By the time I was driving down the M1 between Leeds and Nottingham, I was pretty comfortable driving on the left side of the road, and passing others on their right. That’s exactly what I was doing – driving on the farthest lane to the right – as we approached Nottingham, and I saw a brown sign by the side of the road.
It said, “Sherwood Forest”.
I looked at Wife (my co-pilot, to my left).
“What do you think? Shall we?” I asked her.
“I don’t know. You?”
Robin Hood was one my earliest heroes. I fell in love with the Disney movie’s wily fox and still think it’s sort of cool to fold my winter hat in the back so that it becomes a Robin Hood hat. And when I do that, I walk a little smoother, and I feel a little merrier. (And I’m happy that a scene from the movie is part of the Swedish television’s annual Xmas show).
I also remember watching the Errol Flynn movie with Dad in our one bedroom Helsinki apartment, even though “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was sold as “the most glorious romance of all time”, not very high on the list of my 10-year-old brain. Oh, I liked Lady Marion, and the romance part, it just wasn’t what I liked about it the most. It was the adventure, and the thieves, and the fight against Prince John that I liked. And the fact that Dad liked Robin Hood, too.
A week into our road trip, I sent a photo of Son and Daughter in front of the Cardiff castle to him. He replied, “nice castle, that’s where Robin Hood fought against Prince John … right?”
I told him we were in Wales.
I sent him another photo from the Caerphilly castle and got the same reply.
And when I sent him a photo of us in front of the castle in Edinburgh, he texted back, “That’s the castle in Sherwood”, followed by another one seconds later, “can’t be, you’re in Edinburgh.”
What really made me love the legend of Robin Hood was a book I read shortly after I had seen the Disney movie. The book, called simply “Robin Hood” was written by J. Finnemore, an author I know nothing about.
The book had all the the main building blocks of the legend – the shooting of the King’s deer, meeting Little John, Friar Tuck – and also many others I didn’t know of (because they hadn’t been in the Disney movie). Those new stories, and all the short ballads Finnemore had sprinkled around, made the book read like a true story that kept me hooked all the way to Chapter XXVI … in which Robin Hood dies.
He’s old and sick, and betrayed by a cousin who doesn’t stop the bloodletting in time, he calls for Little John, who’s waiting for him in the forest. John rushes back to the monastery, breaks down the doors and finds his friend weakened on the floor.
John sees that Robin is dying and asks for one last favor, the go-ahead to burn down the monastery as a revenge. Robin says no, and instead, asks John for one last favor: That he takes him to the window and helps him shoot one last arrow to mark the place where they’ll bury him. John does that, Robin shoots the arrow and dies in John’s arms.
It was the saddest, yet most beautiful ending I had ever read. To this day, it sends shivers down my spine and may still be the saddest and most beautiful ending I have ever read.
But of course, it’s nothing if you haven’t read the rest of the story which is why, a few years ago, I decided to give this gift to Son. I straightened my cap, I drew my bow … and watched my arrow miss the target.
We had read the Harry Potter heptology, so I couldn’t even imagine that he’d be afraid of anything that took place in the Sherwood Forest. I told him how much I loved the book when I was a kid, and that we were about to embark on a fantastic adventure, one that might even rival Harry Potter.
Unfortunately, Chapter I ends with Will Scarlet’s friend dying with an arrow in his back.
“Whaaaat? Brutal!” shrieked Son.
We never got to Chapter II.
I’ve tried to get him to read the book on his own since then, using all kinds of arguments from romantic – “It was my favorite book” – to philosophical – “Robin Hood was on the side of the working class” – but to no avail. I made another attempt as we were driving in the UK.
“Never,” he said.
“You chicken?” I said, being the master of psychological warfare (and parenting) that I am.
“No,” he replied. “Besides, I was just seven years old then.”
“Nine,” I said.
“Fine, but it was still too violent and bloody,” he said.
I didn’t bring up the fact that this is the same boy who used to love singing Robin’s and John’s song from the Disney movie and who tells me that I let him watch the Star Wars movies when he was seven – although I say nine – and doesn’t seem to think that a man losing his arms and legs is violent or bloody.
For now, I’m biding my time. One day, and one day soon, he’ll be ready.
The other day, I asked Daughter if she’d like to read “Robin Hood” with me.
“Maybe,” she said.
I took another look at the sign and made a quick decision. After all, I had come within a few kilometers from the Sherwood forest, and wasn’t going to just drive by it.
I changed lanes from the one farthest to the right, all the way to the exit farthest to the left, and kept on driving until we came to the Sherwood … park, formerly known as forest. We parked our car and walked into the forest, following a trail that took us to the tree that, according to the sign next to it, Robin Hood and his merry men had used as a meeting place before going on an adventure.
I sent a text to Dad: “Hi from Sherwood.”
He replied a moment later.
“Oh, the old hideout tree,” Dad wrote as if he had been one of Robin Hood’s merry men.
Aren’t we all?