Book Name and Description: The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood
You are invited underneath the great greenwood tree to hear how a young man became a hero, and a hero became a legend. When Robin takes a shortcut through Sherwood Forest, the path he chooses leads not to Nottingham’s archery contest, but to a life on the run from the law. Unable now to become a knight, and joined by his childhood friends, Robin Hood leads the most infamous outlaw band ever to evade the king and his sheriff.
Blending true history with new stories, popular inaccuracies, and some almost forgotten medieval legends, The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood brings a new life to the greenwood, which here feels as fresh as it does traditional. With an academic background in medieval English studies, A. E. Chandler captivates with this unique and nuanced reinterpretation of Robin Hood’s struggles and adventures. The forest is waiting.
This book is available on Amazon, Booktopia, and Chapters Indigo. See the Links section at the bottom of the interview for direct links to books.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
For published work, The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood. It has always held a special place in my heart, not least because of all the study I’ve done on Robin Hood. Overall, probably The Book of the Damned, which is part of a horror series. It’s about Reya, an ex-cop, figuring out how to live her life, which draws her into the world of Alex and Zack, whose family hunts down the paranormal and keeps it in check. Reya believes in angels and demons, and not much else; it was interesting to get inside of that clash of beliefs. Another reason I like this book is the structure, with the chapters alternating between the present and the more and more recent past, until the two collide. It took a long while to settle on that structure, but it was worth taking the time to slog through so many options, because this one was definitely right for this story. While she projects a tough outer shell, Reya is chin-deep in powerful emotions, and I enjoy going back to The Book of the Damned when struggling with another piece and reading some of the conflicts Reya has with her friends and family members. The characters have a chemistry with one another that I’m very proud of, but can’t entirely take credit for; to some extent, characters always have minds of their own.
What are you doing next?
A historical YA series set in nineteenth century London called The Collected Curiosities of Colonel William Creighton. Curio cabinets contained antiquities, minerals, dead animals (or at least parts of them), machines, and more. Their popularity started in the Renaissance. Colonel Creighton collects only the weirdest of the weird, things that are truly one of a kind, that you can only find referenced in a single footnote in a single historical text. Since he spends most of his career in India, the first book is set there. His daughter Lydia, two privates named Joshua and Sam, and Sam’s secret Indian girlfriend Chandra help in adding to the collection, and in doing so see plenty of brushes with danger. The second book explores Africa, and the others will look at China, Europe, Oceania, and more.
What are some of the differences between the medieval and modern versions of Robin Hood?
Robin Hood’s legend has proven to be amazingly durable. It has been added to and subtracted from for over seven hundred fifty years. You hear more about new characters like Allan a Dale and Maid Marian than you do about medieval characters like Red Roger, or the social satire that pervades the stories. The most fundamental difference between the medieval and modern versions of Robin Hood is probably the modern conception of him as a rebel. The medieval character is much more complex, and oversimplifying him is doing him a great disservice. In the extant medieval stories, Robin Hood is a satirical character who, despite being an outlaw and thus exiled from society, enforces the law and the social order better than the corrupt higher-ups within that social order, who are his enemies. Robin Hood is not a rebel at all, but actually the opposite. What he fights against is the corruption that perverts the social order he loves. There are nuances in how this is portrayed in the medieval stories that are unfortunately missing from modern retellings.
Why is Robin Hood’s legend still relevant?
Robin Hood’s legend has changed over time, but one of the constants has always been that he is a hero. He stands for something. He stands for a fair social order, in which everyone upholds their social responsibility toward one another (Chandler – The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood 1). He stands against corruption, and promotes the rule of law. He is devout, and respectful of those deserving respect. These are still values that we need in our society, and Robin Hood gives us an example to live up to. All around us we see instances of corruption, especially when it comes to those in positions of power; we see people out for themselves rather than helping others; and we see people ready to throw right and wrong out the window whenever it suits them. We are facing many of the same problems faced by people in Robin Hood’s day, making his example still very relevant.
What does the Robin Hood legend say about medieval women?
The image we have of medieval women has been heavily coloured by the assumptions and prejudices of the Victorian Era. Many people think that in the medieval period women could be forced to marry against their will, couldn’t marry without their fathers’ consent, or could be raped by their lord with impunity – all of this is false. The women in the medieval stories of Robin Hood are more empowered than most people would expect. The Sheriff of Nottingham’s wife invites a disguised and charming Robin Hood to join her and her husband for a meal, flirting with Robin as she pleases, proving to be the reason her husband’s life is spared, and openly laughing at her husband for becoming Robin Hood’s victim. The Prioress of Kirklees is Robin’s cousin; she is in charge of a nunnery, takes a lover despite her vows, and enacts a plan to kill Robin that ultimately succeeds, though numerous men have tried and failed. The Virgin Mary is the woman most often mentioned in the medieval stories; Robin is completely devoted to her, credits her with a number of good deeds, and because of her never harms another woman. These are just three short examples of medieval women exhibiting influence and behaving however they wish. They were individuals with their own minds, and portrayed as such, rather than the meek objects that Victorian misconceptions have tried to turn them into.
Why did you choose to write a novel about Robin Hood?
When I was four years old, I saw the Disney cartoon of Robin Hood, and since then he has been one of my heroes. I did my first history project on him when I was in grade eight, which led to a love of history and eventually an MA with Merit in Medieval Studies from the University of Nottingham. I’ve gained a lot through exploring his story. Historical research is one way of finding out about something, and writing a novel is another. These two methods have some things in common, but each also allows you to examine aspects that the other doesn’t. Writing a novel is a great way to immerse yourself in a different world, and that’s what The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood does. Robin Hood being a figure in historical literature, finding out more about him from both a historical and a literary point of view makes sense in order to gain a fuller picture; using one or the other exclusively would significantly limit the ability to understand the legend.
