Alternative Legend

Something perhaps a little different from your more typical romance writer’s post this morning. But it’s what I do, and it’s not too long. So don’t give up too easily.

I’m reading Parke Godwin’s Sherwood,  a very imaginative treatment of the legend of Robin Hood. Godwin places the lovable outlaw in the 11th century, in the turbulent years following William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings and his consolidation of the British Isles.

Kevin Costner as Robin-HoodOK, wait just a minute. We’ve seen the Kevin Costner movie, even if we haven’t read any actual books, and we remember the stories from our childhood. Robin Hood was in the 13th century, right? Keeping the faith for King Richard while he was in captivity following one of the crusades. You can’t just pluck Robin Hood out of his day and put him a couple of centuries earlier, can you? Must be a law or something.

Truth of the matter is, Robin Hood is a Legend. Perhaps he is based on a historical figure, but in the end, who but a bunch of historical boffins really care? Robin Hood’s real place is in the legends and stories, not in any particular historical place.

I like Parke Godwin. He has a similar imaginative treatment in a trilogy on King Arthur, who is also the subject of my Alternative Legends. In Firelord, Morgan is one of the small people who live beneath the earth, worship the old gods, are terrified of iron, and capable of harmony with nature that we can only imagine. Godwin’s bold treatment–he is totally unafraid to change anything in the “standard” story of Arthur–gave me permission to do the same.

Our beloved King Arthur has also been the subject of “historical revisionism,” if indeed he was a historical figure. The 12th French romance poets, Chretien de Troyes notably, plucked Arthur from the late 6th-early 7th centuries and deposited him in their own times. Clad his knights in armor that wasn’t even invented yet (picture at the end of this post), and even had them joust–which of course they couldn’t have done, since stirrups hadn’t been invented yet (if a knight couched his lance and charged another knight without stirrups, he would have gone flying off the back of his own horse!).

But Arthur is no more of a historical figure than Robin Hood. His place is also in legend and story.

So how much “deviation” from “standard” is acceptable?

First of all, there is no such thing as standard. Disney’s Sword in the Stone and the musical Camelot are different treatments, not definitive. Same for Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, no matter what the medievalists think.

And second, ANY deviation is acceptable. As long as it is a good story and well told–and doesn’t strain our limits of believability too much (we readers don’t like that).

In the beginning, Rusty’s personal version of Arthurian History wasn’t particularly complex. But as my novels continued to develop the legend–and push the envelope–I had to create an extensive historical timetable about what happened when, just to keep my own stories from conflicting with each other. That was a delicious exercise in its own right, complicated only by things that I’d already published. Some of those caused me some problems, and I wished I had done it sooner!

 jousting armorPlate armor protected man and horse and allowed jousting to become a sport

5th century armorWhat Arthur would have worn if he were a real, historical figure. You didn’t joust in this stuff — be like playing football in a loincloth.

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4 Responses to Alternative Legend

  1. You are so good at bringing all of this alive for me!

  2. Karen Rossi says:

    What an interesting viewpoint! And when you think about it, it’s so true! In the end, there is no such a thing as being “historically correct” when it comes to legends! Why didn’t I ever think about that?

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