Robin of Sherwood

Robin: ‘You’re no god.’
Herne: ‘We can all of us be gods. All of us!’

— Herne the Hunter to Robin of Loxley in the “Robin Hood and the Sorcerer” EP of Robin of Sherwood

What we have here is that Richard Carpenter decided to make his series an explicitly Celtic telling. ‘Celtic’, you ask, ‘How so?’ Well, let’s start with Robin having as his Lord, Herne the Hunter! Yes, The Hooded God Himself! Ok, so how did Carpenter get to this vision of Robin? Why Robin as the Hooded Man?

Richard Carpenter claims that he wanted to reclaim the true Robin Hood from all the falsehoods that had been added to him over the past millennia. That in itself may be a falsehood, as no one knows for certain how the legend came to be. Be that as it might be, Carpenter certainly created a world as stunningly real as that of Holdstock, creator of the Ryhope Wood series, in that saga of another Wood beyond time itself.

There are two series of programmes, the first of which starred Michael Praed. Robin of Sherwood starts off by setting up the background for why Robin is so often in trouble — the Silver Arrow, a true cursed object if ever there was one. (Yes, a sacred object can also be cursed. Just ask the Crusaders.) The arrow is sacred to Herne the Hunter, and it is Robin’s job to keep it from being harmed. Robin’s father, Ailric of Loxley, Guardian of the Arrow, ancient symbol of Celtic Britain, led a rebellion against his Norman masters. When Ailric is murdered by the Normans, his son Robin (Michael Praed) is adopted by the local miller and the Arrow falls into the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace). At the age of twenty, Robin is quite reluctantly cast in the role of saviour of the oppressed. This Robin will, like the slayers in the Buffy the Vampire series, eventually die in service to his cause, but Herne will choose another defender, the heir to the Earl of Huntingdon. This young nobleman, Robert of Huntingdon, will give up all his claim to his father’s wealth to become the next Robin.

(Death stalks this series like a hungry wolf on a winter’s morn. This alone makes it different than almost all the other filmed Robins. There’s no comfort here, just the chill of death not claiming you yet.)

The introductory episode shows the viewer how Robin becomes an outlaw, and how he meets all the other members of his outlaw band. The title refers to a sorcerer, the Baron de Belleme. It is Robin of Loxley who Herne chooses to become his guardian, and to retrieve the arrow for him. When the Sheriff of Nottingham sets up an archery competition in which the first prize is the silver arrow, Robin has to enter it to retrieve it back. Disguising himself as an old man, he wins the competition, but the sheriff, not surprisingly, notes that his hands are those of a young man. When Robin is discovered, his band (Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Much, Nasir and the Lady Marion) overwhelms the Sheriff and his men, so they escape back to Sherwood Forest,. The arrow is then seized by the Baron de Belleme, who tries to sacrifice the Lady Marion by casting a spell on Robin. Robin instead turns and kills the Baron with the silver arrow. It is this that sets the scene for all of the Robin of Sherwood episodes.

The ordering of the episodes is in dispute, but this is the most accepted order:

First Series (1983) — Robin Hood and the Sorcerer; The Witch of Elsdon; Seven Poor Knights from Acre; Alan a Dal; and The King’s Fool
Second Series (1984) — The Swords of Wayland; The Lord of the Trees; The Prophecy; The Children of Israel; The Enchantment; and The Greatest Enemy
Third Series (1985) — Herne’s Son; The Power of Albion; The Inheritance; The Cross of St. Ciricus; Cromm Cruac; The Betrayal; Adam Bell; The Pretender; Rutterkin; The Sheriff of Nottingham; and The Time of the Wolf

I list the EP titles as they show how Celtic this version of Robin Hood is. Forget the Victorian versions of Robin as saviour of the English people. This is England before it was England — a Celtic land full of old gods including the Norse god Fenris, wolflings, witches, mad prophets, spells, the Sword of Albion, and a forest beyond time itself. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy says that this series is a ‘retelling of the familiar elements of the legend with the additional twist of sorcery and black magic.’

Just a short note about the cast of the two series. Like the Patrick Bergin Robin Hood, the casting was perfect down to the most minor of roles: The first Robin Hood was played by Michael Praed with the second Robin being Robert of Huntingdon who was played by Jason Connery, son of Sean Connery. The intelligent, strong willed — and more than a match for Robin — Marion in both series was the work of talented Judi Trott. The rest of the cast (Little John — Clive Mantle, Will Scarlet — Ray Winstone, Brother Tuck — Phil Rose, Nasir — Mark Ryan, Much Peter — Llewellyn Williams, Sheriff of Nottingham — Nickolas Grace, Guy of Gisburne — Robert Addie, Abbot Hugo — Philip Jackson, and Herne the Hunter– John Abineri) felt as real as though they lived through the early Medieval period. There’s even interesting minor casting, such as Claire Toeman, wife of Richard Carpenter, as Meg, girlfriend of Will, who carries a forty pound pig around.

Go discover this series for yourself, as I’ll not give any more details away here. You’ll want the DVDs — which were overdue, since badly dubbed boots were all that existed for years. The quality of the print is beyond compare! The setting’s a Celtic Britain, the time’s out of myth itself, and the stories will both chill and thrill you. What more need I say?

(BBC, 1983-1985)

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