The Outlaws of Sherwood

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The Outlaws of Sherwood
Author Robin McKinley
Language English
Publisher Greenwillow Books
Ace Fantasy
Publication date
1988 (Greenwillow)
1989 (Ace Fantasy)
2002 (Firebird)
Published in English
Pages 288 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-0-688-07178-3 (hardcover)
978-0698119598 (paperback, 2002 edition)

The Outlaws of Sherwood is a retelling of the legend of Robin Hood by Robin McKinley. In McKinley's Afterword, the history of the tales of Robin Hood is described as "the retellings through the centuries have echoed concurrent preoccupations."

The story includes both the traditional Robin Hood characters like Little John, Friar Tuck, and Allan-a-Dale, alongside characters of McKinley's own invention, with detailed attention to the motivations and thoughts of characters. Notably, three of the most important characters are women, and all of them escape marriage to prospective spouses chosen for economic or political reasons by their fathers.


Robin is on his way to meet his friends Marian, a noblewoman, and Much, the miller's son, at the Nottingham Fair. Robin serves as a king's forester in Sherwood forest and fletches arrows to make enough income to keep his holding. Robin is just a mediocre archer - his father Robert was much better, and Robin feels he doesn't live up to his father's legacy. On his way, Robin is accosted by some of the other foresters. An archery contest ensues between Robin and one of the foresters, Tom Moody, and Robin miraculously wins. As he is walking away, one of the foresters shoots an arrow at Robin that nearly kills him. Without thinking, Robin shoots at arrow at Tom Moody's leg, but it instead hits his heart and kills him. Robin runs away and hides in the forest until Much and Marian find him. Much hides Robin in his father's barn at the mill, and Marian steals Robin's father's longbow for him from Robin's house.

Much thinks that Robin should hide in Sherwood Forest and gather a band of men with him as an idealistic resistance to the tyrannous sheriff of Nottingham. Robin disagrees, not wanting to put others in danger, but is overruled when Much begins to hold meetings in his house with other disgruntled members of the community. Robin finds a place in the woods, which later earns the name Greentree, for the outlaws’ camp. Marian assists the effort by procuring green fabric for clothing.

The band grows, and they live by killing the king’s deer with arrows they make themselves. They also begin to rob the rich who pass through the forest to assist the local families. Many members join the band, including the huge man Little John, who killed a man coming to arrest him for the debt he owed on his farm, and Will Scarlet, a cheerful nobleman, as well as several female members and families. Will soon receives troubling news that his younger sister has locked herself in her room rather than wed a Norman baron, but Robin refuses to help, thinking the effort too dangerous and not worthwhile.

Soon a young minstrel named Alan-a-dale seeks their help. His beloved, Marjorie, is to wed a baron, and he wants to rescue her. Despite Robin’s misgivings, the band agrees. They seek out Will’s friend Friar Tuck to perform the wedding ceremony and show up at the chapel on Marjorie’s wedding day, where Marjorie marries Alan instead of the original groom, the disgruntled baron. Meanwhile, Little John and others rob the baron’s house. Following the wedding, Alan and Marjorie join Robin’s band.

Robin’s band soon after takes on a mysterious young man named Cecil, who Robin suspects was once an aristocrat because he avoids Will and Marian, who frequently visits the outlaws, as they are people who possibly once knew him in his former life. He is assigned to Little John for training.

Robin soon hears word that Sir Richard of the Lea, a man who was very kind to him when Robin was a king’s forester, is about to lose his property due to debts racked up by bailing his troublesome son out of trouble. The son was sent off to fight with King Richard in the Holy Lands, but Sir Richard will lose his castle. Robin and his men gather up the riches “collected” from those who pass through their forest and head off to Sir Richard’s castle the day it is to be turned over to its new owner. The only reason the outlaws are not all killed is because Marian is present and negotiated on Robin’s behalf. Her suitor, Nigel, is jealous of the way that Robin and Marian act towards each other, and Robin and Nigel even get into a fight that Robin wins. Though Sir Richard is grateful, Robin’s worries increase because he realizes the sheriff of Nottingham has even greater cause to hate him because Robin made him appear foolish.

The day before the Nottingham fair, a year after Robin became an outlaw, Cecil is discovered to be a girl, and Will recognizes her as his sister, Cecily, who had hid in her room so she wouldn’t have to be married. They make up, and Cecily is allowed to stay in the band.

Marian brings Robin news of an archery contest at the fair with a prize of a golden arrow – it is obviously a trap for Robin. Robin does not go, but Cecily and Little John go in disguise to see what happens. They watch an archer win the contest, who everyone believes to be Robin Hood. However, Little John and Cecily realize that the man is actually Marian in disguise. Guy of Gisbourne, a mercenary hired by the sheriff of Nottingham, attacks Marian, thinking she is Robin. Cecily and Little John, with the help some traveling performers, spirit Marian away to Friar Tuck’s hideout in the forest. Marian has a deep wound to the stomach. Little John runs to get Robin back at Greentree, who recklessly runs to Tuck’s place as fast as he can. He and Marian talk, and for the first time, he tells her he loves her. He also asks her to marry him, and is slightly relieved when Tuck thinks Marian will recover.

Soon after, Guy of Gisbourne and his men find Tuck’s hideout, believing he is hiding an injured Robin. Robin and his band attack Guy’s men, and though they are heavily outnumbered and sustain many injuries, they manage to defeat them. However, several members of their band die in the effort. During the battle, Marjorie runs to get help from Sir Richard, who arrives the next morning and takes the outlaws back to his castle to keep them safe from the sheriff. The sheriff is furious that Sir Richard is hiding the outlaws, and both he and Sir Richard send word to King Richard the Lionheart, who has just returned from captivity in a German prison. During their stay, Little John and Cecily profess their love for one another, and the outlaws begin to recover from their wounds.

After some days, King Richard shows up at Sir Richard’s castle unannounced. He makes all the outlaws swear fealty to him, and then discusses their fates. He tells them that every able-bodied one of them must go to fight in the Holy Lands against the Saracens for their punishment. He offers the injured ones a chance to stay in England, but they all wish to go with Robin to the Holy Lands. Since Sir Richard’s son died in the war, the king makes Robin the heir to Sir Richard’s lands and will allow Robin and Marian to marry before the band must leave for the Holy Lands. The book closes with a toast to health, victory, the king’s mercy, and comrades.


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