Robin Hood and King Arthur: Real People as Fairy Tales

Robin Hood and King Arthur are both characters seen in stories that might be considered fairy tales.  In both cases, there seems to be no real author of their stories and no version which is more true than any other.

 

Robin Hood appeared as a fox in Disney's 1973 film "Robin Hood."

Robin Hood appeared as a fox in Disney's 1973 film "Robin Hood."

In fact, their stories are often retold by the same authors who spend their time retelling fairy tales.  For instance, Robin McKinley, who has written many retold fairy tales (My favorites of hers are “Rose Daughter” which retells “Beauty and the Beast” and “Spindle’s End” which retells “Sleeping Beauty.”), tackled the story of Robin Hood in her book “The Outlaws of Sherwood.”  Similarly, Garth Nix, who wrote “Hansel’s Eyes” (the best retelling of Hansel and Gretel I’ve ever come across), retold part of Arthur’s story in “Under the Lake,” a tale about the Lady of the Lake, Merlin, and Excalibur.  Not only that, but both of them starred in Disney versions of their tales; “Robin Hood” was released in 1973 and “The Sword in the Stone” which was based on the first section of T. H. White’s Arthur retelling “The Once and Future King” was released in 1963.

Although the existence of both is debated by modern historians, there is some evidence that each of them may have existed in real life. Robin first cropped up in ballads of which the oldest surviving is “Robin Hood and the Monk,” which dates to about 1450 A.D. and contains many of the characters and details which we still associate with Robin Hood today.  Arthur supposedly ruled Britain in the late 5th and early 6th centuries, according to medieval histories and romances.  The first datable historical reference to him appears in a 9th century Latin text.

Although it is possible that these men have only ever existed in folklore, it is also quite likely that they were once real people who have now become the stuff of fairy tales; their stories have been romanticized, made magical, and ingrained as part of our cultural knowledge. They are retold in books and films every year.  Robin Hood alone has been the main character of more than fifty films and television series, and has been featured in episodes of many shows.

It might be strange to imagine a historical figure becoming the stuff of legend, but it actually still happens today.  We all heard the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, as children, but that is actually a fabricated tale; no such event ever took place.  We also learned that he had false teeth made of wood.  In reality, however, they were carved of fine ivory and gold.  Compared to Robin Hood and King Arthur, George Washington is a fairly recent historical figure.  Despite this, his life is already becoming the stuff of legend.  In all likelihood, the tale will become more fanciful over the years.

Who knows?  Five centuries from now, George Washington may be remembered as a fabled warrior like Arthur or a great wizard like his mentor, Merlin.

Advertisements

Top Four Best Retold Fairy Tales

When I was ten years old, I discovered retold fairy tales.  Since then, I have read tons of them–probably hundreds–and written many of my own.  That being said, I’ve come to know a good retelling when I see one.

Although there are many fantastic novel-length retellings of these stories, there are an equal number of amazing short story versions.  This is a good place to start if you’re not sure about reading retold fairy tales, but you’re willing to give them a try.  Here, you will find a list of what I consider to be the top four best retold fairy tale short stories.

1. Wolfland by Tanith Lee

Nearly every story in Tanith Lee’s retold fairy tale collection “Red As Blood or Tales From the Sisters Grimmer” is pure fairy tale gold.  “Wolfland,” however, is by far the fairest of them all.  This fantastic retelling of the classic Little Red Riding Hood takes place in nineteenth century Scandinavia, where “little red” is not a helpless child but a teenage party girl whose wealthy grandmother hides a supernatural secret.  The collection is, unfortunately, out of print; if you can get your hands on a used copy, do not hesitate to do so.

 

2. Hansel’s Eyes by Garth Nix

This story is also part of a larger collection; “A Wolf at the Door” edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling contains retold fairy tales by many well-known authors.  “Hansel’s Eyes,” however, has all the marks of a truly great retelling: an original spin on the story, an engaging writing style, and a macabre twist.  This modern version has Hansel and Gretel abandoned in the inner city, where an organ harvesting witch lures them into her video game shop.  Not only is it the best story in the collection, but it’s the best reimagining of Hansel and Gretel I’ve ever come across.

 

3. Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman

Just like everything else on this list, “Snow, Glass, Apples” can be found inside a bigger book: “Smoke and Mirrors,” a collection of short stories and poems by Neil Gaiman.  Interestingly, the theme of Snow White as a creepy little girl with an aversion to holy things is not as unusual as one might imagine; this story, however, does it better than any of the others I’ve read.  In it, Snow is a blood sucking princess who is slowly killing her father.  Her benevolent stepmother plays the story’s heroine.  Although it’s not quite as original as the others on this list, it is the most beautifully written of all of them, and my absolute favorite version of Snow White.

 

4. The Bully and the Beast by Orson Scott Card

This particular retelling of popular French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast is hidden within a large collection of Orson Scott Card’s short fiction, “Maps in a Mirror.”  Card’s writing style is a joy to read, but what really makes this a great story is the cleverness of it.  The title the “beast” is also fascinating here, because it could easily be applied to several characters in the story.  Add a beauty that doesn’t love the unintelligent man that rescues her and a dragon with a power that will make you think, and you’ve got a surprisingly unique version of one of the most commonly retold fairy tales around.


Although these are a few of my favorite short fairy tale retellings, there are many more out there.  Happy reading!


%d bloggers like this: