I have been interested in the Robin Hood legend for over forty years. It has become quite an obsession. Down those years I have collected and read quite a vast array of literature on the illusive outlaw. Everything from the early ballads, graphic comics, film promotions, literature for children and attempts to identify him, fill my shelves. So whenever a new book comes out, my ears prick up and I investigate.
As you can probably imagine, it is hard to re-write a legend that has been established for over nine hundred years. Quite recently the writers of the Russell Crowe movie were forced by Universal Pictures to alter their radically original script through fear of not getting enough bottoms on seats in cinemas. It seems the general public do not like the traditional story of Robin Hood tampered with too much, so it quite a challenge for writers to come up with a new approach to an ancient myth.
But in my opinion, “Wolf’s Head”, Steven A. McKay’s debut novel, cleverly blows away quite a few of those old cobwebs. In this fast moving story we find ourselves, not in Nottingham during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, but in fourteenth century Wakefield, Yorkshire, during the start of the civil war between Thomas Earl of Lancaster and Edward II.
McKay has decided to use in his novel a candidate put forward by the minister and antiquarian Joseph Hunter (1783-1861). Hunter discovered a Robert Hood in the chamber accounts of Edward II and believed he was the same man recorded in the Wakefield Court Rolls and caught up in the Lancastrian rebellion. As a tenant of Thomas Earl of Lancaster Robert/Robin would have had to fight for his lord at the Battle of Boroughbridge (1322) and consequently outlawed. Hunter believed Robert Hood was later pardoned by the king and invited to court, like in the legend. There is more information on this website.
So “Wolf’s Head” begins Robin’s gritty journey from living in the town of Wakefield with his family and girlfriend Matilda, to becoming caught up in the turmoil of the times and outlawed. But life in the forest is not the romantic ideal usually portrayed in the literature and movies. We come across the traditional characters of the legend; but in McKay’s story we witness the harsh reality of broken men outside the law being hunted like wolfs.
Steven McKay’s novel is a fast-moving action packed adventure that I found hard to put down. It deserves its place up there on the top shelf of Robin Hood literature and I am looking forward to the sequel.