Most retellings use Richard I as their king; why did you choose Edward I?
Richard I was added to the Robin Hood legend in the sixteenth century. He wasn’t a very good king. He spent his time and England’s money on foreign wars, rather than on looking after the country. Medieval records show that some form of Robin Hood’s legend had spread to southern England by 1262. In The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood, I have Robin outlawed in 1260, which gives him the legendary “thirteen years and something more” to make a name for himself by 1262, and receive a pardon when Edward I returns from crusading in the Holy Land. Richard I reigned during the twelfth century, while Robin Hood’s legend portrays him as being active during the early or mid thirteenth century, during the reigns of either John or Henry III (Chandler – The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood 2). The Scarlet Forest has the best of both worlds, starting Robin’s outlawry under Henry III for historical accuracy, and ending it under Edward I, a crusading warrior king who genuinely cared about England and its governance, and left the country better than he found it.
Could anyone have really been as good an archer as Robin Hood is claimed to be?
The biggest obstacle to answering this question is knowing what kind of bow an English archer would have used. We can place the origin of Robin Hood’s legend sometime during the early to mid thirteenth century. Many people believe that the longbow came to England from Wales sometime after the middle of the thirteenth century, but this is false. It is also false that there was a weapon called a short bow that preceded the longbow. Until shortly before the end of the medieval period, there were only the terms bow and crossbow. A bow was as long as it needed to be to suit the archer using it. What we now call longbows – what people at the time simply called bows – were present and in use in England long before Robin Hood’s legend was beginning in the thirteenth century. Every amazing feat of archery in the extant medieval stories is possible with a longbow, assuming the archer had the necessary skill.
Medieval stories depict Robin Hood as being devout, but also as having churchmen as some of his most bitter enemies; how is this possible?
This issue confuses many people. Robin Hood is following the same pattern here as he does with secular society: he respects the institution, and fights anyone who seeks to subvert or corrupt it. It’s been pointed out that the legend takes a harsh view of the regular clergy (monks who shut themselves away from society), while not criticizing the secular clergy (parish priests and others who interact with and help common people). In The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood, I’ve included characters and events that further explore this contrast. Robin Hood’s enemies are monks and bishops more concerned with accruing wealth than with helping people. These enemies can’t lessen his devotion because part of being Christian is acknowledging that no person does the right thing all of the time. Even if that person doing wrong is a bishop, God’s Word is still true, just as the Sheriff of Nottingham breaking the law doesn’t mean the law itself is changed or not worth fighting to uphold.
What was it like living in Robin Hood Country for a year?
While I was working on my graduate degree in Medieval Studies at the University of Nottingham, I got to live right in the heart of England. I loved it, but it was an adjustment, from the food to the weather to how the light switches worked. Quite a bit of the time it was lonely, since my family and friends were back in Canada, and the time difference dramatically stilted communication, even with the Internet. That’s the necessary downside, but it was honestly the best year of my life. Not only did I get to study at one of the top universities in the world, but the number of sources and experts I was given access to was a dream come true. Most weekends I caught a train or a bus to another town or village and explored. Researching Robin Hood, and then actually being able to travel to the places portrayed in the legend, gave me a more complete view than I could have gotten anywhere else.
When studying sources, how do you separate fiction from fact?
The historical method is all about critical thinking. No source can be taken at face value, as writers naturally impose their point of view on their accounts, whether intentionally or unintentionally (Chandler – The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood 3). It was considered acceptable in the medieval period to record events as they ought to have happened, rather than as they did happen and, in that cultural mindset, this wasn’t considered lying. You also get sources that are created decades or even centuries after the fact, a number of sources promoting the same falsehood because they all have a common source, or writers trying to court favour by portraying a patron or potential patron’s family in a more flattering light. The best way to deal with these issues is to collect as many sources on a subject as possible, and be aware of any possible prejudices the writers might have, taking everything with a grain of salt and using common sense. I’m also a strong proponent of taking an interdisciplinary approach, and looking at not just historical accounts but literary ones, drawings, archaeological artefacts – anything that’s available. The more sources you have, the less likely you’ll be fooled by one unreliable one. Research and critical thinking are key to finding out the truth about anything, including current events.
Could Robin Hood have been a real person?
The most energetically debated question surrounding Robin Hood is whether or not he was a historical figure as well as a literary one. A good case can be made for both sides of the issue. When looking at the five known extant medieval Robin Hood tales, we can see that, unlike stories about other outlaws from the same time, the events portrayed have a literary twist but are realistic, though occasionally farfetched. Every amazing feat of archery that Robin Hood is said to have performed is actually, physically possible with the equipment available in early to mid thirteenth century England, assuming that the archer had the skill. The places in West Yorkshire where Robin Hood is said to live and travel are all described accurately, and with a level of detail that would only have been known to locals. The adventures we are told about were obviously meant to be understood as happening in the real world, though whether or not they did actually occur we still don’t know for sure. It is possible that Robin Hood was a real person.
A.E. Chandler holds a Master of Arts with Merit from the University of Nottingham, where she wrote her dissertation on the social history behind Robin Hood. While earning a BA in Ancient and Medieval Studies at the University of Calgary, she also took courses in publishing and creative writing. Living in England, and travelling in Europe, Asia, and Africa have also contributed to her stories and characters – she has been chased by a camel rider through the Sahara Desert, skated down a volcano in Sicily, and gotten unintentionally locked inside of a medieval prison in France. Chandler has had short stories, poetry, and articles published, in addition to a book of collected non-fiction entitled Into the World, and the novel The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood. Currently, she lives in Calgary, where she teaches, volunteers with the Glenbow Museum’s military collection, and writes historical fiction as well as contemporary fiction concerning history.
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