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« She must have been something... | Main | The Death of Robin Hood by N.C. Wyeth »


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I think the most complex feelings that a "hero's" death caused me was in The Final Problem when Holmes went over Reichenbach falls with Moriarity. I actually cried when I read it (I was 10 and didn't know he was going to die)but then was also awash with deep seeded glee that this arrogant, genius was overcome in the end. That the only way he could finally beat his nemisis was to sacrifice himself in the proccess - that he was, finally, human. It also was the first time I was forced to peer into my own mortality. I, like many kids, had never really accepted that there is an end - in part because of the immortality of many of my heros. But here, the most venerable hero of all, was vanquished. It took many months but that story had a singular and profound impact on my youth.


Very nice story. I first heard Robin's death with the classic Fisher Price animated story-book and cassette tape set that my parents used to play on long car rides. Those tapes were excellent renditions and made me go back and read the "real" versions of Robin Hood, Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland and many others.

Dumas may have killed off his Musketeers after 3 books, but his heroes rarely suffer in vain. D'artagnan dies a Marshall of France and even the Count of Monte Cristo ends on a hopeful note...

Kevin Wolf

I'm now suddenly sorry that I never read any "real" version of Robin Hood's legend. The great Errol Flynn movie is my only frame of reference.

What a beautiful appreciation of this story and what all great legends and stories can teach us.

I think I need to go track down a solid version of Robin's story.

harry near indy

i dreamed i saw joe hill last night/
alive as you and me/
the coppper bosses killed you, joe/
i never died, said he/
i never died, said he.

i quote the old folks song about the union organizer joe hill. joan baez sung a beautiful version in the woodstock movie.

if you remember A, and if you pass on the memories of A to someone else, and they pass on those memories of A to a third party, then A is not dead.



The Erroll Flynn movie is an awfully good re-telling and features the most important parts of the legend, including how Robin met Friar Tuck and Little John and how the sheriff captures him at the archery tournament and the fact that Sir Guy of Gisbourne is Robin's real rival. But it ends with Robin and Marian still young and happy.

I think the best book retelling is the one I read when I was a kid, the one by Paul Creswick, but I may think that because it's the one with N.C. Wyeth's illustrations..

Richard Lancelyn Green's version is a good one too.

The most popular one, though, is by Howard Pyle.

Harry, exactly!


There's a reason that we call them "heroes," rather than "gods" -- heroes belong to this world and live natural lives.

Ralph Hitchens

I thought the movie "Robin and Marian" did a nice take on that final episode, with an interesting twist on the "evil nun" role. Of course with giants like Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, a great moment is easy to carry off.

Exiled in New Jersey

But some of the critics had a hissy-fit about the way James Goldman did in Robin in the 1973 film, especially one critic revered by everyone. Yet in that same year, a real legend, Willie Mays, died the athletic death that Marian was trying to prevent. I can still see the greatest player I've ever seen stumbling in the outfield during that series.

Mike Schilling

By the end of _The Man in the Iron Mask_, Aramis isn't much of a hero any more.

By the way, if you like both Pratchett and Dumas, you should check out Steven Brust's hilarious fantasies based on the musketeer books.

mac macgillicuddy

Let's not forget Captain Kirk. They tried to kill him too. A rather ignomious death at that. Hardly worth the Kirk Rule, if you ask me.

But fans keep bringing him back. Lazurus should have been so lucky.

mac macgillicuddy

Oh, btw, Harry...

Interesting ruse. I've heard it before. It's great consolation, unless you are, yourself, A.

Anne Laurie

I always assumed that having the hero die was part of the purpose behind the hero legend: We are all mortal, even the greatest among us, so our only hope of immortality is to leave a story that others will find worth telling. Of course, many of the greatest Heroes -- King Arthur, Robin Hood, Siegrid, Japan's Momotaro, that guy in the New Testament -- are also rumored to be "sleeping", just out of our mortal reach, waiting for the End of Time to return for one last mission. Perhaps this ties into the widespread belief that we are reincarnated in one form or another; in the paperback version of Gilgamesh that I read in college, the Hero is turned away at the Gates of Death, having failed to retrieve his dear companion Enlil, because "It is only the nymph that sheds its skin that will become a dragonfly"...

My own first memory about the inevitability of death was reading the great naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton, who said "The only way to have a happy ending for a wild animal's life is to stop before you get there." ETS was writing for about the same age group as those reading Pyle's ROBIN HOOD. He put this comment at the end of an animal "hero tale", about a creature who has survived great tribulation and lived to form its own family and see its descendents. It struck me that he was letting his readers know there was something darker than the fairy-tale formula 'and they all lived happily ever after', and that I should be proud I was now mature enough to walk past the easy happy-talk ending.


