Sunday, November 11, 2018
The Black Arrow - Robert Louis Stevenson
Posted by JaneGS
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!