Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Come...Enter the Land of Fancy with Robin Hood and his Band of Merry Men

"This country is not Fairy-land.  What is it?  'Tis the land of Fancy, and is of that pleasant kind that, when you tire of it, -whisk!- you clap the leaves of this book together and 'tis gone, and you are ready for every-day life,
with no harm done.

"And now I lift the curtain that hangs between here and No-man's-land.  Will you come with me, sweet Reader?  I thank you.  Give me your hand."

So begins The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, written by American author Howard Pyle in 1883.

Howard Pyle
American Illustrator and Writer
from Wilmington, Delaware
March 5, 1853-November 9,1911

When he called me "sweet Reader," I was immediately hooked.  In fact, I read these two paragraphs aloud to my husband, Jeff, because I was so excited to give my hand and enter the land of Fancy.  And enter I did...

My husband, Jeff.
The day he married this neurotic book reading fool.
January 23, 2010

Pyle adapted the traditional Robin Hood stories and legends for children readers.  Each chapter follows Robin Hood in his many adventures of recruiting his band of Merry Men, foiling the Sheriff of Nottingham time and again, and detailing their methods of "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor" in an effort to help fellow man.
The edition that I read.
Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
New York

Robin Hood and his Merry Men

The only disappointment I experienced was the absence of Maid Marian in this version of the Robin Hood tale.

Robin Hood and Maid Marian

Being written for an audience of children, Pyle has created a colorful narrative with his creation of an "old English" dialect that is both poetic and light-hearted.  Considering for my passion for language, I was simply tickled by
this new "old" dialect!

An audience of enraptured children

In Part One, Chapter One, Robin encounters a Tinker "while walking merrily along the roadside where the grass was sweet with daisies."

Can't you just smell how sweet the daisies are?

He does not encounter Tinkerbell...
but note how she does wear Lincoln green.

But rather, he encounters a Tinker
a.k.a. an itinerant tinsmith.

Like any men encountering strangers on a leisurely stroll through the forest, Robin and the Tinker initiate their acquaintance with immediate challenges.  After a few choice words have been exchanged, Robin laughingly tells the Tinker, "Why, thy wits are like beer, and do froth up most when they grow sour!  But right art thou, man, for I love ale and beer right well."  

Mmmmm...frothy beer.

And who doesn't love a frothy beer?  (Well, truthfully, I don't really love beer.  But most people do.)  So now Robin officially recruits the Tinker as a member of his band of outlaws.  The deal is sealed over a foaming beverage.

The deal is sealed.

One of the most charming activities I found in Robin Hood is the propensisty of these grown men of the forest to break into song at any moment
for the sake of entertainment.   

Elizabethan song of Robin Hood

Long gone are these days of self-entertainment, replaced by the mind-numbing atrocities of television, radio, and video games. 

I'd much rather read.
Sometimes I do listen to Classical music
while reading.
Um...I'd rather do anything else!

During Robin Hood's days, circa 1100, even books were a rare form of entertainment, reserved for the educated and the wealthy.  Books were a real luxury during that time, each copy being handwritten by paid scribes on vellum, which is made from calf skin, and bound with wood covered in leather. 

A wood covered book circa 12th Century
Handwritten text on parchment or vellum
A Medieval scribe

So the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest had to discover other means of entertainment during their frolicking ventures through the woods.   Music filled this void.  It was a common practice to engage in the singing of ballads while basking in the freshness of Nature's glories. 

Singing a ballad in the forest

For example, in Part Three, Chapter Three, the brave Will Scarlet recalls a song "that a certain minstrel used to sing" in his father's hall.  It begins,

"In the merry blossom time,
When love-longings flood the breast,
When the flower is on the lime,
When the small fowl builds her nest,
Sweetly sings the nightingale
And the throstle-cock so bold;
Cuckoo in the dewy dale,
And the turtle in the wild.
But the robin love dear,
For he singeth through the year.
Robin!  Robin!
Merry Robin!
So I'd have my true love be:
Not to fly
At the nigh
Sign of cold adversity."

Will Scarlet.  He's the one in scarlet.

And there are so many other delightful ditties sprinkled generously throughout the pages of Robin Hood.   The book is also filled with adventures and trials for grown-ups and children alike.  The characters are amusing and daring, entertaining and brave, clever and witty.  Well, the protagonists are...Pyle portrays some of the adversaries of Robin Hood and his Merry Men as dimwitted and dense, boorish and blundering, and sometimes just downright dumb.  These characteristics do provide many opportunities for a great big belly laugh from the sweet Reader.  All in all, I found Robin Hood to be a light, easy, and entertaining read.  Simply satiating for this hungry reader.

However, after finishing Robin Hood, I became interested in the history of the Robin Hood legend.  So I commenced some brief research on  As it turns out, there are piles of history on the character of Robin Hood.  I was surprised to find that the first clear reference to Robin Hood appeared in William Langland's Piers Plowman, a poem dating from the mid to late Fourteenth Century.  The allegorical character Sloth personified by the lazy priest, confesses, "I kan [know] not parfitly [perfectly] my Paternoster as the preest it singeth,/ But I kan rymes of Robyn Hood."  Robin Hood also appears in many traditional English ballads from
the Fifteenth through the Seventheenth Centuries. 

A page from William Langland's
Piers Plowman

There is much speculation if a real Robin Hood as ever really existed.  He as been referred to as the Earl of Huntington and portrayed as a contemporary of the late Twelfth Century king, Richard the Lionheart. 

