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The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire Paperback – July 26, 2012
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Christopher Cazenove invests Pyle's stories with engaging voices, not just for the clever Robin and the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham, but also for minor characters such as Wat o'the Crabstaff. Cazenove keeps his voice just rough enough in singing the many ballads that punctuate the story. His narrative delivery has a gentle tone that contrasts well with the rough characters, reminding the listener that Robin Hood's story is the stuff of legend. There's lots of fighting, but the emphasis on Robin's cleverness and his code will make this production a family favorite. --AudioFile --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Putting the illustration issue aside, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood tells the story of folk hero and philanthropist Robin Hood, who famously robs from the rich to give back to the poor. We follow his adventures through confrontations with Little John and Friar Tuck, and his ongoing feud with the bad guy: Sheriff of Nottingham.
These stories are classics, and as a result the prose is obviously not contemporary - it can be tough to follow at times. If you give this book to your kids, expect to do some translating. Here's a sentence from the first few pages of the book:
"Now," quoth Robin, "will I go too, for fain would I draw a string for the bright eyes of my lass and a butt of good October brewing."
In general the dialogue is more difficult to follow than the action. Now this writing isn't completely impenetrable, but I can see how it would be difficult for a youngster in 2010. It may even be tough for some adults! Just something to be aware of before you dive into this book.
I still enjoy this book, but I have to admit that this lack of illustrations is a major blow. The price is right, and if you're into the classics - then you'll probably enjoy this book illustrations or not. Personally though, I'd pick up a version with the artwork.
Howard Pyle was the first person in the modern era to collect all the Robin Hood ballads that had come down from the midieval era and put them into a modern format, structured as stories and so forth. Essentially every version of Robin Hood in the past century has drawn on Howard Pyle's Robin Hood as its major source, and reading this book is the best way to understand why the minor characters in (for example) Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" are named things like "Will Scarlet" or "Much the Miller's Son."
I was given this book to read as a child, and it was and still is one of my all-time favorites (although I always avoided reading the final chapter, which Pyle even warns his readers they may want to do). The elevated, pseudo-elizabethan style even helped me later on -- when I got to Shakespeare in school, the language was easy for me, because I'd been reading Howard Pyle since I was eight.
The problem with this ebook version is that it doesn't contain the illustrations, though. And that's simply unforgivable. Howard Pyle is today better known as an illustrator than as a writer. He was the art teacher who taught people like Arthur Rackham and N.C. Wyeth. His illustrations are immensely rich and detailed, and as full of period accuracy and background research as his writing was. It's an unforgivable shame to miss them.
Versions of this book can be found online free with illustrations. Don't bother with this version, as it doesn't have them. Reading this book without the illustrations is like taking an oscar-winning film and just listening to the sound with the screen blacked out. You can do it, but why?
EDIT: There are now many Kindle versions of this book, all cross-linked so they share reviews. Currently at least, none of the free versions have illustrations; the 99-cent version marked "illustrated" does appear to have most of them, but severely cropped, without many of Pyle's marginalia and scrollwork.
The stories are funny, light and easy to read (only some old English to contend with). If you're looking for a break from the violent, blood, serious or supernatural, here is a good choice.