The various tales of Robin Hood are interesting in how they popularised the now common ideal image of the outlaw. We empathise with the outlaws in these stories, and admire them for escaping the long arm of the law. Without Robin Hood, would we have Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, film noir’s archetypal private detective or even DC’s Batman; these imperfect heroes living parallel to regular society? Maybe so. Maybe not. What is certain is that Robin was crucial in the shaping of our “perfect” outlaw. He outlines a basic moral code, the well-known ‘steal from the rich and give to the poor’. This remains the rough code of the fictional outlaw. While we traditionally tend to associate acts such as theft and murder with villains, the idea that an outlaw or anti-hero can commit these acts for a righteous cause appeals to us.
The life of the outlaw in Robin Hood and the Monk is attractively portrayed, with the outlaw in control of the extent of his excommunication from society. Spending most of his time essentially isolated from society, Robin is not afraid to return to Nottingham however to attend a mass service in Robin Hood and the Monk. This devil may care attitude is prominent in outlaw characters in popular fiction today. These characters are often risk takers and thrill seekers. Whereas Robin seeks thrills in challenging Little John to an archery competition or risking the journey into Nottingham, a noir anti-hero might find thrills in binge-drinking and promiscuous sex. As in Robin’s case, this initial risk may often be the basis for the plotline.
A literal separation from society is prominent in western fiction, with outlaws living independently in the wilderness. As in the tales of Robin Hood, the combination of these outlaws’ temperaments and their radical way of thinking suits and reflects the wild better than civilisation. They engage society and its many flaws for a variety reasons, whether it is to rescue a friend or they are simply targeted for the bounty on their heads.
A theme Robin shares with the western outlaw is the eponymous Band of Merry Men. Whereas the western outlaw’s companions tend to be much less merry, the similarities are evident. In John Ford’s The Searchers the character of Ethan Edwards encounters power struggles within his various temporary posses, despite being the natural leader. This mirrors Robin’s issues with Little John.
Robin’s code is evident in superhero fiction more than any other kind. Superheroes more than any type of hero in contemporary fiction act so selflessly for the benefit of others. In much the same way that Robin and his Merry Men use their talents to protect the weak in Sherwood and Nottingham; Batman and Spiderman serve Gotham and New York City, respectively. This selflessness is central to the image and appeal of the traditional superhero.
The influence of the Robin Hood is clearly felt across a variety of mediums of literature; including movies, comic books and television. Audiences through the ages clearly enjoy and empathise with Robin Hood type characters. The outlaw’s ability to bend the rules is key to our lasting fascination with him.