The tales of Robin Hood and his merry men are familiar to just about everyone. The first written reference to a Robin Hood type figure appears in legal documents during the first half of the 13th century. Since then, story after story has been written about this legendary outlaw figure who took from the rich and gave to the poor. Movies and television shows about him abound.
Outlaw, written by Angus Donald, explores the legends and history of Robin Hood and medieval England through the eyes of one of his “band of merry men”. Alan Dale, now 60 years old and talking about his times with Robin, wants the truth about who Robin was and what he did to be made public.
Alan joined Robin’s gang of people when he was only 13-years-old. He had been making a living as a cut-purse. His mom was a widow, his dad had been killed by the sheriff’s men, and his mom didn’t make a lot of money. Alan added to their income by cutting the purse strings of the rich merchants. He would take the money home and put it in his mother’s hands. She never asked where the money came from, she was just grateful to get it.
One day while looking for a purse to cut the strings of, his hunger takes over when the fragrance of a meat pie wafts beneath his nose. Surely he can take the pie without anyone noticing. But he is seen grabbing the pie and is quickly captured. The sheriff sentences him to have his hand cut off the following day. Alan manages to escape the sheriff and his men; he even makes it home with the pie.
When his mom learns what has happened, she realizes that she must get Alan out of town. During this time, Robin Hood would come to the village once a month and hold court at the local church to settle the squabbles of the villagers. Out of desperation, Alan’s mom takes him and asks Robin to look after him; they must save him from the sheriff’s men. Robin agrees and Alan leaves the village with Robin and his group of men.
The Robin Hood I was introduced to in this book is very different from the Robin Hood I have grown to know through television shows and movies. In the book, Robin Hood is rough and bloodthirsty, as are the men and women who travel with him. He is ruthless; anyone found to have told the sheriff about him is severely punished by having his tongue cut out.
Right after Alan kills his first man, Robin sends him to Langbrand’s (a safehouse) to be trained how to fight skillfully. This is where we meet Guy of Gisborne, who happens to be Langbrand’s son. At the time we meet him, he is just Guy. I’m not going to tell you exactly what happened, but because of something Alan does, Guy is forced to flee his family home for his life. He comes back into the story later.
After Guy flees his home, a bloody massacre takes place at Thangbrand’s house during Christmas festivities. Only Alan, along with Bernard and Godifa, escape. (You will learn who they are if you read the story.)
Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett, Little John, and Robin’s older brother, Hugh, make up the primary people in his band. Besides them and Alan, there are hundreds of people who travel with Robin. The band has grown so large that they even have safe houses and informers.
Alan had many ‘adventures’, some while with Robin, others while apart from him. Once, he and two other friends come across a man with the frame of a skeleton in the forest while they are hiding from the sheriff’s men. He asks to come into their tent, and Alan, against his better judgment, allows it. Alan intends to stay awake and keep an eye on him, but unintentionally falls asleep. He wakes up to see skeletal man ready to hit a sleeping Bernard over the head with a club. A big, nasty fight ensues. Once the three have finished with skeletal man, the marauding pack of wolves that had been pursuing them returns. This pack of wolves is determined to kill Alan and those with him, one a young girl only 10 years old.
It would take far too long to tell you more of the story. I took 9 pages of notes (4500 words) on this 371 page book while reading it. It took Angus Donald almost 7 years to write this historical novel and he did a wonderful job. It is easy to read and the story flows well.
This book would be greatly enjoyed by anyone who likes the legends of Robin Hood or is greatly interested in history. It is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for children. Acts of torture, by Robin and by the sheriff’s men, are vividly described, as is a pagan ritual. A smattering of colorful language also appears throughout the story.
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