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Medievalist Comics and the American Century$

Chris Bishop

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781496808509

Published to University Press of Mississippi: May 2018

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781496808509.001.0001

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The Green Arrow (1941)

The Green Arrow (1941)

(p.49) Chapter 2 The Green Arrow (1941)
Medievalist Comics and the American Century

Chris Bishop

University Press of Mississippi

Abstract and Keywords

The stories of Robin Hood constitute the collective memory of popular counter-culture. The chapter entitled “Green Arrow” posits the legends of the green wood as the antecedent for this successful comic book series, but any look at Robin Hood leads also to the contested medievalisms of James Macpherson and Thomas Percy, the relationship of these men with Samuel Johnson, and the democratization of their vision through the work of the American scholar Francis James Child. Child, in turn, brings into our gaze the Boston Brahmin Charles Eliot Norton and, through him, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow before we return once again to Howard Pyle whose singular vision, perhaps more than any other person, has shaped so much of how the 20th century sees the Middle Ages.

Keywords:   Robin Hood, Howard Pyle, Francis Child, James Macpherson, Thomas Percy

Robin Hood was, after all, a political activist fighting against a corrupt administration. What am I supposed to do? Steal from myself and give to the poor?


Prince Valiant was not the only cartoon hero to survive the collapse of the so-called Golden Age of Comics. Having debuted in 1941, just four years after the first Prince Valiant comic went into publication, the Green Arrow continued to fight injustice in the pages of Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics until his rebirth as a Bronze Age1 icon at the end of the 1960s. It was in this incarnation, drawn by Neal Adams and scripted by Dennis O’Neil, that Green Arrow would begin to dismantle the Comics Code Authority, perhaps the greatest blow for freedom that a comic book character could strike.

Green Arrow’s debt to Robin Hood seems obvious, although early versions of the comic book superhero were reluctant to acknowledge this, but the continued success of the former is surely a byproduct of the long reception history of the latter. This chapter, therefore, will explore the complex relationship of the Green Arrow with his Sherwood antecedent. Robin Hood scholarship is dauntingly profuse, of course, and there seems little need to venture into exhaustive detail. Some salient points, however, must be illuminated by a brief survey of the material available—a survey that begins in eighteenth-century Scotland.

Thomas Percy and the “Rebirth” of Robin Hood

James Macpherson was born in Ruthven, near Inverness, in 1736. He was educated in Aberdeen and claimed to speak Scottish Gaelic. In his early (p.50) twenties he produced a series of “translations” which were printed as Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in the Highlands of Scotland. The poems captured the zeitgeist of post–Jacobite Scotland and Macpherson was funded by public subscription to undertake an expedition to the Highlands and the Western Isles in order to recover more Gaelic texts. Macpherson claimed success in these adventures and proceeded to publish a series of “translations” in the early 1760s, culminating in a collected edition, The Works of Ossian, in 1765.

Irish historians, including Charles O’Conor, immediately challenged the authenticity of Macpherson’s work and his credibility was seriously undermined. Samuel Johnson’s A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) asserted that Macpherson’s “translations” were, in fact, compositions constructed from scattered fragments. Macpherson was never able to produce the manuscripts he claimed as his exemplars, yet his publications both indicated and fueled a hunger for “native” British epics nevertheless. Britons wanted their own ancient literature to augment, or even replace, the dominant paradigms they had inherited from Classical Greece and Rome and whereas Macpherson’s contributions remained dubious, another text by Thomas Percy was to satisfy that desire.

Thomas Percy was born in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, in 1729 and was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. In 1753 he was appointed vicar of Easton Maudit, in Northamptonshire and, at about that time, he came into possession of a singular book through quite remarkable circumstances:

Percy had paid visit to Humphrey Pitt, an old Salopian friend. While there, he noticed that the maids in the parlour were lighting the fire with a bundle of paper that had been lying under a bureau. It was a poetry miscellany, transcribed by hand into a folio book, and Percy, enthralled, asked if he might have the curiosity before it was entirely consumed. He thereby acquired a seventeenth-century commonplace book containing transcripts of ballads, metrical romances, and popular songs, many of which he later learned were extant solely in this “Folio MS.”2

Upon close reading, Percy realized that the manuscript represented more than just an oddity—it was a unique vestige of the lost world of the English minstrel.

If Percy was fortunate to have found such a treasure, he was equally fortunate in his friends. Humphrey Pitt had the friendship of the poet William Shenstone and thus served as the conduit through which Percy and Shenstone might meet. Shenstone was instrumental in urging Percy to publish (p.51) the recovered folio, and the two worked closely on the project until Shenstone’s death in 1763.3 Shenstone, in turn, brought Percy into contact with the publisher Robert Dodsley.4 Shenstone and Percy also shared a common friendship with James Grainger, the Scottish poet and translator, who had introduced Percy to the eighteenth-century luminary Samuel Johnson.5 It was probably Johnson who inspired Percy to refer to his discovery as Reliques, and it was certainly Johnson who worked most closely with Percy on the final draft of the manuscript during a period of Johnson’s convalescence at Percy’s home.

Johnson’s mental health had never been robust, but in the spring of 1764 he found himself “in a deplorable state, sighing, groaning, talking to himself, and restlessly walking from room to room”—he confided to his friend James Boswell that he “would consent to have a limb amputated” if it meant that he might “recover his spirits.”6 Johnson had proposed a critical edition of Shakespeare’s plays during the 1740s and his success in publishing A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) provided him the opportunity to do so. The task, however, proved herculean. Under contract from 1756, Johnson battled with debtors and his own deteriorating mental state for years until, fearing his own imminent confinement, he accepted Percy’s offer to summer at Easton Maudit.

The country idyll suited Johnson, it would seem. He spent eight weeks with Percy, during which he worked on Shakespeare and the Reliques, both of which saw publication in 1765. Percy’s Reliques, therefore, and Johnson’s magisterial edition of Shakespeare’s plays, came forth from the same summer of convalescence, and were born into print in the same year.

Johnson’s Plays of William Shakespeare changed the face of English literature, but Percy’s Reliques were similarly influential in their own way. Whatever the truth of Macpherson’s claims, the publication of the Ossian cycles had given the British reading public a taste for native heroes, and it was this appetite that Percy fed.

Of all the characters featured in the Reliques, none became so popular as Robin Hood. This is not to say that Percy invented Robin Hood, or even rediscovered him. By the time Piers Plowman was composed in the later fourteenth century the tales of Robin Hood were already famous enough to feature in allusion.7 A few decades after that, Andrew Wyntoun mentioned both Robin Hood and Little John in his Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland in an entry for the year 1283.8 There was a proliferation of Robin Hood tales throughout England and Scotland from about the middle of the fifteenth century, and the stories were integrated into May Day Revels and summer (p.52) pageants. By the sixteenth century, however, both the tales and the games associated with them were being actively suppressed.

In the earliest ballads Robin Hood was low born, antiauthoritarian, and vociferous in his devotion to the Virgin Mary. The popular veneration of a character such as Robin Hood was something that the centralized and protestant monarchies of the British Isles could ill afford to tolerate. In 1549 Bishop Latimer warned King Edward VI against the “pretence of gathering for Robin Hood, a traitor and a thief”9 and, in Scotland, the games were banned in 1555. At the same time, efforts were also being made to rehabilitate the outlaw.

