March 5, 2007


BBC's new 'Robin Hood' is more than just another man in tights (Mark A. Perigard, 3/05/07, Boston Herald)

In its new series "Robin Hood" (tonight at 9), BBC America hits a bull's-eye: a fresh take that makes the story seem something not seen before.

In 1192, Robin (Jonas Armstrong, resembling a scruffy Jude Law) returns from the Crusades with his manservant Much (Sam Troughton) to find his people terrorized by the nasty Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen).

After the horrors he's seen in the Holy Land, this Robin is a reluctant hero. But the sheriff's ruthless behavior pushes him into a confrontation that changes his life as well as his people.

If this were a big-screen picture, it would be called "Robin Hood Begins." This is a making of a hero.

Tax Policy Decreed by Merry Men in Tights (GINIA BELLAFANTE, 3/02/07, NY Times)
Trying to define the politics of Robin Hood, reformer of Sherwood Forest, in terms of contemporary classifications seems a bit like trying to figure out whether Aristophanes was funny like Woody Allen or funny like Carol Burnett. It is a rather pointless exercise, but potentially quite fun nevertheless. What makes "Robin Hood," a new series on BBC America beginning tomorrow night, amount to such a good time is that it effortlessly prompts you to try.

Was Robin Hood a John Edwards populist? Certainly he built his brand speaking out against the injustice that was the two Nottinghams. But would he have considered calling for universal tax increases, even if the tax money would finance a universal health care system and combat, say, the plague and all those poisonings from grain-based fungal infections? Arguably, he wouldn't have allowed himself.

Versions of the Robin Hood legend have been legion, and though nearly all have focused on his distaste for inequality, fewer have made such emphatic use of his views on tax policy. This British series is briskly paced and amusingly corny. (Wandering horseman: "Have I shot the sheriff?" Respondent: "No, you shot the deputy.") It also situates the medieval vigilante among history's most aggressive taxation antagonists; he is a Grover Norquist in tights.

It's all about the Longbow Theory of Democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 5, 2007 9:07 AM

Watched in Saturday night. Quite good.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 5, 2007 9:36 AM

Saw a couple episodes of this while in the UK last fall. Reminded me of A Knight's Tale in terms of the way the dialogue was written so if you enjoyed that movie, you may like this as well.

Posted by: Rick T. at March 5, 2007 9:39 AM

The crossbow was more democratic than the longbow. To become proficient at the longbow required years of practice developing eye-hand-finger-muscle cordination. A skeleton of an English longbowman taken from the wreck of Henry VIII's flagship, HMS Mary Rose, actually showed a deformed skeleton and back bone as bone mass atually increased and deformed in response to the pressure generated by drawing a longbow. Learning to use a longbow was itself a martial art, no less difficult than training for knighthood.

OTOH, any smelly yokel can learn to use a crossbow in a few hours and can kill a knight (that spent a lifetime learning martial arts and was equipped with an expensive horse, suit of armor and steel weapons) at a safe distance of 300 yards. No wonder the Church tried to ban its use. Though it had a slower rate of "fire" (an inappropriate term for pre-gunpowder weapons) it more than made up for it with ease of use. It s a clasic example of the superiority of investing in capital machinery (the crossbow, its winch, etc.) over investment in labor (years of training).

Posted by: OTR at March 5, 2007 1:02 PM

Robin lives with his men in the woods, John Edwards lives in the largest mansion in the county.

Posted by: ic at March 5, 2007 2:41 PM

Anyone can make a longbow and arrows. They couldn't make crossbows and bolts. They had time, not money.

Posted by: oj at March 5, 2007 5:03 PM

All those longbows didn't seem to help the peasants during the Wat Tyler Rebellion. They shared the same fate as all the other peasant rebellions elsewhere. "Consent of the governed" did not rely on masses of longbow armed peasants operating independently, but the power of the local barons upholding THEIR rights.

The monarchy, as an institution, was rather weak in all of western Europe during the Middle Ages. We don't see the true rise of absolutism until the gunpowder age when the kings managed to maintain permanent armies of musket men rather than the feudal levies of their barons.

In England, the kings had to go to parliament (the barons again, not the commons) to get that money. Eventually the kings did try to become absolute; parliament won in the English Civil War, but it was a close run thing.

History and circumstance enabled France, Sweden, Spain and others to avoid asking their parliaments for money (just as the oil states today don't need to go to their people) and managed to get away with it.

There is a lesson here, and it does echo OJ's point, although the Longbow Theory is just a cartoon version of it.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at March 5, 2007 5:30 PM

The longbow was a step in the direction OJ is hinting at. However, the time needed for training was prohibitive to it's widespread use. This is more accurately called a Rifle Theory of History.

Posted by: Brandon at March 5, 2007 5:41 PM

Granted, the crossbow was a greater capital investment than the longbow (and not that much greater, except for the windlass operated steel bows), but its labor savings were considerable. Which is why the crossbow was never supplanted by the longbow (which was not exclusively English - actually it was Welsh - and even the French had their equivalent "French bow" which they used in the 100 Years War). Nor was the longbow all powerful, it was useless against Italianate armor used by the French in the last years of the 100 YW. Nor could it match gunpowder bombards and field artillery introduced by the French near the end of the war.

