I looked at the target and frowned. I had always imagined myself shooting effortlessly, looking cool and controlled as I let loose perfectly aimed arrows in rapid succession. At least, I had certainly never envisioned this. I was straining to pull the bowstring, my face red with exertion. My arrows flew high above the target, into the woods beyond me. Stories always made shooting arrows sound so easy! How could anyone ever survive using a bow and arrow alone?
The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley, is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend. It follows Robin Longbow, a young forester living near the forest of Sherwood. One day, Robin heads to Nottingham Fair. By sundown, he is a wanted man with a price on his head. Not knowing what else to do, Robin flees deep into Sherwood Forest. Aided by his friends Much, the miller’s son, and the Lady Marian, he establishes a community of outlaws. Soon, stories about his heroic deeds are being told all over the country.
Life as a runaway outlaw is extremely difficult. What with hunting, building shelters, and organizing a large band of desperate people, Robin has his work cut out for him. But the life of Robin Hood is often romanticized. When we think of him and his Merry Men, we remember the triumphant scenes around campfires, where food, drink, and song are in abundance. The Outlaws of Sherwood is an exceptional book because it manages to show the harder side of Robin’s life, as well as the romance; and yet it is this romantic notion which has drawn so many to Robin Hood’s story.
The Robin Hood legend has captivated many people over the years. I myself have a small obsession with it—this is, after all, my second Robin Hood book, (my first being the original The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, which I wrote about here), and I even started writing my own retelling. But why is it that readers are fascinated with this tale? Is it because the idea of living in the woods calls to us? Is it because it shows how someone of low status can bring justice to the world?
The Outlaws of Sherwood is a fast-paced book. It does a remarkable job of deglamorizing the legend of Robin Hood; but the thrill and the romance of Robin Hood’s story is still there: rather like the thrill of letting an arrow fly—even if it misses the target.
Middle-school historical fiction, ages 12 and up.
You can buy this book here.