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Book Review

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood sometimes called The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire by Howard Pyle has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Animals in England's forests belong to the king or a local noble. Men called foresters police the area to keep poachers away. One day Robin of Locksley Town walks past a group of foresters. When they learn he is on his way to an archery competition, they ridicule him.

To prove his skill, Robin shoots an arrow at a deer some distance away and kills it. As he leaves, a forester shoots an arrow at Robin, barely missing him. Robin angrily shoots back and kills the man. Now an outlaw, Robin escapes into Sherwood Forest. A reward is placed on Robin's head because he shot one of the king's deer.

Other men, who are oppressed, cast out or have become outlaws, join him. But a few men come to join Robin Hood in unique ways. John Little, later named Little John, joins after a battle of quarterstaffs with Robin on a log bridge. A stalwart Tinker, who wants to present Robin with a warrant for his arrest, battles Robin with the quarterstaff and then joins his band.

Arthur a Bland beats Little John in a quarterstaff bout, so Robin asks him to join his group, and Will Scarlet, who is Robin's nephew and is fleeing his home because he killed a man, also joins. An honest miller catches Robin, Little John and others off-guard in a fight, and he eventually joins the band, too. Allan a Dale joins when Robin Hood comes up with a plan to keep his true love from marrying a knight she doesn't love. While finding a way to marry Allan a Dale and Ellen o' the Dale, Robin meets Friar Tuck, who also becomes one of his merry men.

Robin Hood and his band rob from the rich and give a portion of what they steal to those in need. One way they do this is to forcefully "invite" those with ill-gotten gain into Sherwood Forest for a feast. Then the men must pay for their meal with large amounts of coin.

Robin Hood has many enemies, especially the Sheriff of Nottingham. The sheriff wants the reward and to avenge his relative's death, but he can't find anyone to give Robin the warrant for his arrest. The Sheriff of Nottingham visits King Henry. When he asks for help to capture Robin Hood, King Henry tells him to capture the thief himself or lose his job. The sheriff returns home, committed to bringing this outlaw to justice.

The sheriff holds an archery competition, which Robin wins, though he does so in disguise. When the sheriff realizes what has happened, he grows angrier. He devises another plan to capture Robin Hood. He sends groups of men into Sherwood Forest, but they only capture Will Stutely, one of Robin's men. The sheriff plans to hang Will the following day, but Robin and his men rescue Will moments before he is hung. Their boldness scares the sheriff. He retreats to his castle and is ashamed of his cowardly actions.

Robin pays back the sheriff for trying to hurt one of his men. He dresses as a butcher and tricks the sheriff into coming to Sherwood Forest under the guise of selling him an inexpensive herd. Robin and his men prepare an enormous feast for the sheriff. When the meal is over, they relieve him of his money, and Robin warns the sheriff not to take advantage of others.

Little John goes to the Nottingham fair and wins the quarterstaff and archery competitions. He accepts a position in the sheriff's service, but after six months, he steals the sheriff's silver goblets and plates, and returns to Sherwood Forest with the sheriff's cook, who wants to be one of Robin Hood's men. Robin returns the silver to the sheriff and lets him know that he no longer has anything against the man. He advises the sheriff to be more careful about whom he takes into his service.

One day Little John and Robin go along different paths to invite guests to a feast at Sherwood Forest. Robin meets a knight who seems despondent. His castle and property have been pawned to keep his son out of prison after an unfair jousting tournament. The Prior of Emmet will soon own all Sir Richard of the Lea's property.

Robin takes the knight to Sherwood Forest and sees that Little John has invited the Bishop of Hereford and three friars, all quite rich guests. To pay for their feast, Robin takes a third of all the bishop's belongings — one third goes back to the bishop and one third is set aside for charity. The charity gold is given to Sir Richard, along with other gifts.

Sir Richard pays back the Prior Vincent of Emmet, which angers the man, and then works to repay Robin for the money he was given. By the following year, he has the money. On his way to repay Robin Hood, Sir Richard saves David of Doncaster, one of Robin's men and a champion wrestler, from an angry mob. Robin thanks Sir Richard for saving one of his men, which is worth far more than silver and gold. Sir Richard pays back Robin and gives his whole band new bows, quivers and shafts feathered with peacock plumes.

Another day, Robin and Little John have a competition to see who might live a merrier life: Little John as a friar or Robin as a beggar. At the end of the day, Little John has enjoyed the company of three women on their way to sell eggs, has been treated to ale and has taken a large quantity of money from two rich Friars of Fountain Abbey, after completely embarrassing them. Robin was able to steal a large sum of money from beggars who pretended to be blind, deaf, dumb and lame when they turned on him. Then he tricked a much-hated Corn Engrosser out of his shoes because the man hid his money in his shoes. No one can decide whether Robin Hood or Little John spent a merrier day.

