Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour: HOOD, SCARLET, Reviews, a Robin-like Saint, and a Music Giveaway

Sorry to spaz out yesterday, but I had stomach woes and urinary woes, and I got a bit out of sorts.

So, this will be longish to make up. (Stay tuned to the end to find out how to enter the giveaway for the MUSIC inspired by these novels.)


So, on to Robin Hood and Will Scarlet, the folkloric figures that inspired Mr. Lawhead's KING RAVEN TRILOGY novels: HOOD and SCARLET.

Who doesn't have some inkling of the Robin Hood tales? The story is so widespread in our culture. There's even a show currently on cable tv's BBC-AMERICA, yet another dramatisation of the story of Robin and his "Merry Men" and their battles with the bad Sheriff and Sir Guy.

How did this folklore develop?

It seems as though every schoolchild knows who Robin Hood is: a noble outlaw in Sherwood Forest who fights the oppressive evil of Prince (or King) John by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. The earliest appearances of Robin are at odds with this romantic notion, as Robin is a violent yeoman who steals from the dishonest and helps those whom he pleases. Perhaps the one constant feature of the legend is his placement in the center of England, in the Sherwood and Barnsdale area. This first case presents some of the venues in which Robin Hood appears. The earliest tales of Robin Hood largely focus on Robin encountering someone in the forest, and either fighting with them or inviting them to dine, after which they would be asked to pay for their dinner. These tales were often collected in books called “garlands” (see the first text in this case). During the Tudor period, Robin was gentrified by Anthony Munday, in his two plays The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington and The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntington (both 1601). Today, most people first encounter Robin through films or children’s books, like Howard Pyle’s work.
--Read the rest of "Robin Hood: Development of a Popular Hero."

It was probably inevitable that Robin would morph, even as fairy tales have morphed from their devastatingly dark and violent origins into friendlier, gentler, more likable Disneyfied fare. We want the hero to be good and noble, much better than the villain, and we change him (or her) to be what we want, suitable often for children we wish to keep away from shady reality.

At the end of the above-mentioned article, you find a reference to our blog tour subject:

Lawhead attempts to historicize the tale and adds a spiritual element to Robin Hood by placing his novel in Wales during the reign of William II (Rufus, 1087–1100). He spent much of his reign extorting money from his subjects and the church in an effort to wrest Normandy from his elder brother; this situation resonates with the modern idea of (Prince) John raising taxes to ransom Richard I (1189–99) or simply for his own purposes when king (1099–1216). An unpopular king, William also continued his father’s attempts to take Wales by granting its land to his barons. In Lawhead’s book, Robin is one of the dispossessed Welsh nobles who fights back.]

In adding spirituality, Lawhead merely returns to where Robin has been. Read this excerpt from one of the earliest texts on the Robin myth, A GEST OF ROBYN HODE:

"A gode maner than had Robyn;
In londe where that he were,
Every day or he wold dyne
Thre messis wolde he here.

The one in the worship of the Fader,
And another of the Holy Gost,
The thirde of Our dere Lady,
That he loved allther moste."

That's a lot of masses. That's a devout hero!

Now, since the trilogy features the Robin character (King Raven) and Will Scarlet (with a name variant), let's see how these kinsmen meet, from "Robin and Will Scarlet," another old ballad based on the folklore:

"I met with a stranger," quoth Robin Hood then,
"Full sore he hath beaten me."
"Then I'le have a bout with him," quoth Little John,
"And try if he can beat me."

"Oh, oh, no," quoth Robin Hood then,
"Little John, it may be so;
For he's my own dear sisters son,
And cousins I have no mo.

"But he shal be a bold yeoman of mine,
My chief man next to thee,
And I Robin Hood and thou Little John,
And Scarlet he shall be,

"And wee'l be three of the bravest outlaws
That is in the North Country."
If you will have any more of bold Robin Hood,
In his second part it will be.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson also dived into the lore with his play "The Foresters." I particularly like how he SHOWS (Act I; Scene III) the personality--the humor, the rascal quality--of Will Scarlet:

Let be the 'Earl.' Henceforth I am no more
Than plain man to plain man.

Well, then, plain man,
There be good fellows there in merry Sherwood
That hold by Richard, tho' they kill his deer.

In Sherwood Forest. I have heard of them.
Have they no leader?

Each man for his own.
Be thou their leader, and they will all of them
Swarm to thy voice like bees to the brass pan.

They hold by Richard--the wild wood! to cast
All threadbare household habit, mix with all
The lusty life of wood and underwood,
Hawk, buzzard, jay, the mavis and the merle,
The tawny squirrel vaulting thro' the boughs,
The deer, the highback'd polecat, the wild boar,
The burrowing badger--by Saint Nicholas,
I have a sudden passion for the wild wood--
We should be free as air in the wild wood--
What say you? shall we go? Your hands, your hands!
[Gives his hand to each. You, Scarlet, you are always moody here.

'T is for no lack of love to you, my lord,
But lack of happiness in a blatant wife.
She broke my head on Tuesday with a dish.
I would have thwack'd the woman, but I did not,
Because thou sayest such fine things of women,
But I shall have to thwack her if I stay.

Would it be better for thee in the wood?

Ay, so she did not follow me to the wood.

Then, Scarlet, thou at least wilt go with me.


How has Lawhead's new vision of the Robin Hood story gone over?

Well, it isn't unanimous. I've seen divergent reviews. From very low scores, calling it plodding and overly full of description and historical detail. And I've seen gushing praise, calling it thoroughly entertaining and great fun. So, how you enjoy it may depend on what you're looking for (or not) in a new take on an old tale.

