When I was a kid, I read and reread the adventures of Robin Hood and his merry men. I knew every detail about quarterstaffs and longbows and Will Stutely, Will Scarlet, Little John, and Guy of Gisbourne. In third grade, I wore a green shirt and green pants to school day after day because I knew that Robin Hood and his merry men preferred “Lincoln green.” I read different retellings of the stories and came to strong opinions about which were the correct versions. At that age I was not too interested in Maid Marian. I remember trying to type the first page of Robin Hood on my dad’s manual typewriter—who knows why—and spoiling a lot of paper in those pre-word-processor days because I started again each time I made a mistake. I came close to memorizing the beginning of Howard Pyle’s version:
In merry England in the time of old, when good King Henry the Second ruled the land, there lived within the green glades of Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham Town, a famous outlaw whose name was Robin Hood. No archer ever lived that could speed a gray goose shaft with such skill and cunning as his, nor were there ever such yeomen as the seven-score merry men that roamed with him through the greenwood shades.
Though I did not think about it at the time, I suspect that one of the reasons I found the stories attractive was their point of view. Robin Hood and his men, though outlaws, were the good guys. They were the favorites of the common people. They represented the ideals of the English yeoman: courtesy, healthy living, freedom, athletic skill, manliness, charity, mercy, chivalry. The authorities, to the contrary, are treacherous, overweight, cruel, corrupt, abusive of their station—whether they were Abbott or Sheriff, Bishop or landowner. There was a lot more to the morality of Robin and his men than honor among thieves or the shorthand “Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor.” I did not think much about any complexities: Robin’s noble blood, Norman versus Saxon, the contrast between the outlaws’ hatred of local religious and political authority with their allegiance to King Richard I. I did know that stout Robin never robbed an honest tradesman.
My identification with Robin Hood fit with my emerging opinions about politics in the United States. Democrats, it was clear, also identified with the working and lower classes and tried to redress income inequalities. They seemed to represent a similar constellation of virtues as did the English outlaws.
I now wonder: do Republican parents put the Robin Hood stories in front of their children, or do they hide them? Do they decry as “class warfare” the notions present in the books? How do they support a ruling party that is so clearly Robin Hood in reverse? Do they include some kind of commentary about the Sheriff of Nottingham not being “soft on crime”—or do they tell their kids that Robin should have respected the “rule of law”? Perhaps they try to obscure the economic with social issues—pointing out that the NRA would have supported the possession of longbows in Sherwood Forest. Most importantly, how do they discuss lowering taxes on the wealthy, or eradicating the estate tax, with children who are influenced by the ideals of Robin Hood?
Folks, Robin Hood was a Democrat.