Queen Eleanor asks Robin Hood and a few of his men to the archery competition in London. Robin brings Little John, Will Scarlet and Allan a Dale with him. After meeting Queen Eleanor, they all go to Finsbury Fields for the archery competition. The archery competition is for the king's men only, but the queen wagers a bet with the king that she can find three champions herself. Once she gets the king to promise immunity for her chosen archers, Robin and his men compete against the king's champions. The king's archer beats Will in the competition, but Robin and Little John beat the other two archers. Then warned that they are in danger, they split up and hurry back toward Sherwood Forest.

Robin's men make it back in eight days, just before King Henry's men, along with the Sheriff of Nottingham's men, under the direction of the Bishop of Hereford, surround Sherwood Forest. Robin must change clothing with a cobbler and then a friar to keep from being caught. Sir Richard saves Robin by giving him a uniform of one in his service, and they return to London to beg the queen's help. She is able to get Henry to be a man of his word, and Robin returns to Sherwood Forest unharmed. Eventually, King Henry dies.

The sheriff sends a murderous outlaw after Robin, whose name is Guy of Gisbourne. After a difficult fight, Robin kills him. This is only the second man that Robin has killed in his life. Meanwhile, Little John dresses as an older man to try to help three sons of a widow who were taken to the sheriff as poachers. The oldest killed a king's deer, and his brothers wouldn't give him up.

The sheriff, who is waiting outside Sherwood Forest, hires Little John, in disguise, to hang the three boys. Instead, Little John frees them, but then the sheriff's men capture him. Robin, disguised as Guy Gisbourne, frees Little John. Then the two take a stand against the sheriff and all his men, and their enemy flees back to Nottingham.

Robin and his men go to Nottingham to cheer for King Richard, who is there for a visit. King Richard wants to meet Robin Hood, so he and his seven men dress as friars with a purse of 100 pounds. As they walk past Sherwood Forest, they're invited to a feast. Though Robin takes 50 pounds from them, they win it back.

Sir Richard hurries to Sherwood Forest to warn Robin that King Richard will be visiting him. Sir Richard recognizes King Richard, who then reveals his true identity. Robin and all of his men kneel before the king. King Richard pardons Robin Hood's men and asks Robin, Little John, Will Scarlet and Allan a Dale to go into his service, which they do. The newly pardoned men become foresters of Sherwood Forest for the king.

Years later, at the death of King Richard on the battlefield, Robin visits Sherwood Forest, though King John has only given him three days for the visit. Once Robin enters the woods, he doesn't want to leave. He blows his horn three times, and those who hear it come to him. They restart their lives in Sherwood Forest.

King John sends Sir William Dale and the Sheriff of Nottingham to destroy Robin Hood. But Robin Hood is no longer a peaceful man, having been in many wars with King Richard. He and his men fight King John's forces in a bloody battle. The sheriff is the first to be killed. Though victorious, Robin broods on the death toll of this battle and comes down with a fever.

He asks Little John to take him to his cousin the Prioress of the nunnery near Kirklees. Little John leaves Robin in his cousin's care. Afraid the king will turn against her for her kinship to Robin Hood, she opens a large vein in Robin's arm and lets his life slowly drain from him. Robin blows his horn, and Little John comes to him. Robin asks Little John not to take out his anger on the nuns for their betrayal. Then he shoots an arrow through the window and asks to be buried on that spot.

Robin Hood dies at Kirklees Nunnery in Yorkshire. Then Little John and his band of men bury him.

A new sheriff comes to Nottingham, and he is merciful. Robin's band slowly goes their own ways and many have families. The tales of Robin Hood are passed down to their children and their children's children.

Christian Beliefs

John Little is forcefully christened as Little John by Robin's band. One in the band pretends to be a priest for the ceremony. The Tinker makes a reference to priests being greedy for money. When Robin, Little John, Arthur a Bland and Will Scarlet pretend to rob an honest miller, the miller asks for their names, and Robin responds that they are four Christian men.

Robin goes to the Fountain Abbey to find a friar to marry Allan a Dale and Ellen o' the Dale. The friar says that he is too fine of a Christian to not give someone a drink when asked. Some call him the Curtal Friar of Fountain Dale, others call him the Abbot of Fountain Abbey, while others call him Friar Tuck.

Sir Richard's son is in Palestine in the Crusades. He is referred to as a good Christian soldier. The Prior of Emmet, a leader in the church, does not show mercy to Sir Richard but focuses only on his own personal gain. The Bishop of Hereford is a hard master to those who live on his lands. He is rich beyond what he should be. He uses his position in the church to change King Henry's so he will pursue Robin Hood and wants to capture Robin Hood for revenge.

