"Merry Adventures in Sherwood Forest": Howard Pyle's Version as a Readable Piece of Children's Literature versus Grimm's Little Red
Classical children's stories usually offer engaging characters, interesting dilemmas and profound moral lessons that stay with readers throughout their lives. For the purposes of this study, we will examine Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, The story was written in the nineteenth century, when children's stories had a very obvious moral lesson to be learned. The adventures of Robin Hood in the Howard Pyle version glosses over the "true nature" of Robin Hood's character as depicted in the medieval ballads. In the ballad's Robin Hood is a criminal mastermind motivated by profit and politics than by any love of his fellow human being. Pyle's Robin Hood, on the other hand, is actually quite charming. Robin protects the people of Nottingham from the predations of wealthy corrupt political officials, tax collectors and other miscreants—robbing from the rich and giving to the poor to ensure that they do not starve. One reason for the profound change in Robin Hood's character is that one cannot make a selfish outlaw a hero for children.
Virtue in some form is an essential part of the hero's identity—and in creating a character that helps other people through breaking the rules; one comes to realize that an individual cannot justly judge an action without also judging the intentions behind it. Given that Robin is an outlaw because he defended himself against someone who was trying to murder him, there was no way for him to live legitimately because it meant capture and execution. So he had dedicated his life to his ideal of social justice—a world where everyone would have everything they needed.
"Not only Robin himself but all the band were outlaws and dwelt apart from other men, yet they were beloved by the country people round about, for no one ever came to jolly Robin for help in time of need and went away again with an empty fist" (Pyle, 1).
The story in and of itself, was a very interesting one, but the language style and the lack of pictures may be off-putting to many children under nine years of age. Those who persevere, however, will find a delightful story that accurately depicts the corruption and greed of the nobility and the Church—circumstances that place the outlaw in a virtuous position as his actions prevent the common people from starving to death. Pyle's work ushered in a new era of Robin Hood stories and helped to solidify the image of a heroic Robin Hood legend in the United States.
Another point of morality within the story is when Robin tries to tell Little John that he needs to share and gets so upset with him for not doing so that "he belted Little John across the shoulders so hard that it sent him skipping across the road." (Pyle, 120) If that does not put an extreme image into a child's mind about what happens to people who do not share then not much else will. The images are graphic but meaningful to how people taught children important life lessons before the time of television. Then on the other hand, there are moments where the story goes in what we might call an inappropriate direction especially in the beginning where Pyle describes: "One day, when Robin of Locksley was a strong and bold young man of eighteen, The Sheriff of Nottingham announced an archery match. The prize was to be a keg of ale." (Pyle, 2) In a children's story today we would not find a reference to alcohol but our views on it have also changed so this would have been appropriate at the time of its writing. The story is very exciting and full of many of the adventures that Robin and his merry men go on where a child would be captivated enough that it would be very readable for them. The character of Robin Hood transforms into a hero who is upright, compassionate, and blatantly honest. Although he was seen as a thief and outlaw, Robin Hood is presented in this work as a moral force in a world that allows the rich and powerful to take advantage of the poor and helpless. He is technically a criminal yet is more honest than the Sheriff of Nottingham, who is expected to uphold the law. Robin Hood is a fugitive from the law but is clearly more charitable than the many men of god he encounters. Pyle's Robin Hood displays the virtues of justice, fair play, generosity, and compassion which are essential qualities of mature adults.
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood is narrated by an imaginary speaker who leads the reader through an imaginary land and down the road of Robin's life. The narrator pulls the episodes of adventure together by foreshadowing and summary statements, offers almost vague comments on the action, and draws subtle conclusions about the moral implications of the particular merry adventure. The narrator makes the reader feel comfortable throughout and guides and navigates the journey through Sherwood Forest, leaving an impression all along the way.
If we compare robin Hood to that of another beloved children's story "Little Red" out of the Grimm Fairy tales, we can clearly begin to see a marked difference in how the characters are treated and what the moral lesson is. When we think of Little Red Riding Hood, we think of the sweet little girl who tried to get to Grandma's house but failed because she was tricked by the big bad wolf. This is all well and good and one could start to pick apart the sexual and obvious meanings of the text but that seems too simple. Why not question the journey itself and how it was affected due to the poor choices made by Little Red against the wishes of her mother. In the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and the short story "Down the Road" a paradox between the road of life and the unexpected events that cause these characters to make difficult choices ultimately alters their intended path.
The journey she was sent on to begin with as we are told in one of the most popular versions of the story put out by the Brother's Grimm was supposed to be safe and short. She is told not to stray from the trail or talk to anyone except Grandmother. As Little Red starts her journey she has this intent in her young mind, but soon she is disrupted by the presence of the wolf and his trickery. The journey of Little Red gets disrupted as does the narrator in the short story "Down the Road" by Stephen Dixon. These disturbances stray them from their original path and ultimately alter their original intended route. The selected short story will come into play soon once the journey of Little Red Riding Hood is examined and dissected for its true meaning.
Little Red Cap, as I said, starts her journey as her mother had planned and intended for her, trusting the small girl with the big responsibility of going straight to her Grandmother's house and not getting distracted along the way as usually children do. This represents the road of life set before Little Red because for children, their parents and role models are the figures who determine their direction.
Little Red can almost simply not be blamed for the alteration of events because it was such a small and split second decision to tell the wolf of her intentions for her trip that day and Little Red Cap could not begin to understand the ramifications of her decision because of her mental and emotional immaturity. When the wolf tries to convince her to stray from the path she realizes in her head this is wrong but her childish pleasure complex takes over and she begins to pick flowers along the trail for Grandmother. It seems sweet and innocent to be getting Grandma a present but she disobeyed her mother for her own selfish pleasure and caused Grandma to be devoured by the wolf while sick in bed unsuspecting. On page thirteen of the Classic Fairy Tales book that includes the Grimm version tells us that:
"Little Red Cap opened her eyes wide and saw how the sunbeams were dancing this way and that through the trees and how there were beautiful flowers all about. She thought to herself: 'If you bring a fresh bouquet to Grandmother, she will be overjoyed. It's still so early in the morning that I'm sure to get there in plenty of time.' She left the path and ran off into the woods looking for flowers. As soon as she picked one she saw an even more beautiful one somewhere else and went after it , and so she went deeper and deeper into the woods. The wolf went straight to grandmother's house and knocked on the door." ( Grimm 14)
This small persuasion by the wolf shows how one small little bad decision can alter the sequence of events for the worse. She was trying to do something thoughtful for her sick and ailing grandmother but by making that decision she made it so that the wolf knew the whereabouts of the weakened old woman in hopes that he could eat her when he reached the divulged destination of grandmother's house, to whom the directions were only to be known by the child.
Stories like this are meant to comfort those who feel as though they have gone off their path and they can see the even worse things happening in these stories to these characters. The stories parallel the sense that everyone has a path that was set before them and the slightest flick of the wrist can cause an earthquake-like disturbance of events and alter things for the worse. Situations can then not be fixed by the person who made them and outside forces are needed to help that person onto their path once again. Whether they be children's literature or stories produced for mass entertainment, texts can reiterate the road of life to the result of enlightenment. These texts can show us the meaning of the intended personal journey and if the path is not strayed from, the results will be what they were planned to be. They show us that most of the time unexpected events come up and alter our original intended plan and little decisions we make along that path can cause a small chain reaction that affects everything along with the type of person we choose to be morally.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Grimm's Fairy Tales . New York : Maynard, Merrill & Co, 1903. Print.
Pyle, Howard. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire. New York: Forgotten Books, 2012 [Paperback edition]