Swans Commentary » swans.com January 16, 2012  



Paul Buhle's Robin Hood


by Gilles d'Aymery


Book Review



Buhle, Paul: Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Hero - A Graphic Guide, with illustrations by Chris Hutchinson, Gary Dumm, and Sharon Rudahl, PM Press, Oakland, California, December 2011, ISBN-13: 978-1-60486-318-5, 106 pages (ppback).


(Swans - January 16, 2012)  When Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner to the 2012 US presidential election, says that "[he] like[s] to fire people," or that he wants to let home foreclosures "hit the bottom"; when Sheldon Adelson, a multi-billionaire casino owner writes a $5 million check to Winning Our Future, the Newt Gingrich "super-pack" -- that's 1,000 times as much as the same Adelson could legally give directly to the Gingrich campaign, thanks to the 2010 Supreme Court decision (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission); when Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs' CEO, talks about doing the "work of god"; when the White House is staffed with Wall Street insiders (the latest being Obama's new chief of staff, Jack Lew, a former Citigroup executive); when the majority of Americans is being decimated and immiserated, its upward mobility a chimera; when... One has to ask: Where is Robin Hood to fight the cruel and greedy Sheriff of Nottingham? Or, better yet, where are our modern-day Robin Hoods? Because there are a lot of sheriffs out there... Where is the "Lord of Inobedience"? Where are the lords of inobedience, nowadays? Where are the swashbuckling outlaws?

Paul Buhle writes in the introduction of his latest book -- short, dense, packed with an incredible amount of historical and cultural references -- Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Hero:

After all, we live in something rapidly approaching a Robin Hood era. The rich and powerful now command almost every corner of the planet and, in order to maintain their control, threaten to despoil every natural resource to the point of exhaustion. Meanwhile, billions of people are impoverished below levels of decency maintained during centuries of subsistence living. In this historical moment, the organized forces of egalitarian resistance and even their ideologies seem to be reduced to near nonexistence, or turned against themselves in the name of supreme individualism. Robin's Greenwood, the global forest, is disappearing chunks at a time. Yet, resistance to authority, of one kind or another, continues and, given worsening conditions, is likely to increase. Robin Hood lives on as a figure of tomorrow, rather than just yesterday, in the streets of Cairo, Egypt, and Madison, Wisconsin, USA, among the many other places where people dream of a better life and struggle for it openly, cheerful to be rebellious. (pp. 5/6)

Buhle sets the tone from the very beginning. He looks at the influence of these mythical characters -- Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Little John, Maid Marian, and all the merry men -- in the context of radicalism and the wider culture over many centuries. A labor historian and former senior lecturer in history and American civilization at Brown University (also a political activist in times past), Buhle has spent his entire working life documenting Anglophone radicalism and, more importantly, its deep-seated, at times inchoate, culture over the ages. He is above all a cultural historian who has never hidden his political sensitivities and sympathies but who understands that "[N]o existing political model, Marxist, Social Democratic, Leninist, anarchist, or other is suitable for what lies ahead." (p. 90) This latest book remains faithful to his credo.

First he explores the historical contexts that brought Robin Hood to fame. He then walks around the "Robin Hood Narrative," in which he brings to the fore E.A. Thompson, William Morris, C.L.R James (about whom Buhle wrote two books and was the authorized biographer), and the many popular rebellions over the ages. He follows with the media culture, "Robin Hood, Media Man," where the theater, Hollywood movies, and comic books have taken hold of the myth. In the next chapter (#4) he explores the "ecological Robin," the man who defended the natural commons against the pilferers -- Robin being "Merlin the Magician" (Paul's full name is Paul Merlyn Buhle!). Henry David Thoreau and other famous naturalists accompany the narrative. Finally, Buhle concludes with a chapter about "Global Fear" and "Global Hope," with a visit through the Caribbean (remember C.L.R. James?) and other locations, geographical and otherwise.

Buhle gives Mark Twain the very last words with a citation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). It ends: They said they would rather be outlaws in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever.

As Paul Buhle writes: "We need Robin more than ever."

Many books have been written about Robin Hood, from the wonderfully-illustrated 1883 The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire by Howard Pyle (1853-1911), to the more recent 2009 Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography by Stephen Knight, but none has the cultural depth brought forth by Paul Buhle. This is a book keenly illustrated by three talented artists -- Chris Hutchinson, Gary Dumm, and Sharon Rudahl -- that is worth reading by all culture-minded people who care about our common humanity and the ongoing pilfering of the masses by the wealthy.


[ed. Note #1: Paul Buhle's book was published by a small printing house in Oakland, California, PM Press, which was created in late 2007 and is similar to AK Press, a publisher of anarchist works also based in Oakland. This is due to the fact that both houses were founded by the same individual, Ramsey Kanaan, who parted with AK Press because of differences on strategy. This said, please buy Buhle's book from PM Press, not from Amazon.com. It will cost you a few more dollars ($5 at the most). In doing so you will contribute to the financial survival of a small, independent publisher.

Note #2: Do we need Robin Hood, really? Here is a little tidbit. Tim Cook, the Apple CEO who replaced Steve Jobs, was awarded a $378 million pay package by the company when he took up his new position in August 2011...possibly the highest paid CEO in the U.S. in 2011.]


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art18/ga302.html
Published January 16, 2012