John Major’s Historia Maioris Britanniae (1521) was the first to locate Robin’s outlawry within the “tyrannical” rule of King John. Major presented the woodsman as a loyal subject of the rightful king (Richard) who stole only from the wealthy (especially greedy and corrupt Abbots) that he might give to the poor.10 The Chronicle of Richard Grafton, first published in 1569, expanded on Major’s innovations by inventing a noble lineage for Robin. Rather than a common yeoman, Grafton maintained that the outlaw was an earl who had fallen into debt. Robin’s adventures, therefore, were no longer the illegitimate actions of a social upstart, but the expression of his “manly courage,” “chiualry,” and “noble dignitie.”11 By the time the Reliques were published, Robin Hood had not disappeared, but he had been radically changed. Percy’s publication, therefore, was to resurrect not only the ancient poetry of England, but also the ancient Robin Hood.

Three decades after the first publication of Percy’s Reliques, the English antiquary Joseph Ritson published his edition of the Robin Hood cycle in 1795.12 A fervent supporter of the political activist Tom Paine and a passionate Jacobin himself, Ritson kept the calendar of the French revolutionaries (the decimalized, antimonarchial, antireligious calendar adopted in France by 1792). Little wonder, then, that his Robin Hood: A Collection of all the Ancient Poems, Songs and Ballads, now extant, relative to that celebrated Outlaw emphasized Major’s “revolutionary” outlaw and promoted the woodsman as a social activist and quasi-terrorist. Ritson’s twelve-page preface to his publication, “The Life of Robin Hood,” was the first academic discussion of the Robin Hood tradition and 117 pages of scholarly apparatus entitled “Notes and Illustrations” supported the work. Thomas Bewick’s illustrations, which accompanied Ritson’s text, were intended to broaden the publication’s audience, and that they did—the book remained in print long after Ritson’s death in 1803. Moreover, Ritson’s scholarship built on that of Percy to imbue (p.53) the Robin Hood legend with an academic capital. By the early nineteenth century, even antiquarians could no longer ignore this folk hero.

William John Thoms featured Robin Hood in his three-volume Early English Prose Romances, the last volume of which was in print by 1828. Thoms was still a young man when he published the Romances, and somewhat ahead of his time. He had been encouraged in his endeavors by Francis Douce, former keeper of manuscripts in the British Museum, and had anticipated strong demand for his scholarly work, but sales were disappointing. Nevertheless, the Romances did help to establish his reputation as an antiquary.

He was soon made a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and, by 1838, he was secretary to the influential Camden Society. In 1845 he was appointed clerk, and subsequently deputy librarian, to the House of Lords, and in 1849 became the founding editor of Notes and Queries. Thoms was an avid admirer of the German mythologists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, and in the later 1840s he began a column entitled “Folk-Lore” in the Athenaeum. The Athenaeum was largely the product of Charles Wentworth Dilke, close friend to both John Keats and Leigh Hunt, and Thoms’s use of the term “folklore” in so prestigious a publication soon saw its use eclipse previously used terms such as “antiquities” or “popular literature.” By 1858, the general interest in Thoms’s folklore warranted a second, extended, edition of his Early Prose Romances—a situation that “mitigated” the disappointment of the first edition’s lack of sales.13

In the meantime, John Keats had himself produced Robin Hood: To a Friend in 1818, the same year that John Hamilton Reynolds published On Robin Hood. Thomas Love Peacock, the English novelist and close friend to Percy Bysshe Shelley, had begun writing his Maid Marian that same year, but publication was delayed until 1822, by which time Robin Hood had appeared as a patriotic rebel with a cheerful disposition in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819).

Scott secured Locksley as a dominant toponym in the developing mythos and introduced the incident in which Robin splits his opponent’s arrow at an archery contest. The entry of such details into the Robin Hood canon attests to the significance of Scott’s contribution not only to the legends of Sherwood Forest, but also to medievalism in general. This significance, of course, has been acknowledged for some time.

In 1965, before medievalism had acquired the academic currency it enjoys today, Alice Chandler wrote that it was “impossible to trace all the (p.54) ramifications of Scott’s portrait of feudalism, especially in relation to popular belief,” but that “such books as Southey’s Sir Thomas More, Carlyle’s Past and Present, Pugin’s Contrasts, Disraeli’s Young England novels, and many of Ruskin’s works come immediately to mind.”14 The effects of Scott’s medievalist vision, though, shaped more than just popular literature—Chandler also argued that “the influence of Scott” ripened “a generation or two later into the Parliamentary activities of Disraeli’s Young England Party.”15

Influential as Walter Scott was in his own country, his impact across the Atlantic was even more profound, and generations of scholars have illuminated the complex interrelationship of American medievalism with the works of this British novelist.16 Mark Twain famously blamed Scott’s writing for stifling progress and promoting retrograde practices, particularly in the southern United States:

Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote.17

Even so, Scott’s Robin Hood, though not as republican as some of his literary predecessors, is still a yeoman, and a steadfastly independent one at that. It could be argued that, whatever Ivanhoe’s contribution to the ideology of slavery and class division in the antebellum South might (or might not) have been, the inclusion of the Sherwood outlaws did, at worst, little to add to this and, at best, possibly served to undermine it.

Scott’s conflict-based narrative of Anglo-Norman relations, and Robin Hood’s position within that narrative, were both further augmented in the popular imagination by the publication of Jacques Nicolas Augustin Thierry’s Histoire de la Conquête de l’Angleterre par les Normands in 1825. John Matthew Gutch produced a new scholarly collection of the Robin Hood tales in his Lyell Geste of Robin Hode with other Ancient and Modern Ballads in 1847. Leigh Hunt published How Robin and His Outlaws Lived in the Woods in 1855. Nor was the Sherwood outlaw confined to the pages of literary works and academic journals, for he soon began appearing on stage as well.

(p.55) James Robinson Planché staged his three-act opera Maid Marian, or The Huntress of Arlingford in 1822, and in 1846 a pantomime was performed (Robin Hood and Richard Coeur de Lion) in which a woman played Robin. Sometime in 1849, Joachim Hayward Stocqueler produced Maid Marian, the Forest Queen, a play he followed up with a comic opera soon after.

Stocqueler was one of those raconteurs produced by a burgeoning British empire. By the time he arrived in London in 1841, the forty-year-old had already traveled widely in India, Afghanistan, Persia, and Egypt. Pierce Egan (the Younger) had produced a wildly successful serial entitled Robin Hood and Little John: or, The Merry Men of Sherwood Forest in 1838 and turned it into a book in 1840.18 Stocqueler’s Maid Marian was intended as a theatrical companion to Egan’s book, and it is easy to imagine the two men working closely on the project. Egan’s own politics were famously liberal and his Robin Hood was just one of several popular works he had produced with antiauthoritarian themes.19 Stocqueler, who eventually immigrated to the United States and assumed the surname Siddons, also published the script to Maid Marian sometime in 1849.20

By the middle of the nineteenth century, then, Robin Hood had become immortal. Liberated from the dusty anonymity of an antiquarian’s bookshelf, he lived outside of time, but he was still a prisoner of place. While the Scots fought the Irish for possession of Fionn mac Cumhaill, and King Arthur’s ghost slipped borders between western England, Wales, and Cornwall, Robin was very much English, and northern English at that. It was an American who was to change all that.