Here are examples of the reviews:

A critical that gives it a lowish rating, but also offers nifty observations and quotes--and therefore is worth reading--is at Here is one of the things I enjoyed in that review:
One interesting point is this notion of the deadly sin of wrath that Bran exhibits at times. He literally becomes confused and blinded by rage. The Robin Hood of contemporary myth is a rake and a rogue. He is the James Bond with the quip and the Hannibal Smith of the A-Team with his regard for personal profit. There is no Wrath in these characters just as there is seldom Wrath in Robin Hood. But what causes Robin Hood to be Robin Hood? A man who is willing to "rage against the machine" even if it just taxes and he does it with a wink of the eye as he does in these legends certainly bespeaks a kind of fury that is buried deep beneath the surface and never dies. While our Bran in this book is certainly justified in being angry over the loss of his birthright--a tired plot device--how that wrath infects and reinterprets the legend is a fine achievement.

Another interesting effect is how Christianity is used. As some of the critics mentioned above, each "side" uses it to justify their actions. But it's more than that. Particularly courageous for this author who publishes on Christian themes and using a Christian publisher, he shows how religion--at least organized religion--becomes merely another political tool to be used for oppression, for gain, and for dim justification for raiding, for taking, and for the general acquisition of more power. Just like the conquistadors of Spain ravaging the new world for Glory, God, and Gold so we see the Normans invading for very similar reasons under the guise of God. Opposing this corruption of the Holy Church is only the heathenish magic of the Welsh (though doubtless will ultimately be revealed as the same source). Can Christians cheer for the pagans?

From Grasping For the Wind, a positive review:

The novel is well-written; it is fast paced, with excellent fight scenes, and makes a good lunch hour read with its short chapters and varying perspectives. Odo provides a surprising character and interesting plot twist that makes this book even more fun to read. And of course, this is still the legend of Robin Hood, even if the setting is different, so many of the adventures are in the vein that fans of the Robin Hood legend have come to expect. Arrow flights abound, close shaves are common, and brazen acts of valor are to be expected.

Scarlet makes for a good read, although it is not Lawhead's best work. Fans of Robin Hood will enjoy Lawhead's unique take on the legend, as well as his commitment to historical accuracy. Fans of fantasy will question the novel's fantasy label, as well they should. But there is an element of magic in the person of Angharad and in the strange King Raven that Bran becomes when on a sortie, so the fantasy fan will not be disappointed. Fans of historical novels of medieval times will find much to love in both Hood and Scarlet, and Lawhead devotees (such as myself) are going to find all of the same things they have always loved about Lawhead's writing in Scarlet. This is a novel worth your time. The legend of Robin Hood is brought closer to its historical truth, and given an added Celtic flair that only Stephen Lawhead can provide.


Of religious interest, there's a saint with a serious Robin Hood vibe,
Originally an apprentice shoemaker in Moscow, he adopted an eccentric lifestyle of shoplifting and giving to the poor to shame the miserly and help those in need. He went naked and weighed himself down with chains. He rebuked Ivan the Terrible for not paying attention in church, and especially for his violent behaviour towards the innocent.

When he died on August 2, 1552 or 1557, St. Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow, served his funeral with many clergy. Ivan the Terrible himself acted as pallbearer and carried his coffin to the cemetery. He is buried in St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, which was commissioned by Ivan and is named after the saint. Basil was formally canonised around 1580. His feast day is celebrated on August 2.


Yes, I decided that, in the giving Spirit of Christmas, I will have a giveaway. Not of the books--I'm sure someone on the tour is giving some away. Check the links. I'll be giving away one of the cds based on the King Raven Trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead.

The music is by a Christian musician who has found much inspiration in the works of Mr. Lawhead: Jeff Johnson.

Many years back, I acquired, when it first came out, Johnson's first SONG OF ALBION album. I never finished the Lawhead books which inspired those soundscapes, but I still have the cassette somewhere in my chaos.

This week, I acquired both of the KING RAVEN cds that are out. You now have a chance to win one.

How to enter/rules:

1. See my sidebar note. I'm only accepting entries from folks in the 48 contiguous states. Why? Cause that saves me on shipping via That's it. It's all about the budget. Sorry.

2. What you gotta do: Blog about Scarlet, and use the url we've been using during this tour to promote it. You don't have to be a member of the CSFF Blog Tour. But you need to have a blog, and you need to post something about SCARLET (and HOOD, too, if you wish) at some point during THIS week (which ends Saturday). It can be a one sentence post, as long as it contains a link to the amazon url that we use to promote the novel. This is the url for SCARLET:

If you have a thing against amazon, a link to Mr. Lawhead's official site counts as an acceptable substitution in such a case.

3. Post a comment UNDER THIS BLOG ENTRY with the url/link to where you mention Scarlet ON YOUR BLOG.

4. Check back next week. I will choose a winner based on a random selection. I will need your name and address IF you are the winner in order to send the cd to you.

Rules Recap: 1. live in the lower 48 states. 2. Blog with the Scarlet url. 3. Comment here with a url/link to your qualifying blog post. 3. Wait for me to choose a winner next week.

(If you are a member of the tour, your CSFF Blog Tour posts count, as long as you fit the above rules with regard to location, posted urls, and comment to this post.)

This post is oberlong, so please refer to my Monday post for the list of tourmates. Visit them. See what they have to say.

Happy reading! (And listening!)


John (Grasping for the Wind) said...

I love Jefff Johnson's music, this is really cool. My urls are as follows.





chrisd said...

I loved the Tennyson quotes and the lovely illustrations, Mir.

Russell Crowe is supposed to be doing a version where Robin was the bad guy; now I know where they get that from.

Nice work!

Mirtika said...

Oooh. Russell Crowe. One of my top five actors. Love 'im!