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Literature / The Outlaws of Sherwood

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The Outlaws of Sherwood is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend by Robin McKinley. It deliberately deconstructs the figures and setting, trying for historical accuracy and psychological plausibility, as well as unusual attention paid to the matter of privies.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Accidental Aiming Skills: Robin is usually a fairly poor archer, but early on in the novel he has a stroke of very good (or very bad, depending on your perspective) luck with his bow in an impromptu shooting match with Tom Moody. The second part of this instance leads to the Accidental Murder described below.
  • Accidental Murder: How Robin winds up an outlaw.
  • Action Girl: Marian, Eva, Sibyl, and Cecily.
  • Allergic to Routine: Will Scarlet. Many people also think this why King Richard went off to the Crusades.
  • Arranged Marriage: Will's sister Sess ran away from one of these, and Marjorie was rescued from one.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Robin watches over and admires Marian while she's unconscious from her injury sustained by Guy of Gisbourne.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hurrah! They defeat the sheriff, the Official Couples all make it out intact and committed, Robin is named heir to a wealthy Saxon landholding, and all of the outlaws are pardoned... sort of. King Richard's (actually pretty realistic) punishment for their technically criminal behavior is to conscript them into The Crusades, thus separating them from their beloved homeland for several years (and that's if they survive). Even Much and Alan, who were crippled in the last battle, choose to come and work in the king's service.
  • Bow and Sword in Accord: Will is proficient with both weapons, though we don't see much of his sword work until the Final Battle.
  • Broken Bird: Aethelreda.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: Sir Richard only arrives after the battle with Gisbourne is finished, but does provide welcome refuge and medical aid.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Robin and Marian.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Notably (for a Robin Hood story) averted; with one or two exceptions, Robin is very pragmatic about which causes he decides to aid.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Alan-a-dale has hints of this. Marjorie notes that he would be content to live off tree leaves if they would nourish him to keep writing romantic songs. There are frequent references to his tendency to drift around playing his lute regardless of the surrounding circumstances.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: How Robin and Little John are acquainted.
  • Feudal Overlord: The sheriff is a classic villainous example, along with all the lesser Norman landholders. Sir Richard of the Lea is a rare beneficent example of one.
  • Forest Ranger: The "king's" foresters fit this trope, despite that most of them, when compared with the outlaw band, are only marginally more competent at it than the average peasant.
  • Heroic BSoD: Sess has one of these during the weeks leading up to her wedding to Sir Aubrey; Sir Richard talks about having had one when his mortgaged lands were to be seized by the sheriff.
  • Historical Domain Character: Richard the Lionheart at the end, with more historical nuance than is often the case when Richard appears at the end of a Robin Hood tale.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Many (but not all) of the outlaws are a much better shot than anyone else, though it's justified by lots and lots of practice and their specially-made longbows.
    • In the beginning of the novel, Robin is thinking about how he knows people who can not only sight accurately with a bow, but seem to always know when a gust of wind is coming that might throw off their aim and adjust for it; he is lamenting that he is not one of these people. (It's implied that Marian, on the other hand, is.)
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Much thinks that Robin should have a more distinctive name; Robin pulls his cloak up against the ever-present rain and dryly suggests "Robin of the Hood". Much accepts this as the best he's going to get.
  • Love Confession:
  • The Medic: Friar Tuck, despite not actually living with the outlaw band, is their go-to healer for anything more serious than scratches.
  • No Sense of Direction: Almost everyone falls prey to this in Sherwood Forest, to the point where the preferred method of finding the outlaw camp is to wander into the forest, promptly get lost, and wait to be rescued (or captured) by Robin Hood.
  • One of the Boys: Marian.
  • A Protagonist Shall Lead Them
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
  • Refuge in Audacity: Sir Richard purports that this might be how the outlaws can get the king to listen to them:
    The Lionheart has some sympathy for boldness ... and little sympathy for greed.
  • Riches to Rags: Will Scarlet, Cecil, Marjorie. In Robin's backstory, his nobly-born mother married a penniless forester.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Robin wants to embark on one of these after Marian is wounded by Guy of Gisbourne; the Final Battle descends on him before he has the chance. After it's over and there are many unheroic dead, he feels guilty for his "passion".
  • Runaway Bride: Marjorie, when her true love shows up at the altar to stop her Arranged Marriage.
  • Runaway FiancÚe: Cecily is fleeing from an Arranged Marriage with a Norman lord more than twice her age.
  • Runaway Hideaway: Greentree becomes the kind that other runaways run away to, to Robin's perpetual chagrin.
  • Samus Is a Girl: It's Cecily, actually.
  • Second Place Is for Winners: Uses the traditional Robin Hood story of an archery contest set up to lure Robin in by using a golden arrow as the prize, and comments in passing that the other contestants are likely to miss their shots to win the lesser, more practical prizes of livestock. (This being an unusually pragmatic version of Robin, he has no interest in the contest at all, demanding to know what on earth he'd do with a golden arrow.)
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Played straight with Marjorie, who is horrified to learn that the outlaws live in moveable shelters rather than a house. Will has hints of this at first—Robin is particularly nervous that he'll play this trope straight—but it is soon averted. While Cecil did throw up the first time he saw a stag being gutted, it's later revealed he also hated the trappings of noble life.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Robin Hood. Among other things, Robin is quite possibly the worst archer in the band; all his famous trick shots turn out to have been dumb luck or have actually been performed by one of the other Merry Men and attributed to him. Near the end, a character who's been listening to all the Robin Hood stories says he's disappointed that Robin isn't ten feet tall and able to knock down walls with his voice.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: The line itself is never said, but Robin and the band crash Marjorie's wedding with a Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • Starving Artist: Alan.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Cecil(y). Someone ends up Sweet on Polly Oliver.
  • True Companions: The outlaws. At the end of the book, King Richard offers several of the outlaws the chance to stay in England; every one of them chooses to accompany their comrades to Palestine.
  • Twice-Told Tale
  • Unable to Support a Wife: Robin periodically angsts about this, and it's the primary reason he puts off revealing his feelings to Marian. Resolved (and lampshaded) in the end when the king makes him heir to Sir Richard's lands.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Robin and Marian get plenty of it. There's also a particularly acute one-sided case of it between Cecily and Little John, before the Sweet on Polly Oliver thread is resolved.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Any female member of the outlaw band, for practical reasons; lampshaded with Sybil and Eva, who even an outsider looking for women doesn't initially recognize as female. Especially notable is Cecily, who has more than one reason for applying this trope.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: References a less uncanny version of the trope when King Richard says that the climate in the Holy Land means wounds don't heal like they should.