Francis James Child

If the liberal democracy of the young United States had promised its citizens the chance of success according to talent, then Francis James Child was fruit born of that promise. The third of eight children born to the sailmaker Joseph Child and his wife, Mary, Francis grew up in the rugged North End of Boston, Massachusetts. His receipt of a Medal of Merit from the Boston School’s Committee in 1837 must have assuaged any fears his tradesman father might have had about his continuing education, and Francis went on to the free English High School, where he graduated second in a class of fourteen in 1840. Epes Sargent Dixwell, a Harvard graduate and former teacher at the English High School, then convinced Joseph to allow his son (p.56) to attend the Boston Latin School, where Francis met Charles Eliot Norton. Both the Eliots and the Nortons were established families within Boston’s elite, the so-called Brahmins, and the young Charles, inheritor to the prestige of both families, began a friendship with Francis that would last the rest of their lives.

Francis excelled at the Latin School and was offered a place at Harvard. His father gave him $826 toward the cost of his college education and Francis contributed $431.11 that he had earned himself. Dixwell procured the rest of the necessary funds, some $680, from his brother-in-law Jonathan Ingersoll Bowditch, a local merchant involved in trade with the Far East.21 Bowditch was himself a talented student in his day and much enamored of the mathematical sciences, but he had chosen a mercantile career over an academic one.22 Nevertheless, he retained a philanthropic interest in the Boston school system throughout his life, an interest that extended to the support of talented scholars like Child.

Harvard expanded Child’s frontiers even further, both intellectually and socially. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the first American to translate Dante’s Divina Commedia, taught at Harvard until 1854. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Longfellow’s friend, delivered frequent lectures there. Child attended Harvard at the same time as the poet James Russell Lowell, and would have been well aware of the controversy sparked by the infamous “Divinity School Address” of 1838 in which Ralph Waldo Emerson discounted both the veracity of biblical miracles and the divinity of Christ. Child, the son of a Boston sailmaker, found himself at the oldest and most prestigious university in the United States during a decade in which American literature was individuating itself from its European forebears and asserting its own independence. Nor was Child at that time the only Harvard scholar of humble origins—Mary Ellen Brown’s research into the biographical accounts of the graduating class of 1846 indicates that a number of them came from even “less privileged backgrounds.”23

Child accrued the nickname “Stubby” at Harvard because of his stocky build, but the jibe was well intentioned. Charles Eliot Norton believed that Child’s working-class origins contributed to his “shy and diffident” manner, but, for Norton at least, the story of Child’s rise was the epitome of republican democracy—Joseph Child, wrote Norton, belonged to “that class of intelligent and independent mechanics which has had a large share of developing the character of our democratic community, as of old the same class had in Athens or in Florence.”24 By the time of his graduation, Child was extremely popular with his peers and recognized as “the best writer, (p.57) best speaker, best mathematician, the most accomplished person in knowledge of general literature” among them.25 Child initially tutored mathematics at Harvard, before transferring to history, political economy, and English literature in 1848. That same year, Child published a critically annotated edition of Elizabethan plays.26

Working from a rare 1820 printing of these plays probably obtained for him by Norton,27 Child became increasingly aware of the dearth of such cultural materials available to him at Harvard and determined to undertake an extended tour of Europe.28 Child had dedicated his first book to Jonathan Bowditch and Bowditch, who had loaned Child the money to enroll in Harvard, agreed to fund the expedition.

Already fluent in Greek and Latin, Child used his time in Europe to develop proficiency in Italian, French and, most importantly, in German. The importance of the “Grand Tour” was not a new concept in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the educated elites of the United States still saw the European sojourn as an essential qualification among people of quality, but continental Europe held a particular attraction for the young republicans of Francis Child’s day. In France, the February Revolution had swept aside the Orleanais monarchy and ushered in the Second French Republic. Garibaldi, following heroic defeats in Italy, was on the run. Germany had been convulsed by uprisings and revolts. Everywhere in Europe the talk was of republics and democracy and for the young graduates of Harvard the heady mix of politics and scholarship particular to Germany made these northern states a “Camelot of erudition”—as early as 1819, Boston intellectual George Ticknor had declared that a knowledge of the German language was essential for real scholarship.29

Child sent a copy of his Four Old Plays to Jacob Grimm and was accepted as a student, initially at Göttingen and then in Berlin. He collected political material, especially pamphlets, for Norton30 and returned to Harvard in 1851, at the age of twenty-six, to take up the Boylston Professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory, a position he held until 1876.

Child’s contact with Grimm must have excited him to the possibilities of further research into the fields of “primitive” literature and popular balladry. Poets and scholars within the German states were pressing their native folk traditions into use as distinct ethnic and political signifiers, and the centrality of this research to the politics of a new Germany had been verified by Grimm’s appointment to the abortive Frankfurt Assembly following the March Revolution of 1848. Child studied under the German scholar while the latter was writing the new edition of his Deutsche Mythologie (German (p.58) Mythology) that would appear in two volumes in 1854, the same year that his monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch, upon which he worked with his brother Wilhelm, would appear. Outside of Germany, however, the brothers Grimm were probably best known for their Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), which had been in publication since 1815 and which would serve as the immediate inspiration for Child’s most ambitious work.

Upon his return to Cambridge, Child found Longfellow at work on what was to become Hiawatha, an epic poem that sought to render the dubious research of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft into an epic poem in trochaic tetrameter. Schoolcraft, a self-trained ethnographer and Indian agent, had published a collection of stories he purported to be of Ojibwa origin as Algic Researches in 1839. The relationship of Longfellow’s poem to Schoolcraft’s research, and the ethnographical shortcomings of both, have been detailed elsewhere.31 What is significant about Longfellow’s poem in the context of my argument here, however, is its attempt to recreate a distinctly, albeit imagined, American past in the language of the European folk epic.

Longfellow used the stories in Schoolcraft’s publication as the basis for a poem composed in the style of the Finnish Kalevala. Longfellow had obtained an early edition of Finnish poetry that had been translated into German by Hans Rudolf von Schröter.32 The Finnish philologist Elias Lönnrot greatly expanded on this early edition to produce the national epic Kalevala by 1835 (a second, further expanded version was in print by 1849). Longfellow chose to present the stories published by Schoolcraft in the distinctive meter of the Kalevala, the trochaic tetrameter. We know also that Child conversed with Longfellow about the Finnische Runen.33

By 1853, Child had been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Göttingen, and had begun editing editions of both Spenser and Chaucer for publication. Child’s plan was to produce American editions of English poetry, but somewhere about this time he determined to incorporate early ballads into those editions. Child’s decision to include these “primitive” poems was an unprecedented one in as much as ballads had hitherto been seen as rustic—important steppingstones in the evolution of English poetry, but not worthy of study in their own right. Child, emboldened by the examples of Percy, Ritson, Grimm, and Lönnrot, proposed to include the ballads as legitimate exemplars of the poetic canon, thus equating poems such as Robin Hood and the Monk with Spenser’s Fairie Queene and Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. This was Child’s great innovation, to offer his “valorization of the ballad as coeval with received canonical poetry.”34

(p.59) The first fruits of this project, Child’s English and Scottish Ballads, were published in eight volumes between 1857 and 1858. The entirety of volume five, more than 400 pages in itself, was devoted to the tales of Robin Hood. For Child, Robin Hood was an exemplary hero:

There is no one of the royal heroes of England that enjoys a more enviable reputation than the bold outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood. His chance for a substantial immortality is at least as good as that of stout Lion Heart, wild Prince Hal, or merry Charles. His fame began with the yeomanry full five hundred years ago, was constantly increasing for two or three centuries, has extended to all classes of society, and, with some changes of aspect, is as great as ever.35

These introductory remarks, published as a preface to the fifth volume of his series, are significant.

