|Robin Hood, M.L. Peters|
Robin himself never changes: he's always the lone good man in a sea of deception, standing up for the downtrodden no matter the personal cost. The power of a Robin Hood is his rarity. Despite the fact that he quickly gathers supporters just as willing as he to risk life and limb for the sake of the right, he's the true hero for one simple reason: he did it first. When everyone else hemmed and hawed and considered their options, Robin saw a wrong and moved to right it. The Merry Men are admirable in their courage and camaraderie, but they wouldn't have come together and proven their worth without Robin to show the way. He's an elemental force for good; he represents the need for goodness that we want to believe is innate in humanity. No wonder he's one of the world's most popular folk heroes.
But once you have a hero as universal as Robin, you have a choice about how you tell his story. You can give him a canvas as big as the ideals he stands for and pit him against the highest power in his world. Or you can bring him down to earth like the rest of us and show us what reality does to ideals.
If the main villain of a Robin Hood story is Prince John, it's an Option One story.
|Robin Hood, Disney|
|Michael Praed as Robin of Loxley, ITV|
|Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, Warner Bros.|
But Option Two Robin provides some much-needed perspective. It can get boring after a while, knowing that somehow Robin will prevail against impossible odds. Seeing him lose, or seeing him escape without accomplishing his task, or even (at worst) seeing him die, reminds us of where his heroism originates. He's a single man against the world, armed with wits, a bow, and his ideals. If he's truly at risk, his victories mean more. He's far more human when he fails; Option Two Robins are generally more rounded characters than Option One Robins, who never have to grapple with doubt. And Option Two even makes Option One fresh and fun again. After confronting an all-too-human hero like Option Two Robin, the whimsy and chivalry of Option One can feel like water in the desert.
Either way, Robin's still us. At his best and worst, at his most heroic or his most despairing, Robin Hood lives the essential human struggle to make real what you believe in. That's why he's stuck around in so many incarnations; that's why his story can resonate on a small level or a huge stage; that's why he's quite possibly the most beloved hero of the English language. No matter who he is, we get him. We get why he fights. And whichever option he presents, whatever he thinks of himself, we know the truth: that he's a hero, and a human, and that the two can go together.