An episode of Robin of Sherwood, a delightfully dated 1980s Robin Hood television adaption, begins with a broad-bodied fellow laid in the dust, fending off the blows of a vicious little knot of robbers. Before we have time to worry about his fate, the Merry Men enter with swinging fists and shooting arrows, and the ugly little band darts off to the shadows. As Robin oversees it all like a hardened watchdog, the hearty heroes take the fellow back to their Merry Mancave to eat and drink and, of course, wrestle. Before we know what’s going on, the chap lifts Little John above his head (?!?) and throwing him to the ground.
That’s when he reveals that he, himself, is King Richard the Lion-Hearted, come back from the East to restore England to right crown and rule and order. He shakes Robin’s hand, inviting him and the Merry Men to Nottingham, where there is feasting and song. That day, he issues the Sherwood gang a pardon and many praises.
Yet, something is rotten in the state of Nottingham. The universe of this particular Robin Hood is not the universe of the Robin Hood of the old myths. In all those tales, Robin Hood is just a man who does what he ought to do. His King being absent, the throne being usurped, Robin acts with a loyalty to the crown which makes him an outcast and a hero. However, in the universe of this show, it is Robin who has the Destiny.
From the first episode, it is clear: Robin is the hero. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when Little John begins to doubt the King’s sincerity. The other Merry Men follow, and even Maid Marian shakes her head. Their doubts are well-founded. When Robin is off screen, the King goes about angling for power, selling off titles and rights, and showing himself to be the equal to his evil brother. Loyal Robin realizes the truth last. He wants to remain faithful to his king, but his king fails him.
By the episode’s end, the King is just another bad man in authority.
The strangest part, perhaps, is how casually the screenwriters undo King Richard. This episode is not a series finale or a season finale or even a Christmas special. It is just another episode. It has no great consequence to the series.
How can Robin go on as though nothing has changed? What happens when you take a deeply Christian tale and pull Christ out of it? Absurdity. After all, King Richard presents a type of Christ, the king of a usurped throne, to which he is returning.
The tale of Robin Hood and Christianity have a common heart, and the long wait for Richard is not unlike half a dozen of Christ’s parables about stewardship and expectation for a returning master. And Robin, well, Robin is the faithful Christian who bears exile for the sake of remaining true to Christ. He continues to act virtuously and stand up against injustice, despite how closely it threatens his life. We, along with Robin, expect the return of Richard to be the coming of heaven to Earth. That moment will set everything right, because that is the effect of the return of Christ.
But long before the series exposed Richard, the writers created a different Sherwood than the one of the parables. By turning Robin into the man with the Destiny, rather than leaving Richard as the Destiny of all, they elevated the Christian above the Christ. When Robin got a destiny, he stopped being part of the greater story of King Richard. Without King Richard, who is Robin Hood? Without Christ, who is the Christian? At best, a nice guy trying to do nice things for the people around him. At worst, a law unto himself.
Moreover, the 1980s show unwittingly paints a dark picture of what Robin Hood becomes when he is the center of his own story. Rather than the joyful, often silly, Robin of the Howard Pyle stories or even the Disney movie, this show offers a broody, dark Robin pursued by a tiny rain-cloud visible only to his soul. This Robin is rightly depressed: the show has created a world where he can believe only in himself, which means that his greatest hero is not a King fighting for God and country, but a robber living in the woods. So it is that, despite the catastrophic implications of an evil King Richard, the show allows Robin to go on with his life in the next episode without reference to the royal disappointment.
The writers’ gesture suggests that the Christian can go on despite displacing the Christ, who does not have to be returning, does not have to possess the throne, does not have to be real; it poses no problem to Robin. Indeed, the underdeveloped spiritual philosophy of the show places deer-headed shaman beside God-fearing nuns with no sense of one being right and the other wrong. In this world, everyone can just believe what they like without it working itself into any of their actions or dispositions. So it is that the writers reveal that they lack an understanding of what it means to believe in anything. This is why they can’t imagine a Robin who needs to believe in a Richard.