I first posted this in November 2015, but there has been some changes since then! Notes on the way through…
There were two major influences that drove me as I wrote Heart of Vengeance, one of them positive, the other horribly negative…but I’ll get to that one in a minute.
The positive one was an old 1952 movie that I must have watched three or four times growing up. There was only one TV station when we finally did get a working TV when I was a teenager, so one watched what the government station aired, and mostly that was a lot of BBC and ABC content, along with a movie on Sunday afternoons that was usually an old Hollywood classic.
Ivanhoe was one of them, and I never could figure out why the true heroine of the movie, Elizabeth Taylor, didn’t end up with the hero, Robert Taylor. It didn’t make sense to me the way she handed off Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) to the icy blonde second fiddle, Joan Fontaine, looking ever-so self-sacrificing as she did it.
The memory buried deep.
But the original book by Walter Scott was first written in 1819, when reading was the only way to absorb stories, and long evenings were spent by families sitting around the table, and while the women sewed and the men made small repairs to saddlery, etc., one the members of the family would read aloud.
Long, wordy stories with frequent interruptions to paint scenes, give character histories, potted history lessons, odd culture explanations and more were the norm. It was a time when many people were born, lived and died in the same two square mile valley. These stories were often the only exposure they had to “foreign” cultures, ideas and people.
The stories of the day are also a snapshot of the values and mores of the time. Ivanhoe is full of conflict; Normans vs Ango-Saxons, nobles vs serfs, King Richard vs his brother Prince John, and Christians vs Jews.
I was an adult and had been studying history and politics for years when I rediscovered Ivanhoe and finally understood why Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor) let Ivanhoe go. Her status as a Jew in both medieval terms and the more modern 1819 terms meant the two could never be together. It simply couldn’t happen.
What would happen, I used to wonder, if the two had got together? What possible circumstances would allow that to happen?
Also, a really cool part of the story was the brief, almost glossed over appearance of Robin Hood, in the form of Robert of Loxley, as a secondary character.
Even at the time, I couldn’t believe they had cast Kevin Costner in the role. Still can’t. I don’t think he makes even the slightest attempt at an English accent. During filming, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was asked to dumb her own accent down because she was making Costner look bad.
The costumes weren’t even close to authentic, the history itself skewed out of all proportions. The ‘black powder’ that Azeem used (gunpowder) wasn’t invented by the Arabs for another two hundred years after the movie was set, and the telescope he used wasn’t created until the eighteenth century.
There’s fairly good historical evidence that “Robert of Loxley” never existed, although there are several references to a hooded vigilante, who may or may not have been a displaced Anglo-Saxon man keeping the Normans off his back. In this regard, Ridley Scott’s 2010 version of Robin Hood did much better at blending all the historical references into a possible version of the man, but Scott’s movie came out long after I had written Heart of Vengeance. I find it interesting that Scott’s movie and my book have several strong correllations.
Back to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. There was no mention of the suppression of Anglo-Saxons or the ascendency of the Normans, Prince John’s ambitions, the dissatisfaction of the nobles over Richard’s bankruptcy of the country, or any of the other political and economic forces that made the emergence of an anti-hero like Robin Hood possible. The story was sheer fantasy.
There was a certain hipness and charm about the story and the characters (The Sheriff of Nottingham, played at full volume by Alan Rickman, for example). It had draw enough that I watched the movie many times when it was first released, and still own a very scratched and fuzzy DVD version to this day.
Wind the clock on to shortly before 2004.
I had started a new historical romance series, for which I had planned six books. The third book in the series was set in my beloved Arthurian Britain, and I’ll be talking about Diana by the Moon later this month.
The fifth book was set in Richard’s England, at the end of his reign.
Yes, I picked that date deliberately.
However, even in 2004, the political incorrectness of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the inconsistent plot and characters, and the general lack of anything historically accurate, made watching the movie more than uncomfortable. I wanted to write something better than that.
So I did.
It may seem arrogant to blithely measure my book against a Hollywood movie that was the second biggest movie of 1991, and pronounce my story to be better, but honestly, the bar isn’t that high.
I found myself consciously using the best of both movies, Ivanhoe, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, picking up the more interesting storylines and characters and using them as inspiration to build my own story.
At the base of my story was the romance, of course. I started with the same basic question that I had been asking years before: What if the characters were from two different cultures? And because I had done some historical research, it was very easy to come up with those two different cultures because they were both screaming at me from the history books. The Anglo-Saxons were the downtrodden serfs while the Normans, who had invaded England not long before, were the overlords who ground down their serfs with almost cruel indifference.
So I asked myself, what if the heroine was Anglo-Saxon and the hero a Norman? How would that work? Unlike the “Jewess” Rebecca from Ivanhoe, it didn’t seem to be completely inconceivable that an Anglo-Saxon would get together with a Norman. There were upper-class Anglo-Saxons in the Norman culture who were mostly absorbed into the Norman hierarchy through marriage and breeding. So it wasn’t an impossible question to have an Anglo-Saxon and a Norman get together.
And that’s how the story began. Unlike Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, I used the actual history of the period and included all the forces and factions and political enemies, the culture and thinking of the time, to build up a story where the hero and heroine just can’t seem to remain together happily. Until the end of course.
And just like Ivanhoe, I slid Robin Hood into the story, too. I simply couldn’t resist.
2018 update: Since this post, another Robin Hood movie has been announced.
I’ve seen the trailer.
Oh…wow. Just wow….
And not in a good way.
To start with, there’s not much that looks historical. The trailer makes the movie look like a fantasy epic.
Then when I went through the cast list I discovered that Marion is married to…wait for it…Will Scarlet!! Robin Hood’s half-brother! WTF??
I’ll watch the movie, but I already know I’ll be watching just to see how bad it gets.
If you like the traditional version of Robin Hood, the one that actually has history in it, then try my book. -t.
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