By the mid-nineteenth century, American intellectuals in general, and Boston intellectuals in particular, were beginning to claim a place on the greater stage. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.), and James Russell Lowell worked together to establish a new literary and cultural journal, the Atlantic Monthly, in 1857 and Lowell, editor of the Atlantic, thought that Child’s comments on the English outlaw were important enough to publish independently from the English and Scottish Ballads.36 A close reading of the article quickly illustrates why.

For the democratically minded Yankees, Robin Hood was a hero for the “New World,” one whose nobility arose from action rather than an accident of birth. From rude, yeoman stock, Hood’s fame had “extended to all classes of society.” Child sought also to distance the hero from the (Catholic) Marianism of the original ballads and to emphasize, instead, the democratic nature of Robin’s endeavors and his struggle against injustice. In doing so, Child fell into line with Ritson’s earlier analysis of a socially radical Robin Hood. “Those who desire a full acquaintance with the fabulous history of Robin Hood,” wrote Child, “will seek it in the well-known volumes of Ritson.”37

With the publication of the English and Scottish Ballads, Child’s world widened even further. In 1860 he secured his place within the foremost families of Boston by marrying Elizabeth Sedgwick. The investment by the Boston Brahmins in institutions such as Harvard University provided funds for Child to purchase manuscripts and collections of correspondences and to mount expeditions to record oral traditions firsthand. Through his close (p.60) friendship with Charlie Norton, he was brought into the orbit of John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, and Frederick James Furnivall. Nor was all this trans-Atlantic intellectual commerce unidirectional.

Child’s innovation in his Chaucerian scholarship popularized the fourteenth-century poet on both sides of the Atlantic and facilitated new readings of this foundational English author. He worked closely with Furnivall in the establishment of the Early English Text Society, an enterprise that turned rare manuscripts into easily accessible library books. Moreover, Child’s continued work on manuscripts such as Percy’s Reliques ensured their survival, as William Chappell once explained to Child: “We English … feel that we all owe you a debt of obligation for having rescued Percy’s manuscript, by a generous offer, which no Englishman has made.”38

Child’s political agenda in all this was clear enough. The fragile democracy of the United States had been sorely tested in the middle decades of the nineteenth century as factions divided over state’s rights. In the 1860s, this division erupted into the crucible of a brutal war. Kim Moreland has argued that the American Civil War ushered in profound and widespread cultural disruptions that drove a “medievalist impulse” in the postwar United States, an impulse that functioned “not in the ordinary way as an individual memory of a past experience but as a cultural memory, a trace of an earlier time that the American consciousness linked itself to in the past as a source, measured itself against in the present as contrast, and aspired to in the future as an ideal.”39 Child’s own initial desire to foster a cultural unity in his country gave way to an even more driving need to heal the rift caused by the Civil War: “to rescue from oblivion … evidence of the cultural childhood of the American community, in order to suggest a path towards achieving an ideal cultural unity in the newly United States.”40

Robin Hood seemed a likely conduit for such endeavors. Where earlier commentators, such as Shenstone,41 had seen a moral dubiousness in the outlaw, Child was unperturbed, and championed Robin Hood in both his English and Scottish Ballads and his monumental English and Scottish Popular Ballads, the final volume of which was not to be published until 1898, two years after Child’s death. By that time, though, Robin Hood had become a truly “popular” character.

(p.61) Robin Hood in America

The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed a dramatic widening of public interest in medievalist literature. Robin Hood, with his yeoman origins, rustic lifestyle, and antiauthoritarian achievements, was perfectly positioned to exploit this change in taste.

A new, less expensive, edition of Ritson’s Robin Hood appeared in the 1850s. Pierce Egan’s serial was still in print and featured copious illustrations by W. H. Thwaite. Indeed, so popular had Egan’s serial become, that it passed across the Channel and was translated into French. This translation served as the basis for the Robin Hood novels of Alexandre Dumas, Robin Hood, prince des voleurs (Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves) and Robin Hood le proscrit (Robin Hood the outlaw), both published in the mid-1860s. Dumas’s recensions of the English legends were translated, in turn, into Spanish by the editor of the Columbian journal Oveja Negra (The Black Sheep), although the Colombians mistakenly believed the Dumas novel to be a French translation of a novel by Walter Scott. In 1904, Dumas’s novel, based on Egan’s, was translated back into English.

Ritson and Egan were selling well, then, and editors were convinced that a market existed for less academic, more prosaic, retellings of the ballads. In 1859, The Life and Exploits of Robin Hood was published, not “for the critic or the antiquary, but for the large proportion of the reading public who have no leisure, and but little inclination, for recondite discussions.”42 A decade later George Emmett published his similarly populist and handsomely illustrated Robin Hood and the Outlaws of Sherwood Forest.

This popularization of the cycle, however, did nothing to lessen upper-class enthusiasm for the hero. In the early 1880s, Alfred Lord Tennyson turned his attention away from his Arthurian labors, momentarily, and toward Sherwood Forest. The product of this effort, The Foresters, or Robin Hood and Maid Marian, was published in 1881. A year later, Child began publication of his magnum opus, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.

As important as Child was to the study of the European past and to the resurrection of studies into pre-Shakespearean literature, it was not The English and Scottish Popular Ballads that gave birth to the modern Robin Hood. As crucial as Scott’s medievalism might have been in the burgeoning consciousness of an emergent America, and as profusely illustrated as Egan and Emmett’s publications were, it was not from them that a lasting vision of Robin Hood was to come. That honor belongs, for the most part, to Howard Pyle.

(p.62) More than twenty years before Pyle published a single volume of his Arthurian series, before Otto of the Silver Hand or Men of Iron, before even his first pirate story “The Rose of Paradise,” Pyle published The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. It was an audacious project. Stephanie Barczewski has written “the popular ballads and chapbooks featuring the legend of Robin Hood … emphasized populist values which appealed to working people. At the legend’s core were basic aspirations virtually identical to their own—justice, equality, and above all, independence.”43 Pyle took those aspirations and wrote them for an American audience.

Pyle was probably working on his Robin Hood scripts as early as 1876 when he wrote to his mother from New York and asked her to send him her copy of “Percy’s Robin Hood”44—undoubtedly one of the new editions made possible by Child’s conservation efforts. The first of these stories appeared in St. Nicholas some three years later, but, in 1883, Pyle published The Merry Adventures. This was the first time anyone had written and illustrated a book about the Sherwood outlaw specifically for an American audience. Pyle adapted the stories to suit his purpose, emphasizing the hero’s innate nobility, rather than his birthright, and concentrating on his fight for social justice. Robin’s devotion to the Virgin was prominent once again as well, Pyle’s own adherence to the philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg probably made him less antagonistic to Catholic Marianism—Swedenborg had conversed with the Madonna in his visions, after all.45

Pyle’s artistic style seemed to combine modernity with nostalgia in a fresh, new way. His crisp line-work was reminiscent of both medieval engravings and Walter Cranes’s illustrations of the Grimms’ Hausmärchen.46 Pyle’s hero, too, was visually different from his predecessors in Egan or Emmett. The poulaine slippers, the distinctive hunter’s cap, the pointed beard, these were all Pyle’s innovations, innovations that were to become standard for at least the next century. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood was an outstanding financial success for Pyle as well, and provided him with not only an immediate income, but also considerable leverage in his next contract negotiations.

