Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Robin of Sherwood

It's now Wednesday again!

A few moons ago, Richard "Kip" Carpenter, the creator of the amazing historical fantasy TV show, "Robin of sherwood", died, 82 years old.

Carpenter also created the "Dick Turpin" TV show, which I remember having watched some episodes of in the mid 1980s, and he has done some other things I might have seen, such as "Black Beauty" (not sure if I ever watched a television version of that, but possible) and maybe some version of "The Borrowers" (I recall having watched something that was like "The Borrowers"on Danish or Swedish television, but the chronology doesn't fit - I have a sense that what I recall was from when I was younger, so probably a show with a similar premise but not based on Mary Norton's novels. Tiny people is a good visual gimmick for a film or show). But it is for "Robin of Sherwood" that he will never be forgotten.

A golden age of historical fantasy?
Some great historical fantasy was made in the early 1980s, such as Tarr's "Isle of glass" and Bradshaw's Arthurian trilogy. Obviously historical fantasy existed as a subgenre before that, and it continues to be written today, but there's just something magical, for me, about those three: Tarr's halv-elves, and the fey Gwalchmai, and Carpenter's new and refreshing envisioning of the legends of Robin Hood.

Perhaps it had (or has) to do with shifting trends and a greater degree of freedom? Bradshaw is clearly a Christian and goes to great length to avoid portraying polytheists in detail, but both Tarr and Carpenter have a sort of openness to paganism that I suspect would not have fared well in the 1970s or earlier. And even if Bradshaw is wary of putting pagans in the focus, what little she does write about them sounds true, very much unlike Bradley.

In all three cases, my preference is for the earlier works. The first two shorter seasons of "Robin of Sherwood", with the dark-haired Michael Praed, are somewhat better than the third and longer season with the blonde Jason Connery. Both novel trilogies end up greatly tragic, particularly Tarr's 2nd novel featuring the 4th crusade, and Bradshaw's third novel, featuring the infidelity of Guinevere and Lancelot Bedivere, which causes the ruin of Arthur's empire of law, peace and justice. It is handled well, though, and the same can be said about Carpenter's series (spoiler: The reason that Robin i' the Hood changes hair colour is that Robin of Locksley dies, in the last episode of the 2nd season, "The Greatest Enemy").

Doing the research
Carpenter gets a lot of things right, such as the indifference of Abbott Hugo towards the pagan practices of the Saxons in the village of Wiccan. I have no reason to at all to disbelieve the story that during one shoot, Carpenter made a left-handed actress write with her right hand, due to the strong bias against left-handedness in medieval times (basically, you were supposed to use your left hand - and only your left hand - for wiping yourself after taking a crap, and so it was considered to be a permanently unclean hand). He displays a great insight into both history and legend.

One odd thing, though, is that the Saxons appear to follow Keltic pagan practices, rather than Germanic ones. My best guess is that Carpenter was aware of this, but opted for Keltic paganism because he found it more appealing, and less boring, than Germanic (Norse) paganism. Also a figure such as Herne wouldn't have worked well in the context of Germanic paganism. Still... "Blessed be?"

Greatly inspiring
Certainly to me, anyway. Robin of Sherwood, as well as Clannad's excellent music, has had a lasting influence on me. Tolkien was by far the strongest influence, in getting me interested in fantasy, but it was Tarr and Carpenter who planted the seeds for an interest in historical fantasy, in the sense of mythology and legend mixed with thoroughly researched fact, and spiced with an understanding of the memes - the way people in the past thought, and the values they held (e.g. Abbott Hugo).

It is also at least highly suspect that I decided to go severely alternate history in my Ärth setting, and have the British Isles remain pagan (and Britain also remaining Keltic). I wanted some druids and so forth in the setting, and could not be content to have them only on Ireland. I almost made a major fuck-up, though, but a couple of guys named Tom and Harry straightened me out, in that regard. And that's all I'll say about that, in a medium as public as this one.

Some good characters
Well, the degree of mental retardation that the character Much suffers from is reduced at times, presumably when Carpenter is not the writer. That suggests that he should have written a more strongly worded character bible. I like the dark-haired Robin, and I have nothing against the blonde one, although neither are particularly good as characters. They do their work just fine, but don't stand out. Nasir is a funny one, in that he seems to have started a trend, mainly because the script writers of "Prince of Thieves" assumed that the Arab character was a native of the legends, and not a very recent invention.
"What do you make of that?"
"Well, it's a silver arrow."
"No, brother, it's the Silver Arrow. Herne's Arrow. You really should read more, Hugo... This was described by Gildas the Monk, over five hundred years ago, and it's even older than that. Much older."
Robert de Reinault, the Sherrif of Nottingham,
and his brother, Hugo de Reinault, the Abbott

The Sheriff of Nottingham is an excellent villain, though. He's not my all-time favourite bad guy (in audiovisual1 media, that great honour goes to William Forsythe's portrayal of Al Capone2, with a very good 2nd place for Rickman's Hans Gruber from "Die Hard" - Rickman's version of the Sheriff in "Prince of Thieves" was also a good villain, but nowhere near top five material), but he is very good. The dynamic of the highly intelligent Sheriff and his incompetent henchman (Guy of Gisbourne) is also a good idea, allowing for the presence of a dangerously clever villain while still justifying several victories won by the good guys.

Now in hi-rez!
Many years ago, I speculated that there'd be a Blue-Ray release at some point, since the series was recorded on film (only 16mm, but still) rather than with video cameras. When preparing for this blog entry, I had in mind mentioning the possibility, but then I went over to YouTube to try to find a good clip to link to, and to my surprise the first hit when searching (at that time) was a trailer for the HD version. I haven't bought the Blue-Ray yet, but the DVD version definitely does not look too pretty when played on my laptop computer, so I am much in favour of a cleaned-up and higher-resolution version.

Peter Knutsen types these letters

1. My all-time favourite villain, of course is Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, as portrayed in the early novels, "Red Dragon" and even more so "The Silence of the Lambs". Another villain from written fiction, who is unusually well done, is Zahn's Grand Admiral Thrawn.

2. Gimli makes an appearance in "Robin of Sherwood" (impressively and in some ways historically accurate), and is a main character in "The Untochables".

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