For my money, the legendary Robin Hood is probably more a mythic figure of English invention, than any “for-real” person, whose history became mythologized. One, the general ubiquity of both the names “Robin” and “Hood” in early English culture suggests a sort-of Everyman connection; two, Robin’s emergence as the hero of popular ballads, and as the central figure in medieval May Games (celebrating the first of May, or Beltane, as we know it now), would seem to suggest strongly a character of folklore. (Mr. Hood’s deep antipathy towards the medieval church may be of pertinence here.) As to what would appear to be the “Pagan” associations with his myth- his identification with the greenwoods and nature (he is sort of a Green Man figure, in a lot of ways), as well as his identification through the Celtic “Hood” (carrying kind-of Druidic associations), in addition to his feisty independence and willingness to be a champion for the cause of the Little Guy against abusive authoritarianism- all make me wonder if he does not represent an individualized cultural memory of the ancient “Celt” to the medieval English. Robin Hood’s deep association with the May Games (which holiday itself is Pagan, and which otherwise remained as Pagan as could be, much to the frustration of later Puritans) all by itself suggests something very Pagan in his nature.
In the 20th century, Mr. Hood proved time and again a popular hero in motion pictures, each era apparently reinventing the legend to suit their own expectations. In 1922, the first action-hero movie-star Douglas Fairbanks achieved his greatest screen success with Robin Hood; sixteen years later, Fairbanks’ film successor Errol Flynn scored his quintessential movie-performance in The Adventures of Robin Hood (arguably, Flynn remains the screen’s best Robin Hood, something about Mr. Flynn just seeming so “right” in the part). The dashing hero of Sherwood Forest went on to be interpreted by Sean Connery as a world-weary figure in 1976′s Robin and Marian; as a pronouncedly Pagan figure in the ’80s cult-Brits-TV show Robin of Sherwood; and as a subject of spoof by Mel Brooks in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Indeed, two of Today’s He-Man movie-actors have had their go at the Action Movie-Hero’s Hamlet: Kevin Costner, in 1991′s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Russell Crowe in 2010′s Robin Hood. Clearly some aspect of this Middles Ages character continues to speak to subsequent generations.
The super-hero aspects of the Robin Hood myth probably made inevitable its reinterpretation into comic-books: as was demonstrated by DC with their introduction of Green Arrow. The popularity of the Emerald Archer made him the ideal candidate, when the long-running series Smallville wished to introduce a second male-lead. Exhibiting super-heroism through physical skill, cunning, and technology, Green Arrow proved the perfect counterpart to the awe-inspiring abilities of the future Superman. (His frequent disguised, hooded appearance made for an excitingly mysterious vigilante-of-justice, as well; he basically became the series’ Batman.)
In fact, so popular did Green Arrow prove in the best TV Superhero Series to-date- in the best traditions of the comic-book spin-off, the Archer is getting his own series on the CW Network, with the debuting Arrow. More of a gritty look at vigilante crime-fighting than Smallville, I gather this new show will not feature as many cameos from other residents of the DC Comics universe (hey, it’s Isis and the Wonder Twins!) Arrow does, however, point to a continuing cultural fascination with heroes determined to resist corruption and injustice- if need be, with arrow and hood. The medieval Robin Hood continues to live, and to inspire legend.