After Little John escorts three young ladies to Tuxford, they think it's a pity that he has taken holy orders. Robin and a couple of his men go on the crusades with King Richard. The Prioress at the Kirklees Nunnery drains more of Robin's blood than she should, which kills him.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

The Sheriff of Nottingham is set on capturing Robin Hood because he killed one of the king's deer and killed a man who was related to him. He goes to King Henry to ask for help, but the king rebukes him and tells him he'll lose his position if he doesn't capture the outlaw. When Robin Hood and his men attack the sheriff to save Will Stutely, the sheriff retreats with his men. To keep the Sherwood Forest outlaws away from an archery competition, the sheriff offers two steers, knowing they won't desire to win such a prize. He takes opportunities to capture or destroy Robin Hood, such as sending Guy of Gisbourne after him and working with King Henry's men to capture him, but not when it requires risk or a noble action on his part.

Robin leads a band of men. They enjoy fighting others and protecting their leader. When the sheriff's men capture Will Stutely, Robin leads his band to save him. To get even with the sheriff, he finds a way to bring him to a feast in Sherwood Forest and take his money. His men readily follow him in all he does. Before Robin was an outlaw, he taught his nephew Will how to shoot an arrow on a bow and how to parry with a quarterstaff.

Robin is upset with Little John because Little John stole the sheriff's silver cups and plates after the sheriff has left those in Sherwood Forest alone. When Little John tricks the sheriff to enter Sherwood Forest, Robin gives him back his silver and tells him that they no longer have a quarrel with the sheriff. Later, Robin dresses like Guy of Gisbourne to pay back the sheriff's attack on him.


Many characters say "Our Lady," meaning Mary, the mother of Jesus with the word by or use it alone. They also use the phrases saints of heaven, saints bless thee, saints preserve us and saints in paradise. In the original, the landlord calls the Tinker an ass, referring to him as a donkey. The word marry is used as an expression throughout the story. There is a bit of name-calling, such as fat priest, man-eating bishop, poor puny stipling, money-gorging usurer, sweet chucks, sot, porkers or kiss-my-lady-la poppenjay. Robin calls the rich clergy in the church bloodsuckers. A mob yells angrily at David of Doncaster for winning a wrestling bout against their champion.

Robin's band attacks John Little when they first meet him because he bested Robin. Then seven of them attack him so they can forcefully christen him as Little John. Robin and the Tinker fight each other with quarterstaffs. His band of men is ready to attack the Tinker, but Robin calls them off.

The sheriff's men capture Will Stutely and plan to hang him. When Robin Hood and his men save Will, many of the sheriff's men are injured.

Little John competes with the quarterstaff and beats a braggart named Eric o' Lincoln. He fights with Arthur a Bland and loses to him. Will Gamwell, who becomes Will Scarlet, beats Robin Hood in their fight with quarterstaffs. Midge, the miller's son, throws barley flower in Robin's, Little John's, Arthur a Bland's and Will Scarlet's faces and then beats them with his staff. A mob forms to hurt David of Doncaster after he wins a wrestling contest. They throw a rock at him and hit him in the head.

Robin uses the intimation of force at the wedding of Alan a Dale and Ellen o' the Dale to keep the clergy in the church until the wedding has taken place. King Henry and the Bishop of Hereford unsuccessfully surround Sherwood Forest to capture Robin Hood. Guy of Gisbourne is known for his grisly murders. Robin kills Guy of Gisbourne in self-defense.

Little John saves three young sons moments before they are to be hung. Robin saves Little John from being hung, and they shoot an arrow into the sheriff's backside so he can't sit for a very long time.

When King John sends soldiers to destroy Robin Hood, Robin and his men fight, killing many soldiers. Robin has also killed many during his time in the service of King Richard. Robin catches a fever and thinks bloodletting will help. He trusts his cousin, who is a Prioress, but she purposely lets too much blood flow out of him and eventually kills him by doing this.


When Little John pretends to be a friar, he kisses three pretty young ladies goodbye after traveling with them to Tuxford.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol - There are many examples of alcohol use, including: The Sheriff of Nottingham promises a "butt of ale" to the winner of a shooting contest. There is always drinking when there is feasting. At Little John's christening, they have a barrel of ale. Robin and the Tinker go to a local inn to drink ale together. Robin asks the host to put additional alcohol in the Tinker's ale. Robin Hood gets the Tinker so drunk that the Tinker passes out. John drinks ale and buys ale for many at the fair and at inns. Little John spends the night drinking at the Blue Boar Inn on his way to get Lincoln green cloth from a man in Ancaster. When Little John pretends to be a friar, he gives each girl he escorts a drink from his supply and finishes it himself. At an inn, he is treated to ale because he is a friar. Robin brings ale to a beggar, and they both drink.

Saints: The names of many Catholic saints are mentioned with supplications, such as Saint Christopher, Saint Godrick, Saint Ethelrada, Saint Aelfrida, Saint Thomas, Saint Hubert, Saint Wilfred, Saint Dunstan, Saint Wynten, Saint Peter, Saint Withold, Saint Edmund, Saint Swithin, Saint Alfred, Saint Cedric, Saint Albans, Saint Martin, Saint George and Saint Francis.

Gambling: The queen and king bet on who can find the better archers.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up


Howard Pyle






Record Label



Charles Scribner's Sons (The original manuscript was reviewed.)


On Video

Year Published





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