Men in tights? Journalist and author Tim Hall writes about "the original superhero"
Tim Hall’s debut novel, Shadow Of The Wolf , provides a dark, supernatural origin story for Robin Hood. In this guest blog he explains how he unearthed the "superhero of Sherwood"...
I’ve read and watched countless interpretations, and I’ve enjoyed many of them, loved a few. But none of them seemed quite right. They all seemed to be missing something. At some point I realised what it was: Sherwood Forest was all wrong.
I’ve been to the Amazon, and the Atlantic rainforest, where nature still reigns, where every drop of moisture and ray of sunlight and morsel of food is fought over – dark and awesome places, echoing with mysterious shrieks, where all is illusion. In the Amazon there are half-submerged logs that suddenly swim away, their crocodile-eyes glinting. There are vines that look like snakes and snakes that look like vines.
It seemed to me that this is what Sherwood should be like. An ancient, primal place, where merely surviving takes great skill and courage. In fact, this most mythic of forests should be the ultimate wilderness, where nothing is quite as it seems, and the savage power of the earth lurks just beneath the surface.
But if this was my Sherwood, what sort of outlaw would haunt its depths? To flourish here he would need the stealth of a fox, the hearing of a hawk, the killer instinct of a wolf. He would need to merge with his surroundings, make it his fortress and his strength.
But then, hasn’t there always been something of the superhero in Robin Hood? His aim with that bow is supernaturally sharp. Dressed in green and black, striking from the shadows, he is a phantom of the forest, as stealthy as Batman in the Gotham night. Most importantly of all, he is immortal, locked for centuries in his fight against the Sheriff.
In the end, even though my Sherwood story is a radical reinvention, I like to think it stays true to the essence of the legend. In fact, it may move the myth back towards its roots: there is a theory that Robin Hood originated as a nature spirit – a fabled wisp of the woods, not unlike Puck – and only much later was given a human face.
In any case, it is the mutability of this legend that makes it so fascinating. Since finishing my own novel I’ve enjoyed all the more seeing other interpretations. I especially like reading Howard Pyle’s classic The Merry Adventures Of Robin Hood , his fun-loving band capering through the greenwood; or watching Errol Flynn’s swashbuckling, thigh-slapping outlaw. What’s amazing is that these characters are in many ways the polar opposite of my savage, damaged hero, and yet they are each of them indisputably Robin Hood.
I will of course be watching the forthcoming Doctor Who episode set in Sherwood. And I’ll be watching and reading just about anything else featuring the great outlaw. I’m sure I’ll enjoy them all, even if something about them doesn’t feel quite right.
Tim Hall was born in Portishead in 1977. Previously a news reporter for The Daily Telegraph , his journalism has appeared in a variety of magazines and national newspapers. Shadow Of The Wolf is published in hardback by David Fickling Books on Thursday 3 July 2014.