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Reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s Chronicles of Robin Hood


A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old came home from her elementary school with a book from the school library. It was The Chronicles of Robin Hood by Rosemary Sutcliff.

I did not know that Sutcliff, famous for writing the wonderful adventure story, The Eagle of the Ninth, had ever written about Robin Hood.

My daughter asked me if the book was valuable. I instantly said no because it was so beaten up. When I looked more closely I saw it was the 1950 edition illustrated by C Walter Hodges and published by Oxford University Press.

This book was 61 years old and still going strong – making school kids happy week after week. There are only a handful of 1950 copies on AbeBooks – perhaps someone will republish it.

We thoroughly enjoyed the book, reading it at bedtime over several weeks. My daughter’s only exposure to the legend was the Disney animated movie where Robin is a fox and Prince John is a lion played (brilliantly) by Peter Ustinov.

Sutcliff’s version of the events in the forests of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire is a boy’s own adventure full of battles, bravery and chivalry. Little John, Will Scarlett and all the merry men are there along with the villains – Sir Roger of Doncaster, two sheriffs of Nottingham and Guy of Gisbourne.

My daughter had no idea of how Robin ended his days. There are various versions of his death and Sutcliff opts for the outlaw being being slowly bled to death by his evil cousin in a nunnery. Of course, my daughter had no idea that ‘bleeding’ was a type of medical treatment in pre-medieval England and this had to be explained along with how handy leeches were in those days.

As I read the final chapter, my daughter became distraught as it became obvious that the cousin had sold Robin down the river in exchange for a pair of gold candlesticks and 30 acres of land.

She climbed into bed and hid her face under the covers. I could hear her sobbing and found it quite hard to carry on reading. I’m sure my voice was starting to crack.

Her mother, full of menacing looks, poked her head around the door and asked what the heck I was doing by getting our daughter so upset just before bedtime. I ploughed on and described Robin’s burial and completed the final few pages. At the end, I just had to stand up and walk out the bedroom – there was no way I was going to console her.

The Chronicles of Robin Hood is a beautiful book. We always paused at each of Hodges’ lovely illustrations so we could look at each scene and discuss what was happening.

One day soon, we’ll have to read a King Arthur book (mainly because I want to) and then there’ll be some more tears, and I can foresee difficulties arising in how I explain adultery once Lancelot decides that Mrs Arthur is his for the taking.

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Richard Davies

3 Responses to “Reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s Chronicles of Robin Hood”

  1. I simply HAD to comment on this. Rosemary Sutcliffe is one of my favourite authors but that’s not the point of the comment.
    If you want a film about Robin Hood then may I recommend the version with Richard Todd in the title role?
    Not as realistic as Ms Sutcliffe’s book but a long, long way better than the Disney version which my grandchildren loved and I hated with a passion!

  2. Richard Davies
    Richard Davies April 28, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Hazel, Seen the Todd version. I cannot tell you how many TV and movie versions of Robin Hood that I have encountered. Here’s a few that I can remember

    Richard Todd
    Sean Connery (plays an old Robin Hood)
    Kevin Costner
    Errol Flynn
    Michael Praed
    Patrick Bergen

  3. It’s not intended for children, but I think you might be interested in my recent novel, The Robin Hood Chronicles. It’s a half-serious attempt to re-create in fiction what may have been the reality underlying the Robin Hood legend.

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