The American public warmed to Pyle’s version of Robin Hood immediately, and it became a touchstone of American literary culture. It is indicative of the position of The Merry Adventures in the cultural life of America that the Classified Catalogue of the Public Library of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, that was published in 1886, the year after the library’s foundation, lists a copy of Pyle’s book among its inventory. Significantly, the library’s collection also included copies of both Ritson’s Robin Hood and The Life and (p.63) Exploits of Robin Hood from 1859.47 Small regional libraries like Fitchburg were making decisions about the literary future of Middle America, and that future featured Robin Hood very strongly.

The outlaws’ adventures continued to be staged in theaters throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. George Alexander Macfarren produced Robin Hood in 1860 and William Henry Birch produced his operetta The Merrie Men of Sherwood Forest in 1871. In 1879 Robin Hood made it onto the German stage with Albert Dietrich’s production entitled, simply, Robin Hood. Reginald de Koven and Harry Smith presented Robin Hood: A Comic Opera in 1890 and, a year later, Sir Arthur Sullivan presented Tennyson’s poem, set to music, on stage. The stage version of The Foresters met with little critical acclaim.

In 1902, more than a decade after the success of their first staging of the Robin Hood legends, de Koven and Smith returned to familiar territory with Maid Marian. This sequel to their earlier comic opera was nowhere near so successful, but this may have had more to do with the waning of the stage as a medium of entertainment than with the material itself, for theater was giving way to a new form of mass entertainment—motion pictures.

The Robin Hood legends were passing irrevocably into the visual lexicon of America. Barely had the new medium of motion picture began than it was pressed into this service. In 1908 Percy Stow directed Robin Hood and His Merry Men. Etienne Arnaud and Herbert Blanche followed up with Robin Hood in 1912 and Herbert Brenon directed Ivanhoe the following year. In 1922, Allan Dwan directed the muscularly athletic Douglas Fairbanks in his own version of Robin Hood, a version unsurpassed until Michael Curtiz and William Keighley’s 1938 blockbuster The Adventures of Robin Hood immortalized Errol Flynn in the lead role. Nineteen thirty-eight was also the year in which White’s The Sword in the Stone, discussed in the previous chapter, first saw publication.

Louis Rhead’s illustrated book Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band appeared in 1912, but his plates drew heavily from Pyle. In 1917, Paul Creswick published his version of Robin Hood, illustrated throughout by Pyle’s protégé, Newell Convers Wyeth. Wyeth’s drawings did more than compliment those of Pyle, they served to cement further in the minds of American audiences the centrality of Pyle’s vision.

(p.64) Robin Hood in Comic Books

With such a well-established and long-term popularity in the United States, it must come as no surprise to learn that Robin Hood was one of the first heroes to appear in comic book form. In fact, the debut of the outlaw in New Adventure Comics predated that of Superman by six months.

Issue number 23 of the first volume of New Adventure Comics appeared in January 1938 and followed Pyle’s script closely. Robin, a yeoman, is tricked into killing one of the king’s deer by a group of royal foresters who then arrest him. He is eventually freed by another commoner and, over the course of the next eight issues of New Adventure Comics, we follow the young outlaw as he gathers his band of merry men, fights injustice, and redistributes unfairly gathered taxes. The serial stopped abruptly in September of 1938, and the company who published New Adventure, Detective Comics (forerunner to DC Comics), was not to revive the series for more than a decade.

This is not to say that Robin Hood was not popular with comic book audiences, quite the contrary, but he was a problematic property. With the sudden proliferation of Golden Age heroes, the comic book business quickly realized the importance of maintaining exclusive control over their products. Epic legal battles such as the one between Fawcett and National Comics (successor to Detective Comics) as to the originality of Captain Marvel were to become commonplace in the industry as sales rose and revenues soared. Robin Hood, on the other hand, was a character in the public domain. Who could legally justify their ownership of such a famous legend?

In February 1956, Quality Comics put this question to the test when it began a new series, Robin Hood Tales. Impetus for this series had come from the recent success of the British ITV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, which had begun airing in early 1955. Although the production was based in Great Britain and used English actors, the producer was former New York journalist Hannah Weinstein.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Weinstein had been an activist in various Communist projects in the United States, but had left America for Britain in 1952 to escape the scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee. As the producer of The Adventures of Robin Hood, she hired a number of blacklisted American writers to script and edit the series. Ring Lardner Jr., Waldo Salt, Robert Lees, Adrian Scott, and Howard Koch were all credited under pseudonyms and their storylines revolved, unsurprisingly, around the central themes of the redistribution of wealth and the importance of communal strength in the face of despotism and tyranny.48

(p.65) Given the success the British TV series was enjoying on American television, DC Comics, as it was by then, could not afford to let ownership of their character slip. DC’s The Brave and the Bold already boasted a number of characters from the Middle Ages (Silent Knight, Viking Prince) and so Robin Hood appeared alongside them in issue 5, May 1956.

Quality Comics was still crowding the Robin Hood market, of course, but legal action against them was impossible because copyright on the traditional hero would have been unenforceable. DC chose, instead, to simply “buy out” their opposition. Quality Comics ceased to trade in December 1956, having been subsumed into National Periodical Publications, and when Robin Hood Tales issue 7 appeared in February 1957, it did so with a DC logo in the top left-hand corner of the cover. This victory, however, was to be short lived. In January 1958, Robin Hood ceased to appear in The Brave and the Bold and by April of the same year Robin Hood Tales had ceased publication as well.

ITV’s Adventures of Robin Hood fared far better, and continued in production until 1960. The iconic series inspired a spate of movies: Robin Hood’s Greatest Adventures (1956), Robin Hood, the Movie (1958), Robin Hood: The Quest for the Crown (1958), The Son of Robin Hood (1959), and Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960). ITV also capitalized on the success of their Robin Hood by producing a parallel serialization of Scott’s Ivanhoe that ran from 1958 until 1959.

In France, Jean-Claude Deret scripted 52 episodes of Thierry la Fronde (Terry the Sling), which aired on French television from November 1963 until March 1966. Thierry later screened in Canada as Thierry la Fronde and The King’s Outlaw, in Poland as Thierry Śmiałek (Thierry the Daredevil), in Australia as The King’s Outlaw; and in the Netherlands as Thierry de Slingeraar (Thierry the Sling). In 1966, German TV aired Robin Hood der edle Räuber (Robin Hood the Noble Bandit).

With such widespread success for the character on both the small screen and in theaters, DC’s decision to axe the series would appear as little more than a cynical exercise in character retention—comic book characters that remained unused for a considerable period of time became fair game for other companies to pick up. DC seemed to publish just enough Robin Hood comic books to justify their claim to the character. It was an atypical strategy, though, to produce whole series in order to retain characters. Far more common was the practicing of guesting, and Robin Hood guested frequently in DC comic books.

