by Adam Thorpe
Who was Robin Hood? Romantic legend casts him as outlaw, archer, and hero of the people, living in Sherwood Forest with Friar Tuck, Little John and Maid Marian, stealing from the rich to give to the poor – but there is no historical proof to back this up. The early ballads portray a quite different figure: impulsive, violent, vengeful, with no concern for the needy, no merry band, and no Maid Marian.
Hodd provides a possible answer to this famous question, in the form of a medieval document rescued from a ruined church on the Somme, and translated from the original Latin. The testimony of an anonymous monk, it describes his time as a boy in the greenwood with a half-crazed bandit called Robert Hodd – who, following the thirteenth-century principles of the ‘heresy of the Free Spirit’, believes himself above God and beyond sin. Hodd and his crimes would have been forgotten without the boy’s minstrel skills, and it is the old monk’s cruel fate to know that not only has he given himself up to apostasy and shame, but that his ballads were responsible for turning a murderous felon into the most popular outlaw hero and folk legend of England, Robin Hood.
Written with his characteristic depth and subtlety, his sure understanding of folklore, his precise command of detail, Adam Thorpe’s ninth novel is both a thrilling re-examination of myth and a moving reminder of how human innocence and frailty fix and harden into history.