Posted by: OTR at March 5, 2007 8:09 PM

Mr. Judd: I've a 9-year-old boy who is obsessed with bows and arrows since becoming a Lord of the Rings fan. Is this show appropriate (i.e. not boring like Costner's Robin Hood) for him? He loves the LOTR movies.

Posted by: Buttercup at March 5, 2007 9:19 PM

Also, if anyone has suggestions for good adventure books for boys, especially anything that makes a good read aloud. We've done The Hobbit, all the Harry Potters, Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, and are currently on the 2nd Redwall (though these are getting a little too much alike for our taste). Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Posted by: Buttercup at March 5, 2007 9:23 PM


Howdy! I haven't seen it yet--no BBC America here.

Posted by: oj at March 5, 2007 9:35 PM

Try the books of G. A. Henty, Alfred Duggan and Frederick Coe, all 0of whom wrote for boys decades ago. If he likes sports try John R. Tunis.

Posted by: oj at March 5, 2007 9:38 PM

Flintlocks/Rifles were just longbows writ large.

Posted by: oj at March 5, 2007 9:39 PM

Actually, you don't have absolutism until the sovereign and the masses can cut the middle out of the picture. Our governments today are far more intrusive than any king ever was.

Posted by: oj at March 5, 2007 9:43 PM

yet they owned longbows and not crossbows, odd that.

Posted by: oj at March 5, 2007 9:44 PM


The new Robin Hood might be a little violent from a parental point of view for a 9 yr old -- tho I'd have lapped it up when I was that age.

As for boy's books, I highly recommend the historical novels of Kenneth Roberts -- Arundel, A Rabble in Arms, Northwest Passage, etc. -- all set in NE circa 1750-1780 iirc.

Also the Chip Hilton series by Clair Bee (who was one of the all-time great basketball coaches). I hear the latest versions of his books about Hilton -- an all-state sports hero in 3 sports who goes to State U, and who's clean-cut enough to make any hippy lit prof mess hisself - have been bowdlerized in the interest of the contemporary audience in all its glory. Might want to seek out the originals, tho I think they've become collectibles and fetch a price these days.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 5, 2007 10:23 PM


My boys really enjoyed "The Indian in Cupboard" series at that age.

Posted by: ted welter at March 5, 2007 10:56 PM


Try "Detectives in Togas" by Henry Winterfeld. It's about a group of schoolboys in ancient Rome trying to save their friend Rufus, who is charged with defacing a temple. It was inspired by a bit of graffitti found in Pompeii, "Caius asinus est", scrawled in a child's hand. It is really very good.

Posted by: carl at March 5, 2007 11:42 PM

A kid could even enjoy Quo Vadis, Ben Hur, The Robe and abridged version of the Three Musketeers and Count of Monte Cristo.

Posted by: oj at March 5, 2007 11:52 PM

Try King Solomon's Mines and the Rafael Sabatini Captain Blood novels.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at March 6, 2007 5:53 AM

The owners of longbows were well paid military professionals hired by the various captains under command of the English monarchs. Common peasants and burghers across Europe and even in England used the cross bow.

This was especially true of the first real democracy in Europe, the Swiss. The crossbow, in combination with other cheap weapons like the halberd and pike (which made expensive body armor and war horses unnecessary or useless in melee) made an efficient combined arms team.

Remember that the hero of Europe's first democracy, William Tell, used a crossbow.

Posted by: OTR at March 6, 2007 6:30 AM

Which is why it's the Anglosphere, not the Swissosphere.

Posted by: oj at March 6, 2007 8:09 AM


Try Edgar Rice Burroughs too: Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, Pellucidar and the Venus series are all great. Jules Verne as well.

Posted by: oj at March 6, 2007 8:10 AM

The Swiss Confederacy had a functioning democracy based on town hall meetings and federal representation of the member cantons centuries before parliament cut off the head of Charles I. The longbow had nothing to do with the development of English rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, being tiny, under populated and land locked the Swiss were unable to create an overseas empire like the British. Which is why a comparison with the Anglosphere is rather silly and sophomoric.

The crossbow was a people's weapon, a battlefield (and social) equalizer long before gunpowder. Which is why the Church tried to ban its use. Once any smelly peasant can kill a noble knight with ease the whole feudal structure of Medieval Europe that the Church promoted would unravel.

And make democracy possible.

Posted by: OTR at March 6, 2007 9:14 AM

oj, how could you not have BBC America? You're missing Benny Hill reruns.

Posted by: andrew at March 6, 2007 11:54 AM

I don't watch tv.

Posted by: oj at March 6, 2007 3:41 PM

"[I]n Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

The Swiss had no ideas and, in the absence of the democratizing longbow, no momentum.

Posted by: oj at March 6, 2007 3:45 PM

OK so what does a fictional quote from Orson Wells have to do with anything? Besides your "end of history" is goign to be Swis like boredom on a global scale.

Democracy is a pretty good idea.

The longbow didn't democratize the English or anyone. Haven't you been paying attention?

Posted by: OTR at March 6, 2007 7:41 PM

Nice discussion of military Spencerianism, demonstating the nexus of cultural progress and weapons technology.

We cant get away from it: Polemos pater panton.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 6, 2007 7:43 PM

The long bow, like the gun later, empowered the common man, thereby contributing to democratization. That's all the Robin Hood story is.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2007 12:15 AM