Novelist reinvents Robin Hood as medieval gangster

GIJON, Spain Wed Jul 14, 2010 11:13pm IST

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GIJON, Spain (Reuters) - Robin Hood was a medieval Don Corleone rather than the altruistic renegade aristocrat known to millions around the world, says British novelist Angus Donald.

Donald is working on a quintet of Robin Hood novels, the first of which "Outlaw" was published in July 2009. The second in the series is titled "Holy Warrior," set during the Third Crusade in the 12th Century and due out in Britain on July 22.

He spoke to Reuters about the Robin Hood legend and the latest film version on the sidelines of the Semana Negra (Noir Week) crime writing festival in Gijon, northern Spain, which is one of the biggest literary fairs in Europe.

Q: What makes your Robin Hood so different, and why?

A: "I wanted to make an authentic Robin Hood. I felt that basically we'd had this rather sanitized, whitewashed version of Robin Hood, given to us by Hollywood and books.

"I started to read the ballads, the earliest one of which is from 1450, called "Robin Hood and the Monk," and I discovered a much darker, more violent much less palatable Robin Hood to the one we're used to.

"We would not recognize the do-gooding, thigh-slapping, quick-trading gentleman-archer we know from fiction. I think he would have been closer to a homicidal mugger.

"He is a dark and violent man. He does, however, have a code of honor. I found the hook when I was watching the "Godfather" film for the umpteenth time and I was looking at Don Corleone, who behaves very much like a feudal baron."

Q: You referred to Little John earlier. Do all the other usual suspects appear in your books, like the Sheriff of Nottingham and Friar Tuck?

A: "We have all of those, but again we must be as authentic as possible. I set this book at the end of the 12th Century, there were no friars in England at that time, so he is Brother Tuck, "Frere" Tuck, which is where we get the word "friar" from anyway.

"I also replicate some of the scenes you find in the stories, for example when Robin forces Friar Tuck to take him on his back across the river, and they come back again, go back and forth and then fight, which seemed a nonsensical thing in my story, so I had Friar Tuck as a monk who was manning a ferry."

Q: Tell us about "Holy Warrior," your new book.

A: "Robin unwillingly is forced to go on the Third Crusade with Richard the Lionheart, which is an epic in itself. They go to the Holy Land and they fight a very big battle against Saladdin, someone's trying to kill Robin and there's all sorts of intrigue and an awful lot of fighting."

Q: Any possibility of films coming out of any of them?

A: "Well not really. We've just had Russell Crowe muscling his way through Nottingham and I thought it was a bit of a disappointment, one of those mish-mashes where there's too many script-writers, a director pulling this way, a star pulling that way and a scriptwriter who's fired and another guy comes in and says: "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we added this in," so what you get is a bit of a mess.

"Having said that, it made England look beautiful, which is always a plus, and Cate Blanchett was fantastic and the fight scenes were pretty good."

Q: Has your 20-year journalistic career had a bearing on the books?

A: "I was in Afghanistan covering the war for The Independent (newspaper), I was at Tora Bora when they were looking for Osama bin Laden in the caves. I saw an awful lot of bloodshed and violence, and I think it's colored the books."

(Reporting by Martin Roberts, editing by Paul Casciato)

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