A Gest of Robyn Hode
Anon.
1450 – 1475

and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Howard Pyle
1883

Robin Hood was, of course, one of the first things identified for this list. It was tricky, however, to sort out which text to include with which date. We opted to include two: first, A Gest Of Robyn Hode, one of the earliest versions – because the whole point is to note cultural significance, so it was important to find something early that laid the foundation for the Robin Hood we know; second, the most well-known of the Robin Hood texts, Howard Pyle’s 1883 book The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.

The moral outlaw, the one who robs from the rich to feed the poor, who takes to the country to hide among the people as he strikes back against unjust and corrupt authority. He is Robin Hood, and in more recent song and story he is also Ned Kelly, Jesse James, Pretty Boy Floyd.

Exactly when the Robin Hood legend began is not known; the Gest represents one of the earliest written versions, and was written down sometime in the mid-fifteenth century but is no doubt based on a number of pre-existing ballads and folktales. Many of the familiar elements are already here – Little John, Much the miller’s son, the archery contest, the dreaded sheriff – illustrating quite a remarkable consistency in a legend that has spanned over 500 years and re-tellings from Howard Pyle (whose 1883 The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood is the classic modern version) to Walt Disney. Whatever your favourite version, the bare essentials of Robin are the same, and we can expect he’ll be with us another 500 years more.

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