When You Picture Robin Hood, What Do You See?

Image: Pixabay

If this were a Buzzfeed article it would be called “The Image You Get in Your Mind When Someone Asks You to Picture Robin Hood Might Say a Lot About You!” This is an unwieldy title, but it is accurate, and I don’t know how else to say it.

This began when I was talking to someone about Robin Hood, specifically the Disney version, and I realized that not only was this person hurtfully unenthusiastic about the Disney version, he didn’t even remember that Robin Hood was a fox. He thought he was a MAN. I asked him what he meant by a “man.” Did he mean like a boy fox, because yes that is correct. He said “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Robin Hood is a young man. A young adult. Like a healthy nineteen year old.” A healthy nineteen year old fox? No. A man. A human man. I reminded him that there is not actually a single human man in that movie. Robin Hood is a fox, Maid Marian is a fox, Little John is a bear, Friar Tuck is apparently a badger, Sir Hiss is a snake, Prince John is a lion, the bunny family are bunnies, the Sheriff of Nottingham is some kind of dog.

Image: Olga Fox

He asked me if I was sure and I said yes, obviously I am sure. He said that it didn’t matter, anyway, because even if Robin Hood was a fox in that one movie, the image that the culture retains of him is one of a man. A healthy nineteen-year-old man. As if the Disney version wasn’t definitive. As if there was anything left to say on the subject. Robin Hood is a fox. In the words of my friend Elle, “Robin Hood is a fox in a green t-shirt, and he is very handsome. I think he has a piece of straw in his mouth and a DGAF attitude, although that doesn’t seem to accord with the do-gooder nature that I know Robin Hood is supposed to have.” Yes. I genuinely believed that we all thought this. What else but a fox? One starts to question these things, though. One starts to text the people one knows and say “What do you picture in your mind when you think of Robin Hood?” One starts to be astonished.

The answers I received fell into 7 broad categories

  1. “The fox”
  2. “The fox, obviously”
  3. Descriptions of Robin Hood’s clothes and hair and habitat and the things he needs to do his job. Stuff like “I just picture horses and bows and arrows.” “Leather hat.” “Has one of those hats.” “The colours green and brown.” “Olive green felt.” “Wears a lot of green.” “Leather pouch with jingly coins.” Everyone in this category conceived of him as just a general human man. A young one, usually. No older than 35.
  4. “A short, slightly smug, over-dressed, thin-legged guy with no body hair, who is 25 years old.”
  5. “Someone a bit like Peter Pan” (This was my wildest one. Peter PAN. Seriously. Robin Hood is amazing and Peter Pan sucks big time and it is astounding to me that anyone could get the two confused.)
  6. References to the Kevin Costner version, with a special focus on the witch, people getting their hands chopped off, and that chastity belt.
  7. “Men in Tights”
  8. “Men in Tights, obviously.”
Olivia de Haviland and Errol Flynn (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

What does this all mean? What conclusions are there to be drawn from this? Is there some philosophical point to be made here? Are people who are able to retain a free-floating image of Robin Hood more sophisticated in some crucial way? Maybe this is a The Golden Bough style thing, where a Robin-Hood-like figure is to be found in all religions, all cultures, and the people who see him as simply an anthropomorphized fox are the embodiment of the destructive forces of late capitalism. We have lost sight of the past, of heritage, and are capable of seeing only what has been commodified. The Disneyfication of all things etc. Maybe?

Can we say anything more about the Men in Tights people other than that they enjoy the movies of Mel Brooks? Can we say anything more about the fucking PETER PAN people other than that they don’t care about Robin Hood at all? This is maybe enough to go on all on its own. It is not the stuff of deep character analysis, but it is something. Think about it. Say it out loud: “I don’t care about Robin Hood.” How does it feel? How much are we supposed to care about Robin Hood? When you picture Robin Hood, who do you picture and what do you think it means?