King Richard the Lionheart

Robin Hood has shown up in Thirteenth Century French pastourelles (lyric forms concerning the romance of shepherdesses) as well as Sixteenth Century Germanic goblin legends.  Some academics claim that the Robin Hood legend stems from actual historical outlaws such as Sir William Wallace, the Thirteenth Century Scottish knight so famously portrayed
by Mel Gibson in Braveheart.  

Mel Gibson as William Wallace
in the 1995 Academy Award winning film

Others claim Robin Hood may have been Hereward the Wake, an Eleventh Century exile who led local resistance against the Norman Conquest of England.

Hereward the Wake

But I guess we can never know who this Robin Hood really was.  What we do know is that he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, he was an extraordinary swordsman and archer who donned Lincoln green clothes, and sought to assist his fellow man in need with his band of Merry Men.  

Robin Hood, the Archer.

Archer James, the Baby.
Coming this May.

We also know that Robin Hood is the outlaw who we cannot help but love.  As a result, he continues to make appearances in contemporary literature, television and movies.  To find him elsewhere, check out the wikipedia entries for 
"Robin Hood in popular culture" and
 "List of films and television series featuring Robin Hood."  
Happy reading.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pure as the Driven Snow

In honor of the phrase "pure as the driven snow," I have decided to lose my blogging-virginity on this snowy white day. 

The weather outside my apartment today

The world of blogging is very new and foreign to me, and I am not afraid to admit, quite a bit frightening as well.  But since my sister Lori started her blog,, a few months ago, I became a bit envious of how much fun she was having with it.  Not to mention, I think she is brilliant and wanted to follow in my big sister's footsteps.  Thank you, Lori.

My sister Lori, an avid foodie and my Blogging Coach

My sister Lori's blog: Recipes & Tales from Life's Kitchen

A shameless plug for my sister's ice cream truck,
Oogie's Ice Cream
Because we ALL love ice cream!

There was no question that if I started blogging it would have to be about books.  My friend Alison Leigh (of Hair by Eskandalo  and WINK Magazine) has been urging me for years to create a book blog. 

My friend Alison

Hair by Eskandalo!
in Beautiful Southside Bethlehem, PA 

WINK Magazine

And everyone who knows me is well aware that I am a passionate, eager, and voracious reader, devouring 2-3 books every week.  In fact, I rarely turn on the television or radio, opting instead for the much more stimulating activity of getting lost in a good book (well, sometimes in a bad book, too.) 

My library and me

For as long as I can remember, or for as long as I could read, I have cherished and nurtured my undying love for books, stories, poetry, quotes, and the English language in general.  I am so intrigued by every form of writing, right down to the fundamentals of composition.  I adore books, I enjoy each paragraph, I acknowledge every sentence, and I appreciate every word.  I get a thrill when I hear someone use a rare or eloquent word in an everyday sentence.  Or a profound statement is made.  Or I read a clever quote somewhere.  Simply put, words and language fascinate me. 
They always have.

One of my first favorite books

When I was younger, I challenged myself to read every book that was ever written.  Yes, every book.  Ever.  Written.  Now, in my adult years, I know that was quite an impossible feat to undertake.  But in my na├»ve mind, it was a goal that could be accomplished.  So around the tender age of 12, I began reading the Encyclopedia entries for every writer accomplished enough
to earn a place in the Encyclopedia. 

The Encyclopedia Britannica circa 1979:
 Very similar to the edition we had at home.

Keep in mind, when I was 12, we did not have the luxury of home computers to find this information.  If we had, I may have realized then how impossible  and daunting this task was.  According to Google, there are 129,864,880 books in the world!  Nevertheless, I began creating (on a typewriter) index cards for each author that I discovered in the Encyclopedia with a complete list of every work published by that author. 

The typewriter I used looked a lot like this one.

And I was going to read them all!  And I never even made it completely through the Encyclopedia entries.  I have, however, engaged in a lifelong pursuit to read as much as I could while still functioning as a normal human being who interacts regularly in society. 

(Meaning: I did not intend on becoming a lonesome hermit who dies amidst a massive heap of decomposing books.)

Not going to be me!

While I am not a reclusive reader, I am such a fanatic that last year I embarked on a journey of a different sort.  I had a local tattoo artist, Ken Sigafoos, design a fabulous piece of art to forever imprint  on my right arm. 

Sigafoos Tattoo in Southside Bethlehem, PA

Throughout the designing process, this piece became affectionately known as “The Library Fairy” and it embodies my idea of heaven.  A tattered little fairy flitting about for eternity in a mountain of old books. 
So peaceful.  So serene.  So me.

The Library Fairy

In order to begin this blogging venture, I will rely first on my journal of the books I have read, or have attempted to read.  I began keeping this journal in the fall of 2003 and have become quite a bit obsessive about my literary journey. 

My journal

The very first page

In the spring of 2007, I undertook another challenge.  I would read every novel that ever was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  A much more feasible goal, I must say.

The Joseph Pulitzer Medal:
Awarded for Excellence in newspaper journalism,
literary achievements, and musical composition

And what an exciting and adventurous ride my literary odyssey has been.  I thought it was high time to begin sharing with other readers the wondrous, astounding, and sometimes disturbing and frustrating things I have discovered in my world of books.  I believe that “anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.” (Unknown Author)  For there are so many worlds to be discovered, so many characters to be encountered, and so many thrilling ideas to experience all within the pages of a great book.  Happy reading!

Stay tuned for book reviews by a hungry reader.