(p.66) DC’s own vigilante archer, Green Arrow, had visited Sherwood Forest as early as the August 1942 issue of More Fun Comics. Having confiscated “time pills” from the evil Professor Wurm, Green Arrow and his sidekick Speedy ventured back to twelfth-century England and proved themselves the equal of the famous bowman. Green Arrow switched places with Robin Hood again in issue 40 of World’s Finest Comics (May 1949), and in issue 264 of Adventure Comics (September 1959) Green Arrow and Speedy travel back to Sherwood yet again. As late as September 1972, Green Arrow was still getting Robin Hood out of trouble (in issue 101 of The Justice League of America).

Wonder Woman twice used the “Amazon time-and-space transformer” to travel back in time and meet Robin Hood, once in May 1956 (issue 82 of Wonder Woman) and again in November 1957 (issue 94). Interestingly, in the second instance, the legendary archer seems to have sent some form of, possibly psychic, message to Wonder Woman while she was watching The Adventures of Robin Hood on her television.

In issue 22 of Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane (January 1961), Lois visits a new Robin Hood museum only to scratch herself on one of the ancient arrows. In the dream sequence that follows, she is transported back to Sherwood Forest to become “The Sweetheart of Robin Hood!” This story was obviously so good that it deserved a revisit in May 1967 (Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane, issue 74). In October 1964, time traveler Rip Hunter also ventured back to twelfth-century England to meet Richard I, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the Merry Men in issue 22 of Rip Hunter, Time Master.

Nor was the influence of Robin Hood felt only in direct representations of the original character. Jerry Robinson’s inspiration for Batman’s sidekick Robin came from Wyeth’s version of Robin Hood, and so the young super-hero took on both the name and the costume of the legendary outlaw.49 In issue 116 of Detective Comics (October 1946), the Dynamic Duo met and rescued Robin Hood.

Robin Hood appeared quite frequently then, but rarely in his own comic, and DC still claims him as part of their “multiverse.” The character, however, was obviously a popular one on television and at the movie theaters. Why, then, has DC failed to exploit this success? The answer lies in copyright.

(p.67) The Green Arrow

While Robin Hood, as a copyrightable property, was always problematic, the Green Arrow was not. Written by Mort Weisinger and drawn by George Papp, Green Arrow appeared for the first time in issue 73 of More Fun Comics (November 1941). The Green Arrow might have looked like Robin Hood and behaved like Robin Hood, but he was entirely paid for and owned by what was to become DC Comics.

The creators of the Green Arrow owed as much to the pulp fiction of the 1920s and 1930s, as they did to Pyle’s Merry Adventures. Edith Heal had published her Robin Hood in 1928 and Geoffrey Trease’s Bows Against the Barons appeared in 1934, but Green Arrow’s genesis lay in the particular pulp of Edgar Wallace.

The prodigious Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace was, by turns, a crime writer, a journalist, a novelist, a screenwriter, and a playwright, and is perhaps best known today as the cocreator of King Kong. In 1923 he published The Green Archer, a widely popular novel about a bow-armed vigilante. The book itself went into multiple republications throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and was still being published in the 1970s. French (L’Archer Vert) and German (Der grüne Bogenschütze) translations appeared early. Spencer Gordon Bennet turned the book into a ten-episode cinema serial in 1925, and the legendary James Horne produced another fifteen-episode version in 1940. Der grüne Bogenschütze, directed by Jürgen Roland in 1961, also became a foundational film in Cold War Germany.

Wallace, of course, took much of his inspiration from Pyle. The Green Archer was a modern-day crime fighter dressed as Pyle’s Robin Hood, so Weisinger took Wallace’s creation and melded him with Batman to create the Green Arrow. Like Batman, the Green Arrow had a boy sidekick (Speedy), some custom-made vehicles (an Arrow-Car and an Arrow-Plane), a secret lair (the Arrow-Cave), and a special way for law enforcement officers to contact him (the Arrow-Signal). There was no way to know how popular the Green Arrow might become, but in the fast-paced world of the disposable Golden Age superhero, no one really cared. As it turned out, the Green Arrow was remarkably long lived.

The Green Arrow ran continuously in More Fun Comics from his debut late in 1941 until January of 1946, when he switched over to another DC publication, Adventure Comics.50 His run in that publication lasted until February 1960, which meant that the Green Arrow survived both the postwar slump in comic book sales and the United States Senate Subcommittee (p.68) on Juvenile Delinquency. The end of their run in Adventure Comics did not mean the end of Green Arrow or Speedy, however, as they continued on in World’s Finest Comics, a magazine they had featured in since 1942.51

Green Arrow suffered his share of indignities, though. His storylines were made more family friendly and a female counterpart (Miss Arrowette) was introduced, albeit spasmodically.52 His origin story was also retconned53 so that his alter ego, Oliver Queen, could become a millionaire playboy like Bruce Wayne.54 Reading these early adventures, however, one is keenly aware of the elephant in the room—with his trademark costume, replete with Pyle’s plumed hunter’s cap, and distinctive weaponry, surely the Green Arrow is Robin Hood.

The comics themselves are markedly taciturn on this matter. Green Arrow visits Sherwood of course, as noted above, and there is some limited interaction with Robin Hood, but, on the whole, the writers seemed keen to keep a distance between the two heroes. When we meet Green Arrow for the first time (More Fun Comics #73), we hear of Joan D’Arc and William Tell, but not of Robin Hood. This lack of acknowledgment, however, is compensated for by a distinct playfulness in the ensuing storylines.

In More Fun Comics issue 76 (February 1942), Green Arrow and Speedy come to the aid of Andrew Bowling, an eccentric millionaire. Guards working for the tycoon have imprisoned him in his own “medieval” castle and have equipped themselves with armor and weapons stolen from Bowling’s extensive collection. DC, of course, did not rely on William Randolph Hearst for syndicated comics.

Green Arrow storylines went on to reference William the Conqueror, King Arthur, and Merlin as well as King John and Robin Hood. One storyline invoked Twain’s Connecticut Yankee,55 another saw Robin Hood’s statue used to good effect (Speedy overturns the statue to trap some fleeing villains).56 The very last Green Arrow story featured in Adventure Comics has the superhero in the offices of a major comic book producer arguing for up-and-coming artist Bill Nixon. Bill wants to pen a comic book about the “Golden Archer,” but the editor in charge dismisses his superhero pitch as unrealistic.57 In the next issue of Adventure Comics, Green Arrow was gone.

For the most part, though, by the early 1960s the only part of the Green Arrow that seemed at all like Robin Hood was the costume. The essential and timeless elements of the Robin Hood legend, those which had made the outlaw so accessible to American audiences, “justice, equality, and … independence,” were absent from the Green Arrow mythos—but that changed in 1969.

(p.69) When Green Arrow reemerged in issue 85 of The Brave and the Bold (August–September 1969), he was new man. He looked new, thanks to artist Neal Adams’s redesign, more muscular and taut, although still wearing a recognizably Pyle-inspired uniform. The storyline, however, more than anything else about the comic, promised change.

