrote at Mar 18, 02:52 am

It was the last option that I was thinking of when I thought it was a bit off to call himself “Friar” when he was an ex-monk—to continue your metaphor, a bit like someone not getting through the Ph.D. programme but still calling themselves “Doctor.”

But that was when I was assuming that he would have been thrown out for unruly behaviour—again, down to Hollywood invariably showing him as a drunken fool. If he’d left on his own recognisance to continue religious work in the broader community, I wouldn’t mind so much.

(Actually, on that note, I don’t really care what he calls himself—it’s just something that never occured to me before now and that I find intriguing.)


Tim wrote at Mar 18, 04:26 am

The church probably had looser accreditation systems back then.

Looking at it some more, he’s often described as the ‘curtal friar’ in his early appearances; this is the term for a friar who works as a gate attendant at a monastery, and has connotations of worldliness and a lack of monastic discipline. So some monasteries probably must have included friars in their community, a bit like lay brothers.

Some of Tuck’s stories, where they do mention his past, indicate his expulsion is as much to do with his lack of respect for authority as with his love of eating and drinking.


Catriona wrote at Mar 18, 05:46 am

And a lack of respect for authority makes more sense when you see him as part of a band of outlaws.

I must say, given how often I’ve seen Nick and my father quaff incredibly strong ales brewed by Belgian monks, I find it ironic that you can be kicked out of a monastry for liking a tipple.

But then, I suppose the monks are brewing but not sampling the ales, only . . . reinforcing a taste for alchol in others? No, hang on—that sounds even worse.

Although as far as I know, Christian monks (taken as a broad category that I realise doesn’t actually exist, given the sharp differences between orders) don’t have to abstain from alchol, just from an excess consumption of it. Is that right?


Tim wrote at Mar 18, 10:50 am

Christianity in general never had a strong objection to alcohol. (For one thing, Jesus wasn’t an abstainer.) Drunkenness was usually considered sinful, but drinking in moderation was/is just fine. Even the Puritans drank beer and wine; medieval monks would certainly have been partaking of their own product. (The temperance movement is a nineteenth-century development.)

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