I have read way too much in my fairly extensive life, but Robin Hood being tricked into his doom by an "Evil Nun" is certainly news to me. Ah, the things you learn on the internets.


"I have read way too much in my fairly extensive life"

Treason! Heretic!

(Can you tell I have several different t-shirts emblazoned with that "So many books, so little time" slogan?)

Violet Mannion

That's an interesting story. The only Robin Hood I've ever known is the cartoon animal version from Disney. I used to love that when I was really little. Not quite as much as Peter Pan, but it was still one of my favorites. As to why all heroes must die....Well, first off, they can't always live happily ever after. Plus it's just realistic. If you went around every day helping people through brave swordfights or battles, you're bound to have enemies. It's like a disclaimer that should be in the job description:

NEEDED: Ultimate Hero
SALARY: Gratitude of the people
EXPECTAIONS: To serve and protect the people of said village. Must be willing to fight. Must be skilled in the art of swordfighting, shooting arrows, or other means of protectsion/defense. Must be kindhearted and brave.
DISCLAIMER: Death will most likely not be slow and peaceful. Be warned. Enemies will be made often and easily. Watch your back. Wounds, both small and near fatal, may be every day struggles.

It does also teach a lesson about how no one is invincible and such. But it's also just realistic. I like realistic books.... Realistic fantasy books. lol. I suppose that's slightly contradictory, but...if a man who is naught but a brave human is swordfighting to benefit only others every minute of his life, the story would realisticaly not end happily.

I ought to go find a good book or movie on Robin Hood, now, though....


Out of the mouths of babes, indeed. Violet's comment is wise on all kinds of levels.

Do follow Kevin Wolf's advice, however, Ms. Violet, and see the 1930s Warner Brothers movie starring Erroll Flynn. It's the BEST.

Flatiron Dante

There must be something in the air (maybe the end of Summer). Last night I was searching on YouTube for a clip of "Abraham, Martin and John".

But on a literary note, this discussion reminded me of the end of "The Things They Carried" where young Tim dreams of talking to the little girl who died of cancer. He asks her what it's like to be dead: "For a few seconds she was quiet. 'Well, right now,' she said, 'I'm not dead. But when I am, it's like . . . I don't know, I guess it's like being inside a book that nobody's reading.' 'A book?' I said. 'An old one. It's up on a library shelf, so you're safe and everything, but the book hasn't been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody'll pick it up and start reading.'"

Interesting (and pretty ballsy) that he named the last short story in his collection "the Lives of the Dead", but though it doesn't surpass "The Dead", it's pretty moving nonetheless (particularly, as in Joyce's story, in the last paragraph, where O'Brien talks of the power of stories to take us someplace where we never die).


Ok, "what it's like to be dead" made me think of Adam Felber's new book, Schrodinger's Ball. I'm 2/3 of the way through it. It has characters dead but not yet proclaimed so, because they've not yet been observed as dead. It's a very funny book. Read the professional reviews at that Amazon link.

Scott Edwards

Heroes die to demonstrate that its the message, not the messenger, thats important.

And to occasionally get the author out of having to write sequels.

porlock junior

I was always very much with the 10-year-old on this one. Or does honesty require "have been" rather than "was"?

In fact it was at that age -- pretty sure it was in 6th grade -- that I read a book of Robin Hood tales. I don't recall the nun, who might have been left out of that version, but I remember the shot, and Little John's telling him (he being too weak to look out the window) that it was a goodly shot, when of course it wasn't. Not any fun.

And, not much later, I could read all that good stuff by Thurber about the Get-Ready Man, and the ghost running around the table at night, and he had to spoil it with The Dog Who Bit People, just too sad at the end.

I think Richard Mitchell had it right, apologies if I've quoted this before:
"Children learn what they most need to know from happy stories of the birth of kings, and grown-ups learn again and again what they most need to remember from sad stories of the death of kings."

Doesn't let me off the hook now, but in fact all these decades later I can enjoy Lear (cf. Get-ready Man) or Hamlet (speaking of leaving someone behind to tell the tale). Hmm, neither of those is what you call a hero, is he?

tom truthful

To me, Lear and Hamlet are surely giants, if not heroes in the modern sense.

Zen advice to a child: We die so that others may live....

Martin Wisse

Of course the Great American Heroes, the Supermen, the Wonder Women, the Batmen, never die, or if they do, they're back again next year.

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