Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Black Arrow - Robert Louis Stevenson



I have wanted to read The Black Arrow, by Robert Louis Stevenson, since I was a little kid. One of my older brothers must have read the book, or a Classic Comics version, or somehow learned the story and told me the basic outline because I remember playing it in the big maple tree in our front yard. One of my brothers nailed boards to the trunk for stairs and I would spend a lot of my play time up in the tree, pretending I was living with a pack of outlaws in Merry England in the trees and wearing Lincoln Green.

Yes, The Black Arrow is basically a Robin Hood story, set during the War of the Roses, and the hero, Dick Shelton, actually meets Richard III, when he was still Duke of Gloucester, before his brother Edward was crowned Edward IV. The outlaws are led by Ellis Duckworth, a worthy who is robbed of his lands by the evil, grasping Sir Daniel Blakeley--a shoe-in for the Sheriff of Notingham if there ever was one. Maid Marion is Joan Sedley, who Dick first meets when she is disguised as a boy and calls herself Jack--she is brave, witty, lovely, and devoted to Dick. To complete the cast, there is a fat friar, outlaws called Lawless and Greensheave, and all are, of course, first rate archers who shoot, you guessed it, black arrows, which are their calling card.



Not only is The Black Arrow a Robin Hood story, but it's also a Hamlet story. Dick discovers that Sir Daniel, his guardian, is responsible for his father's murder. He feels he must avenge his father but first has to prove that Sir Daniel is guilty. He loses opportunity after opportunity for vengeance with his dithering. Dick also kills one of Sir Daniel's men whom he discovers hiding behind the arras (aka curtain, but RLS insists it is an arras), spying on Joan and Dick during one of their rare trysts.

The story is definitely an adventure, complete with lots of fighting (swords, arrows, daggers), stolen ships and pirates, castles, chases, disguises, and derring-do.

The biggest problem is the language. RLS decided to employ the language of Shakespeare, in both dialogue and narrative, making it more difficult to read than it needed to be. While I can get what he was trying to do, with the Robin Hood/Hamlet/War of the Roses mashup, but it would have been less tedious had the characters spoken like Victorians instead of Shakespearean actors.

The portrait of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is also straight out of Shakespeare's Richard III, showing him as an ambitious, ruthless, cold young man who will let nothing stand in his way. Grrrr.

I didn't read the version with the NC Wyeth illustrations, but I wish I had because they are so marvelous.



This is the final book in my Back to the Classics 2018 challenge, fulfilling the category, title with a color in it. I think this is the earliest in the year that I have ever finished this challenge. A good year for classics for me!





14 comments:

  1. I have only read Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde as well as Treasure Island by Stevenson. I was very impressed by both works.

    The Shakespearean language seems strange here, but as you mention, Stevenson seems to have had an idea in mind.

    Congratulations on completing the challenge.

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  2. Oh yes! Cheers for finishing this year's Back to the Classics, and finishing off in such grand style with this Stevenson novel. I haven't read it either, but your witty review makes me want to give it a try, Shakespeareanisms and all. I have also wanted to read the two Balfour novels, Kidnapped and Catriona. I always enjoy Stevenson immensely--too bad I have postponed getting back to him. The Black Arrow might be a nice place for me to re-start. A delightful review, and I love the N. C. Wyeth illustration!

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    1. Kidnapped is my favorite RLS novel, but I haven't even heard of Catriona. Must check that out.

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  3. I haven't heard of this RLS novel. It's too bad about the language he uses which seems difficult. Still I like those illustrations!

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  4. I enjoyed your review. RLS is one of those authors I've been wanting to read as I've managed to collect several of his books over the years. Congratulations for finishing the challenge!

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  5. I'm not familiar with this RLS book, but it sounds like a lot of fun (despite the language thing). Great review!

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  6. Hi Jane,
    What a fascinating entry, on many levels. I knew nothing about Black Arrow, other than the fact that RLS wrote it.
    I can imagine (just imagine, mind you) that perhaps he wanted the challenge of writing it in an English tongue closer to the time of the actual events. (Shakespearean is closer, but not back far enough.) How interesting that is, and I wonder what reviewers of his novel at the time of its publication thought about how well he wrote in Shakespearean English.
    I am curious!

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    1. Oh, Jane, I am sorry to be adding something to my comment. I'm so glad you were able to see the N.C. Wyeth illustrations. His illustrations are incomparable and, as some have said, are fine art. I've been immensely interested in the entire Wyeth family this fall. N.C., his son Andrew, and Andrew's son Jamie, all the result of my trip to Monhegan Island in Maine in September, which has been a haunt of the entire family over the years. Andrew did not go to school but studied how to draw and paint with is father, N.C. Jamie did not really go to school ever, but studied with his father Andrew. A really different family, but so interesting.

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    2. I share your interest in the Wyeth family of artists--NC Wyeth's illustrations are perfect--they enhance my reading and I truly love them. I've loved Christina's World by Andrew since I was a teenager. May have to go on a pilgrimage to Monhegan Island myself--I'm hoping to get to Acadia NP someday soon, so maybe adding that on to that trip would work!

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    3. I'm motivated to read up on RLS and find out if he left notes about what he was trying to do with The Black Arrow, language-wise.

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  7. Whoo hoo! You finished the Back to the Classics challenge and it is barely November. Well done! :)

    Honestly you had me at Robin Hood...but then lost me at the language of Shakespeare! Maybe I can see if it is available on audio?

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    1. It took a little while, but I got into the language about midway through. It just always felt a bit stilted though.

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  8. Hmm, it sounded like something I would enjoy right up until the Shakespeare language. I don't mind it when I'm actually reading/watching Shakespeare, but it doesn't sound like it fits here.
    Congrats on finishing the challenge. I have one book left.

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  9. Yeah, the Robin Hoodish and Hamletesque mash sounded tempting...but, and I see this is the consensus, the Shakespearean language caused me to lose some interest. Still, I think I'll probably pick this up one day. Congrats on the challenge. I just finished as well.

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