ROBIN HOOD A Mythic Biography Stephen Knight
2009, 272 pages, 6 x 9, 16 halftones
2003, 272 pages, 6 x 9, 16 halftones
Winner of the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies
The only figure in the Dictionary of National Biography who is said never to have existed, Robin Hood has taken on an air of reality few historical figures achieve. His image in various guises has been put to use as a subject of ballads, nationalist rallying point, Disney cartoon fox, greenclad figure of farce, tabloid fodder, and template for petty criminals and progressive political candidates alike.
In this engaging and deeply informed book Stephen Knight looks at the different manifestations of Robin Hood at different times and places in a mythic biography with a thematic structure. The best way to get at the essence of the Robin Hood myth, Knight believes, is in terms not of chronological and generic progression but of the purposes served by heroes. Each of the book’s four central chapters identifies a particular model of the hero, mythic or biographic, which dominated in certain periods and in certain genres, and explores their interrelations, their implications, and their historical and sociopolitical contexts.
Reviews"The mythical character of Robin Hood has become an icon through his presence in popular culture for the last 600 years. . . . Knight is extremely knowledgeable about his subject..." (Library Journal, June 1, 2003)
"Knight valiantly conveys everything said and done about our hero [Robin Hood] since the last quarter of the 14th century: every ballad, poem, novel, opera, movie and TV series -- his Disneyfication and feminization, spoofs, lampoons, muppet and politically correct versions included. . . . Such is the power of myth that this catalogue yokes Robin Hood with Jesus Christ, Buddha, Santa Claus, King Arthur, the Knights Templar, Jesse James, the rural Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, Martin Luther King Jr. and the protean tricksters of North American aboriginal lore. . . . If a 'Hoodie' ye be, thou shalt sally forth to liberate all the copies thou canst." -- Chris Scott, The Globe and Mail, June 21, 2003
"Robin Hood, the outlaw and eternal 'trickster,' is still evolving, having long ago transcended his national and historical origins." -- Salon.com, July 2003
"Stephen Knight's book documents the enormous scope of the myth—revolutionary, reactionary, chivalric, homosexual, patriotic, or whatever the audience will allow, even slapstick. A final mythic trait of Robinalia is its ability to parody itself. Errol Flynn defined the character for film: the animated Robin Fox in the Disney cartoon imitates Flynn, and his was the voice, uncredited, of Rabbit Hood in the 1949 Warner Brothers' cartoon. Prince of Thieves was mocked by Princess of Thieves and Prince of Frogs, and so on. Like any great myth, this is a tale that no one ever hears for the first time."—Wendy Doniger, London Review of Books, 26:14, July 22, 2004
" For those of us who joined the merry-men (and women) of Sherwood Forest when young, Mr. Knight's 'mythic biography' lets us revisit our earlier selves with an enlarged vision of the romance of liberty and equality that attracted us." --Alexandra Mullen, New York Sun, August 21, 2003
"Knight, in a remarkable and witty study of the formation and recreation of a legend, shows that in times of oppression, Robin Hood has always been there for us as resistance to authority. May he ever fight on." --Rob Hardy Columbus, MS Commercial Dispatch September 3, '03
"Knight . . . tells us that by 1600, there were at least 200 known references to Robin Hood, almost all stressing Robin's boldness and resistance to authority, but as yet lacking a Maid Marian or Friar Tuck. Once the basics of the story were established, Robin began to acquire new companions, got himself involved in contemporary controversies, and became a wonderfully serviceable symbol for whatever social or intellectual currents happened to be sweeping through England in a given century."—Allen Barra, Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 24, 2003
"This volume is a lively, wide-ranging, and stimulating addition to the ever-growing scholarly corpus on Robin Hood."—Jeffrey Richards, Lancaster University, Arthuriana 13:3, Fall 2003
"One rarely has the opportunity to read the biography of someone who never physically existed, but that is exactly the opportunity Stephen Knight has given us with Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. . . . [It] will be most useful to those teaching Robin Hood stories for children who wish to have resource material to inform their lectures. Those researching Robin Hood stories for children will also want to read this book, as well as anyone generally interested in the Robin Hood phenomenon."—Elizabeth L. Pandolfo Briggs, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, 28:3, Fall 2003
"If anyone's qualified to write this book, it's Knight. He is, no doubt, the world's most knowledgeable expert on Robin Hood. . . . Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography is a worthwhile addition to the library of anyone interested in Robin Hood."—Jack Merry, greenmanreview.com
"Although the evidence for a historical Robin Hood is slim, the myth has flourished for 700 years, and Knight traces its various elements from trickster figure to noble their to countercultural free spirit, with a strong analysis of its treatment by Hollywood."—College and Research Libraries News, January 2004
"Stephen Knight's Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography is a thorough overview of the Robin Hood tradition in literature, performance, and popular culture, from the earliest medieval references to modern film versions. . . . Knight elegantly elucidates the cultural continuity between the much-studied medieval beginnings of the tradition and its more familiar form in modern popular culture."—Ethnologies 25:2 (2003)
"Stephen Knight's witty and accessible piece of cultural history takes us through the various transformations that the Robin Hood story has undergone since its emergence early in the 15th century." -- The Age, August 23, 2003
"Stephen Knight explores the various mythical guises that his titular figure has assumed over time in Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. Knight finds both continuity . . . and variety in Robin's various manifestations."—Studies in English Literature 44:1, Winter 2004
"Professor Knight's new book, then, is a contribution to literary history of a sort especially useful for undergraduate study. I used the book this winter as a "recommended" text in a Robin Hood course, and I will be very pleased to see it issued in a paperback edition priced for students. It is also a book that will be of value to any scholar studying Robin Hood, from literary or historical perspectives, and as such merits a place in college and university libraries."—Stephen R. Reimer, University of Alberta, Canadian Journal of History, August 2004, vol. 39
“Stephen Knight's astute, readable, and thoroughly researched analysis of the whole history of the Robin Hood phenomenon follows the hero from Sherwood bandit to Hollywood star, leader of an all-male band to object of feminist parody, Crusader to puppet frog. This is a book to be read by everyone interested in the growth of the Robin Hood story, and from which future scholars should take their bearings.”—Helen Cooper, Oxford University
“Stephen Knight's book about the noble-hearted outlaw has caught the spirit of its subject: fresh, forthright, engaged, witty. It is also richly packed with insights and scholarship. Robin Hood was a hero five hundred years ago; he's still undimmed, a most compelling version of the male hero.”—Marina Warner, historian and novelist
“Stephen Knight is the premier Robin Hood scholar in the world. Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography sets out the remarkable links and patterns that Knight was the first to trace or call attention to. It makes available all the rich and often surprising details, plots, and themes that increasingly attract writers, visual artists, and those interested in entertainment, children's literature, theatrical traditions, sociology, and folklore.”—Thomas Hahn, University of Rochester
About the AuthorStephen Knight is Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University. Arguably the world’s foremost authority on Robin Hood, he is the author of Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw and many other books, including several on the outlaw tradition.
Table of contents available as a pdf file.