On June 6, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy, an active opponent of organized crime, was shot dead in Los Angeles. Issue 85 of The Brave and the Bold was on the newsstands less than a year later with a storyline that saw Batman and Green Arrow react to the shooting of Gotham’s anticrime crusader, Senator Paul Cathcart. Unlike Kennedy, Cathcart survived. The positive response to this publication within the DC readership was instrumental in the company’s shift toward current-affairs-driven plotlines aimed at an older and more informed audience.

Dennis O’Neil was a journalist with an English literature major from Saint Louis University who began freelancing for Charlton Comics in the mid-1960s. When Charlton editor Dick Giordano moved across to DC Comics in 1968, he passed some work on to O’Neil. O’Neil’s contributions to DC were extensive. He located his storylines within topical events, reflected significant real-world issues within the animated fantasy of the DC universe, and rewarded an expanding adult readership with a challenging, multifaceted exposition.

It was O’Neil who invented Arkham Asylum to house Gotham’s insane. In the wake of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab, and the rise of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, it was O’Neil who created the terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul, leader of the “Demon’s Head” and former commander of the League of Assassins (Ra’s Al Ghul is Arabic for Demon’s Head). In the words of Michael McAvennie, “O’Neil rescued Batman from the cozy, campy cul-de-sac he had been consigned to in the 1960s and returned the Dark Knight to his roots as a haunted crime fighter.”58 Most importantly for this chapter, though, it was O’Neil who reinvented Green Arrow as a modern-day Robin Hood.

In issue 75 of Justice League of America (November 1969) Dennis O’Neil stripped Oliver Queen of his wealth. Defrauded by greedy capitalists, Green Arrow is forced to fend for himself on the “mean-streets” of Star City. He begins to question his role in society. This questioning began an odyssey for which Dennis O’Neil teamed up with Neal Adams in issue 76 of Green Lantern (April 1970).

Charged with reinvigorating sales for the “moribund” Green Lantern series, DC editor Julius Schwartz gave O’Neil free reign to “combine comics (p.70) writing with … journalism” and to “dramatize the real-life issues that tormented the country in the context of superheroics.”59 Green Lantern was one of DC’s least multidimensional characters—fearless, law abiding, sworn to uphold an ancient and intergalactic code of justice. He was not a hero for a troubled and rebellious America. In Green Lantern 76, the hero apprehends a gang of juvenile offenders, only to find out that the target of their attacks is a greedy landlord whose corrupt abuse of power is compelling mass evictions. “I been readin’ about you,” says an African American bystander to the Green Lantern, “how you work for the blue skins … the orange skins … the purple skins! Only there’s skins you never bothered with … the black skins! I want to know … how come?!” A dejected Green Lantern hangs his head in shame, unable to answer the question.

O’Neil introduced Green Arrow into the series as the counterpoint to Green Lantern. His wealth gone, Green Arrow has become radicalized by living in the slums. “On the streets of Memphis a good black man died,” he says to Green Lantern, “and in Los Angeles, a good white man fell”—behind the proselytizing superhero are portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. “You call yourself a hero! Chum, you don’t even qualify as a man. You’re no more than a puppet … Listen … forget about chasing around the galaxy! And remember America. It’s a good country … beautiful … fertile … and terribly sick! There are children dying, honest people cowering in fear, disillusioned kids ripping up campuses.”60

Thus began a journey across the country to find themselves, and America. Over the next fourteen issues, the two heroes confronted crises of corporate greed, environmental vandalism, overpopulation, small-town conformity, racism, religious cults and, most famously, heroin addiction.

The Comics Code Authority had always been explicit in forbidding any depiction of illegal drug use, but in 1970, the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare had asked Marvel Comics to feature a strong antidrug message in one of its main series. A story arc in issues 96 to 98 of The Amazing Spider-Man (May to July 1971) chronicled the plight of Peter Parker’s friend, Harry Osborn, in his struggle against pill addiction. The CCA refused to sanction the storyline, but strong sales of these issues undermined the Authority’s control and the code was subsequently revised.61 O’Neil took advantage of this revision to explore the problem further.

Issues 85 and 86 of Green Lantern (August and October 1971) revealed Speedy’s heroin addiction. Battling feelings of abandonment by Green Arrow, and forced into association with the criminal elements of Star City, the young sidekick becomes addicted. Although Speedy kicks his habit by issue (p.71) 86, a very rapid recovery indeed, O’Neil was unequivocal in his treatment of drug abuse and Adam’s artwork featured explicit depictions of heroin paraphernalia, including a syringe that took up almost the entire cover of issue 86.

Most important, though, throughout this short-lived series Green Arrow is Robin Hood. O’Neil self-consciously places the superhero within that referential with the very first issue of the revised series, and we watch as Green Arrow works ceaselessly for the next fourteen episodes to uphold his independence in the face of a growing tyranny, to seek “true” justice, and to champion the underdog. At the series’ end, unable to cope with the limitations of his capacity to change an unjust world, Green Arrow fakes his own death and “little Robin Hood me,” as he describes himself, retreats to an ashram.62

O’Neil’s experiment was a fascinating one from the perspective of the reception history of Robin Hood in America, but it proved financially unviable. The Green Lantern/Green Arrow series finished in 1972 and was not to be revisited until 1976. When it did resume,63 it was without the artistic talents of Neal Adams and, although Dennis O’Neil was still writing the scripts, the social consciousness of the previous incarnation was gone. Green Arrow remained as Green Lantern’s foil until the end of 1979, at which point he passed back into an unspoken retirement.

Green Arrow returned in his own title in May 1983, which lasted only four issues.64 In 1985, DC killed him off in their Crisis on Infinite Earths. Death, of course, is never permanent in the world of comic books, and so the archer was revived, again as a political activist, in 1986.65

By this time, O’Neil’s depiction of Green Arrow had become canonical and so, in issue 38 of Secret Origins, we see Oliver Queen (once again a multimillionaire) wrestling with his role in society: “Robin Hood was, after all, a political activist,” he muses, “fighting against a corrupt administration.” Still, the incongruity of Queen’s privilege is obvious. Robin Hood, in his recension as an outlawed nobleman, had this problem taken out of his hands. Queen, on the other hand, finds himself asking: “What am I supposed to do? Steal from myself and give to the poor?”

The new Green Arrow, at least, seemed much more comfortable with his Robin Hood origins, and the central themes of the Robin Hood legend have not been absent from the hero’s storylines since the mid-1980s. Nor have his writers ceased to be playful—in Mike Grells’s Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, Oliver Queen lives above his girlfriend’s flower shop, the appropriately named Sherwood Florist.66

(p.72) The final decades of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first saw a return to Robin Hood movies and television serials. At the same time Green Arrow, now firmly established as a comic book superhero who carried the spirit of Robin Hood into the modern world, continued to grow in popularity. By 2013, Green Arrow had transitioned into a hit television series, Arrow, produced by the CW Network, and by 2015, Arrow was airing its fourth season.


Just as Prince Valiant functions as a polyvalent locus in the reception history of Arthuriana, so too Green Arrow serves to demonstrate the continuities of the Robin Hood mythos in the medievalist comic books of the American Century. Indeed, significant as the Arthurian legends have become in the cultural imaginings of the United States, the connection between state and story seem even more significant in the case of Sherwood Forest’s most famous son.

