A few quotes from Robin Hood and Ivanhoe

I’ve taken to reading some classics as of late. I’m slow about it, especially with getting through The Adventures of Robin Hood (Puffin Classics version written by Roger Lancelyn Green), as that stuff gets rather monotonous, with Robin Hood and his merry men always getting involved in shenanigans with Prince John, Guy, and the Sheriff, and always coming out on top and drinking and eating and being merry and all that other stuff. It’s a pattern that forms quickly and makes things rather dull, especially if I’ve seen them recreated in one fashion or another in some adaptation, animated or otherwise. Plus there’s female empowerment, with how Maid Marian can handle a bow and a sword, which was amusing. It’s entertaining enough, but rather monotonous save for the beginning and end. If I’m being honest, this whole thing seems to have set the basis for your average anime series. Where aside from some moments at the first and last act of the entire series, everything is all cheery and hunky dory with threats that end up not being all that threatening to the protagonist as they’re capable of dealing with them somewhat easily. But then the last act comes for a reality check moment where it’s like, “The good fun times are over, prepare yourself for the shit that shall hit thine fan.” And it ends on a bittersweet note, which many may consider more bitter than sweet.

But it had these quotes that are worth pondering in today’s world:

John was a cruel, merciless man, and most of his followers were as bad as he. They needed money, and he needed money: the easiest way of getting it was to accuse some wealthy man of treason or law-breaking, make him an outlaw — and seize his house or castle and all his goods. For an outlaw could own nothing, and anyone who killed him would be rewarded.

When Prince John had seized a man’s lands he would usually put one of his own followers in his place — provided he paid him large sums of money. Prince John’s followers did not mind how they came by this money: for them the easiest way was to take it from the small farmers, the peasants and even from the serfs. And not only Prince John’s upstart knights and squires did this, but many also of the Bishops and Abbots who were either in league with him, or greedy for their own good like the worst of the nobles and barons.

Many a Sheriff, too, was appointed to keep order and administer justice in the towns and counties by Prince John — provided he paid well for the honour: and of course he had also to force the money from someone weaker than himself, and obey Prince John however cruel and unjust his orders might be.

Ch. 1, Par. 3-5

The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess. Considering the name Ivanhoe came up during that reading, and finding out he’s in the same time period (and same universe) as Robin Hood, thus this is as good a time as any to start reading that work. Gets me more familiar with Saxon and Norman history (which I shamefully admit I’m not very familiar with). This version being the Penguin Classics version (puffins and penguins writing books; next thing you know they’ll be writing code).

Not being familiar with the story of Ivanhoe at all (I only know of it by name and author, that’s about it), I started reading the first few pages, and come across this:

Four generations had not sufficed to blend the hostile blood of the Normans and Anglo-Saxons, or to unite, by common language and mutual interests, two hostile races, one of which still felt the elation of triumph, while the other groaned under all the consequences of defeat. The power had completely placed in the hands of the Norman nobility by the event of the battle of Hastings, and it had been used, as our histories assure us, with no moderate hand. The whole race of Saxon princes and nobles had been extirpated or disinherited, with few or no exceptions; nor were the numbers great who possessed land in the country of their fathers, even as proprietors of the second or of yet inferior classes. The royal policy had long been to weaken, by every means, legal or illegal, the strength of a part of the population which was justly considered as nourishing the most inveterate antipathy to their victor. […] At court, and in the castles of the great nobles, where the pomp and state of a court was emulated, Norman-French was the only language employed; in courts of law, the pleadings and judgments were delivered in the same tongue. In short, French was the language of honour, of chivalry, and even of justice, while the far more manly and expressive Anglo-Saxon was abandoned to the use of rustics and hinds, who knew no other. Still, however, the necessary intercourse between the lords of the soil, and those oppressed inferior beings by whom that soil was cultivated, occasioned the gradual formation of a dialect, compounded betwixt the French and the Anglo-Saxon, in which they could render themselves mutually intelligible to each other; and from this necessity arose by degrees the structure of our present English language, in which the speech of the victors and the vanquished have been so happily blended together; and which has been so richly improved by importations from the classical languages, and from those spoken by the southern nations of Europe.

— Ch. 1, Par. 4

So those who are proud of having an Anglo-Saxon heritage ought to know they have grown from a time when their race/culture had already been defeated, and had become integrated with that of another race/culture, going so far as to alter the language (see Michael Crichton’s Timeline book for details as to differences between old and new English.

At least with tales back then, the conquerors and oppressors were at least of a similar race (white) and possessed art and culture and scientific knowledge to allow for mutual improvement amidst the oppression and turmoil. What of a situation where the “manly and expressive” race becomes conquered by those who possess neither honor, chivalry, nor justice?

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