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  The first datable historical reference to him appears in a 9th century Latin text.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.

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Blog Preview: Upcoming Post Ideas

I’ve been brainstorming about my upcoming posts and decided to post a list of them, as a sort of preview.
1. Fairy Tales in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”

Joss Whedon loves making pop-culture references, and fairy tales are no exception to this rule.  I’ve compiled a list of “Buffy“/”Angel” fairy tale references and will post them along with some analysis.

2.  Fairy Tales in “Harry Potter”

J. K. Rowling shows us, in her Harry Potter books, that fairy tales often hold more truth than we imagine.  In fact, she found them so important that she created a whole book of wizarding fairy tales (“The Tales of Beadle the Bard“).  After all, each culture has its own, unique legends and fairy tales.  I will take a look at what these mean in the world of Harry Potter.

3. The Path: A Contemplative Fairy Tale Video Game

I will review “The Path,” a contemplative video game based on the popular fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.”

4. No More Disney Princesses:  Is This Good or Bad?

Disney has decided to stop producing its famously retold versions of classic fairy tales.  I will analyze the situation, discussing its positive and negative effects on the fairy tale medium.

5. Andrew Lang’s Colored Fairy Books

Although these books are out of print, I am lucky enough to have a bunch of them.  I will describe these books and their origins, comparing them to some of their original sources, and updating their sparse Wikipedia story synopses.

6. What are Fairy Tales, Anyway?

In this post, I will explain why “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” and “The Wizard of Oz” are not fairy tales.  I will also explain why the works of Hans Christian Andersen and Madame D’Aulnoy are “half fairy tales.”

7. Fairy Tales in Popular Music

Fairy tales, as part of our shared cultural knowledge, are more ingrained in pop-culture than we often realize.  Using song lyrics and clips, I will show how fairy tales have made their way onto all of our mp3 players.

8. Pan’s Labyrinth

Many of us are familiar with director Guillermo del Toro‘s haunting 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth.”  This beautiful film was deeply inspired by fairy tales.  This post will take a closer look at del Toro’s inspiration.

9. King Arthur and Robin Hood as Fairy Tales

In this post, I will show how stories based on actual historical figures can and have evolved into fairy tales.

10. Sondheim: Fairy Tales and Urban Legends

Stephen Sondheim has based several of his hit Broadway musicals on fairy tales and their close cousins, urban legends.  In this post, I will detail the ways in which Sondheim was clearly inspired by these stories, as well as what he did to further and expand them.

My plan is to create all of these posts on my blog, but I can not promise that they will all appear.  If there’s anything on this list that you’re particularly excited to see, feel free to let me know.

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