by Adam Thorpe
Reviewed by Annis
A bleak vision of a brutal medieval underworld, Hodd is Robin Hood as you’ve never seen him: a sadistic wolfshead who little resembles the philanthropic, romantic folk-hero of modern convention. Thorpe’s Robert Hodd, inspired by the fifteenth century ballad “Robin and the Monk”, is a delusional but charismatic felon whose subversive and amoral quasi-religious philosophy attracts an eager following of sycophantic cut-throats.
The story is recounted by an elderly monk recalling his time as a fourteen-year-old prisoner of Hodd and his far-from-merry men. A talented minstrel, his life is spared when he delights his captors by composing and singing a ballad glorifying Hodd. It spreads the outlaw leader’s false fame like wildfire. The orphaned youth, raised by men of God, finds Hodd’s blasphemous claims no less horrifying than his casual cruelty: “We can throw God away as the snake discards his skin. Then we fear nothing, because there is no sin”. Proclaimed one of the Chosen “free spirits” and given the name Moche (Much), the boy becomes a member of the band of robbers and takes part in acts which will haunt him for the rest of his days.
Thorpe's use of language masterfully evokes an authentic historical voice. The monk’s manuscript comes complete with a scattering of Middle English words and names spelt with typical variability, as well as marginalia, interpolations, footnotes and comments from the "translator", which lend the book a spurious scholarly conviction.
As it highlights the harshness of life for the common man in thirteenth century England, Hodd shows how readily the timely and stirring image of a defiant outlaw might have met popular discontent to create the enduring legend of a people's champion. In the process it offers a sly comment on the ironic truth that undoubtedly lies behind many a myth. (2009, 336 pages)
More about Hodd at Powell's Books
Other novels about Robin Hood:
Outlaw by Angus Donald (2009), another tale of a gangster-like Robin Hood, written in a popular, less literary style. More info
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (1819), the novel responsible for the modern interpretation of the Robin Hood story. More info
Hood by Stephen Lawhead (2006), the first novel in the "King Raven" fantasy trilogy, which reimagines the Robin Hood story in a setting in the Welsh borderlands. Other novels in the trilogy are Scarlet (2007) and Tuck (2009). Available complete in one volume beginning in September 2009. More info
Sherwood by Parke Godwin (1991), a realistic retelling of the Robin Hood story, set shortly after the Norman Conquest, from an author better known for fantasy. It has a sequel, Robin and the King. More info
Nonfiction about the Robin Hood legend:
Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography by Stephen Knight (2003), about the evolution of the Robin Hood legend, from early writings to modern interpretations. More info
Robin Hood: Outlaw or Greenwood Myth by Fran and Geoff Doel (2000), a study of the earliest ballads and the possibilities for a historical Robin Hood. More info
Robin Hood by James C. Holt (1982), a scholarly work that presents the theory that an actual historical outlaw may well have been behind the Robin Hood legend. More info
At the movies:
The Adventures of Robin Hood, the 1938 movie starring Errol Flynn. More info
Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, the 1991 movie starring Kevin Costner. More info
A story summary and extracts from the earliest surviving Robin Hood ballad, "Robin and the Monk", probably written sometime after 1450, at the Sherwood Forest Trust website
The full text, with annotations, of "Robin and the Monk" at The Robin Hood Project website
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