Whereas America received from Britain a fully formed Arthur, a king that could be modified perhaps, certainly adapted, but never wholly assimilated, Robin Hood emerged from a contentious past seemingly ready-made for the iconoclastic ideals of a boisterous democracy. In this reception history, America was not merely a recipient. It was American money that ensured the physical survival of those few artifacts central to the yeoman’s story. It was American scholarly interest that elevated the bandit from a position of relative obscurity to one of legitimate academic pursuit. Most important, though, it was American popular culture that made Robin Hood into a contemporary legend—American movies, American television shows, American comic books. And through all of these myriad incarnations the legacy of Francis James Child and the vision of Howard Pyle can still be seen.


(1.) Commentators tend to divide the history of American comic books into “ages.” These ages can be broadly defined as the Golden Age (1938–1950), the Silver Age (1956–1970), the Bronze Age (1970–1985), and the Modern Age (1985–present). The interregnum during the early 1950s is sometimes referred to as the Genre Age. This taxonomy, of course, is (p.200) not universally agreed upon—see, for example, Ken Quattro, The New Ages: Rethinking Comic Book History (2004) http://www.comicartville.com/newages.htm.

(2.) Nick Groom, The Making of Percy’s Reliques (Clarendon: Oxford University Press, 1999), 6.

(3.) Irving L. Churchill, “William Shenstone’s Share in the Preparation of Percy’s Reliques,” PMLA 51, no. 4 (December 1936): 960–74.

(6.) James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (New York: Sturgis & Walton, 1909), 1:292.

(7.) Walter William Skeat, ed., Piers Plowman (Clarendon: Oxford University Press, 1886), sec. 8, l. 402.

(8.) Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), 32.

(9.) John Matthews, “The Games of Robin Hood,” in Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, ed. Stephen Knight (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1999), 393–410, 396.

(10.) John Major, Historia Maioris Britanniae, trans. Archibald Constable (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1892), 156–57.

(11.) Richard Grafton, Grafton’s Chronicle (London: G. Woodfall, 1809), 1:221–22.

(12.) Joseph Ristson, ed., Robin Hood: A Collection of all the Ancient Poems, Songs and Ballads, now extant, relative to that celebrated Outlaw (Whitehall: T. Egerton, 1795).

(13.) William James Thoms, Early English Prose Romances with Bibliographical and Historical Introductions (London: Nattali and Bond, 1858), v.

(14.) Alice Chandler, “Sir Walter Scott and the Medieval Revival,” in Nineteenth-Century Fiction 19, no. 4 (March 1965): 315–32, 332.

(16.) See, for example, Sten Bodvar Liljegren’s The Revolt against Romanticism in American Literature as Evidenced in the Works of S. L. Clemens (New York: Haskell House, 1970); and, more recently, Robert McParland’s Mark Twain’s Audience: A Critical Analysis of Reader Responses to the Writings of Mark Twain (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014).

(17.) Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (New York: P. F. Collier, 1917), 375.

(18.) Pierce Egan, Robin Hood and Little John, or the merry men of Sherwood forest (London: Forster and Hextall, 1840).

(19.) Wat Tyler (1841, republished in 1851); Bell, Clym o’ the Cleugh, and William of Cloudeslie (1842); and Paul Jones, the privateer (1842).

(20.) Joachim Hayward Stocqueler, Maid Marian: The Forest Queen (London: George Peirce, 1849).

(21.) Mary Ellen Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 10–11.

(22.) “Jonathan Ingersoll Bowditch,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 24 (May 1888–May 1889): 435–37, 435.

(24.) Charles Eliot Norton, “Francis James Child,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 32, no. 17 (July 1897): 333–39, 333.

(p.201) (25.) James C. Turner, The Liberal Education of Charles Eliot Norton (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 50.

(26.) Francis James Child, Four Old Plays (Cambridge, MA: G. Nichols, 1848).

(31.) See, for example, Stith Thompson, “The Indian Legend of Hiawatha,” Periodical of the Modern Languages Associaition of America 37 (1922), 128–40; Chase S. and Stellanova Osborn, Schoolcraft—Longfellow—Hiawatha (Lancaster, PA: Jaques Cattell Press, 1942); Ernest John Moyne, Hiawatha and Kalevala: A Study of the Relationship between Longfellow’s “Indian Edda” and the Finnish Epic (Helsinki: Suomen Tiedeakatemia, 1963); William M. Clements, “Schoolcraft as Textmaker,” Journal of American Folklore 103 (1990): 177–90; and Mentor L. Williams, ed., Schoolcraft’s Indian Legends (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1956).

(32.) Hans Rudolf von Schröter, Finnische Runen (Upsala: Palmblad & Co., 1819).

(35.) Francis James Child, English and Scottish Ballads (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1858), vii.

(36.) Francis James Child, “Robin Hood,” Atlantic Monthly 1, no. 2 (December 1857): 156–66.

(40.) Tom Cheesman and Sigrid Rieuwerts, “Introduction: Child Who?” in Ballads into Books: The Legacies of Francis James Child, ed. Tom Cheesman and Sigrid Rieuwerts (Bern: Peter Lang, 1997), 9–18, 10.

(41.) Irving L. Churchill, “Shenstone’s Billets,” PMLA 52, no. 1 (March 1937): 114–21, 116.

(42.) Stephanie Barczewski, Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood (London: Oxford University Press, 2000), 89.

(45.) Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christian Religion, trans. John C. Ager (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1853), 102.

(46.) Delaware Art Museum, Howard Pyle: The Artist and His Legacy (Wilmington: Delaware Art Museum, 1987), 9.

(47.) Classified Catalogue of the Public Library of Fitchburg, Massachusetts (Fitchburg, MA: Blanchard and Brown, 1886), 310.

(48.) Tom Dewe Matthews, “The Outlaws,” Guardian (October 7, 2006).

(49.) Gary Groth, “Look out Batman! It’s the Jerry Robinson Interview,” Comics Journal 271 (October 2005): 73–112, 83.

(50.) More Fun Comics #73–107 (November 1941–January 1946) and Adventure Comics #103–269 (April 1946–February 1960).

(p.202) (51.) World’s Finest Comics #7–140 (Fall 1942–March 1964).

(52.) World’s Finest Comics #113 (November 1960); #118 (June 1961); and #134 (June 1963).

(53.) Retcon: to revise a storyline retrospectively in order to create a new continuity, a RETrospective CONtinuity.

(54.) Green Arrow’s first origin story is given in More Fun Comics #89 (March 1943), but this is changed in Adventure Comics #256 (January 1959).

(55.) Adventure Comics #268 (January 1960).

(56.) Adventure Comics #262 (July 1959).

(57.) Adventure Comics #269 (February 1960).

(58.) Michael McAvennie, “1970s,” in DC Comics Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle, ed. Michael McAvennie and Hannah Dolan (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2010), 143.

(59.) Dennis O’Neil, “Green Thoughts,” in Green Lantern/Green Arrow: Hard Travelling Heroes (New York: DC Comics, 1992), i–ii, i.

(60.) Green Lantern #76 (April 1970).

(61.) Bradford Wright, Comic Book Nation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 239.

(62.) The Flash #217–19 (September 1972–January 1973).

(63.) Green Lantern #90 (August 1976).

(64.) Green Arrow #1–4 (May 1983–August 1983).

(65.) Secret Origins #38 (March 1986).

(66.) Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters (1987).