Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood is a graphic novel by Tony Lee, Sam Hart, and Artur Fujita, and one of the candidates for this year's Children's Choice Book Awards. Graphic, in this case, means it follows a popular comic book format—complete with word bubbles and illustrated panels. However, it's important to note that, while almost any reader over 10 would enjoy this book, there is also a “graphic” element to the action sequences. Robin Hood comes with a certain level of violence: there are hangings, sword thrusts, and dozens of arrows, in addition to mild romantic elements between Robin Hood and Maid Marian. However, it is in the action sequences, complete with comic-style clacks, thunks, and splashes, where this adaptation really shines. The amazing thing about any graphic format is the way that the images speak for themselves: in this case, the emotions are really carried by the body language in the pictures, whether its Maid Marian's resistance to an unwanted suitor, the grimaces of battle, or the heroic action poses of our hero, Robin Hood. While it seems certain that younger readers will respond to the adventure—even if the character and storyline seem very grown up—I can also see adult enthusiasts of either comic books or the Robin Hood legend enjoying this book.
One of the most interesting elements of the book was an afterword by Allen W. Wright, who is an expert on the legend, and even created his own website and functions as a consultant for recent television and film adaptations of the Robin Hood myth. Titled "Who is Robin Hood?" he begins the essay by asking, "Who isn't Robin Hood? Over nearly 800 years, he's been part of the middle class, a nobleman, a knight, and a peasant. He's been a cutthroat, a rebel, a swashbuckling hero, and an authoritarian busybody. Who is Robin Hood? He's a legend." Wright gives an account of early historical references (the earliest surviving ballads are from the 1400s) and of the ways in which the legend has changed over the years. According to Wright, a major shift in the legend occurred when Robin Hood appeared in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, published in 1819. Strangely, from that point forward, Robin borrowed the biography of the lead character in Scott's novel: "...a knight returned from the Crusades, a Saxon who fought against Norman tyranny, and a hero who rescued his lady love from a castle." According to Wright, the ballad Robin Hood was not any of these things, but in contemporary adaptations Robin Hood "is often all of these things."
Wright adds that new elements are always being added to the legend, citing the addition of a Muslim member of the Merry Men in the 1980s television adaptation “Robin Of Sherwood” This change has stayed in many other adaptations, with Morgan Freeman appearing as one of the best-liked elements of the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. "It's this sort of change that keeps Robin alive," Wright writes. "Robin's not some dusty old tale known to only a dozen academics. He's a living legend. The legend survives in every new novel, play, film, TV show, and comic book. Who is Robin Hood? You're holding part of that answer."
If you’re a fan of Robin Hood, you should definitely give Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood a look. While I grew up on the Robin Hoods of Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth, I've been very interested in more recent adaptations of Robin Hood that seem to pop up, particularly in children's literature. Wright covers many of these adaptations on his website, but I have to admit my favorites include Disney's comical Robin Hood featuring the legendary outlaw as a wiley fox, and Michael Cadnum's In a Dark Wood, a dark YA adaptation told by the Sheriff of Nottingham which gives a very alien feel to the medieval material. Director Ridley Scott has a new adaptation of Robin Hood due in theaters this May starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. I suspect this will keep Robin Hood much in our minds and in the media over the coming months.
If you are interested in the Children's Choice Book Awards, you can vote on your favorite title online. I've also included a list of contenders in the fifth and sixth age group so you can peruse the competition.
- The Adventures of Benny by Steve Shreve
- Dork Diaries Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell
- Moonshot by Brian Floca
- Zoobreak by Gordon Korman
What is Robin Hood's enduring appeal? Do you have a favorite Robin Hood adaptation?
Sarah A. Wood, a reviewer for Teenreads.com and Kidsreads.com since 2003, is a lifetime reader and writer. She refuses to accept that there are people who don't like to read and stubbornly believes this is only because they have not met the right book yet.