The origins of Robin Hood (or, “Robin Wood”) are buried in the imaginal of the medieval ancestors’ dreams. His colors are green and gold, the heraldry of the forest. Some have said that he is a collective memory of the The Green Man, or Pan, returning to the people in the midnight of the middle ages when they needed him most. His role was to be a Trickster for the beaten soul of England. Trickster is the archetype who mocks the King and gets away laughing. It’s a serious and necessary power in every culture that shows itself in various ways.
I’m especially fond of Robin Hood in T. H White’s The Sword in the Stone, the first volume of The Once and Future King. Young King Arthur, before he knows he is a king, goes pouncing out on adventures with Merlin, getting turned into the animal people, the better to get himself “eddicated” about humane lordship, by Merlin’s benevolent devising. One day he goes into the forest. He meets Little John, who is a giant, and Little John tells a tale about the Lord of the Forest…
“Aye, Robin ‘ood. What else should un be, seein’ as he rules ’em. They’m free pleaces, the ‘oods, and fine pleaces. Let thee sleep in ’em, come summer, come winter, and hunt in ’em for thy commons lest thee starve; and smell to ’em as they brings forward their comely bright leaves, according to order, or loses of ’em by the same order back’ards: let thee stand in ’em that thou be’st not seen, and move in “em that thou be’st not heard, and warm thee with ’em as thou fall’st on sleep—ah, they’m proper fine pleaces, the ‘oods, for a free man of hands and heart.”
Robin Hood was probably not a singular man, but a conglomeration of many medieval bandits, dissenters, peasants and folk at the age of society assuming the collective name in their adventures against authority. T.H White’s words ally Sir Robin with the soul of the forest itself, an embodied face of an older, unconquerable wildness. Regardless of whether Robin Hood ever literally existed, what matters is that the English-speaking world has so passionately claimed this figure as a deep mythological symbol of the untamed soul still present in the heart of Western art and mythology. That is what makes him emotionally and enduringly relevant.
White, T. H. The Once and Future King. New York: Putnam, 1958. Print.