Writers are often told to write what they know but Nottingham author Nathan Makaryk has a different idea. Below he shares how his virulent dislike of Robin Hood led him to write a novel about the classic steal-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor hero.
Much like a thousand other people, I’ve written a book about Robin Hood—and I’m preparing for the troll complaints about reboots and unoriginal ideas. But I think my version perhaps started rather uniquely. In the summer of 2011, my theatrical partner suggested a Robin Hood script for me to direct, to which I said:
“I hate Robin Hood.”
Those four words would transform—over eight years—into my debut novel NOTTINGHAM, which I’m happy to say has been turning some notable heads. The Robin Hood legend has been told and retold and re-retold to death, begging the question of why I think I have anything to add to it. But with countless new movies and books, I’ve still never seen a version that addresses the things I hate.
And truth be told, I don’t actually hate Robin Hood. It has tons of things I love—medieval history, castles and swordfights, corruption and adventure—and Robin Hood should be my proverbial jam. But in my opinion it also has a lot of problems, which is what I wanted to fix. Here are just a few:
Good Guys vs Bad Guys: I’m not the first person to suggest that everyone is the hero of their own story, but somehow every incarnation of “The Sheriff of Nottingham” is more cruel and moustache-twirling than the last. And while nobody knows who Robin Hood really was (if anyone), we do know who the Sheriff was. But somehow most retellings never even give him a name (aside from Men In Tights’s “Mervin”). My research for NOTTINGHAM started with learning more about the actual historical figures that held this office, and exploring the story from the point of view of people in Nottingham who rightfully saw Robin Hood as a threat.
So Many Dudes: Admittedly, Medieval England isn’t a great time for women. But I’m pretty sick of “Maid Marian” being the only female—especially when she’s relegated to nothing more than Robin’s love interest, and often incomprehensibly kidnapped by the Sheriff to be forced into a marriage. I think we’ve evolved past the “damsel in distress” trope, haven’t we? I did everything I could to (realistically) add more women without resorting to gender-bending established characters. NOTTINGHAM has multiple repeating POVs, and I’m happy to report that (gasp!) half of them are women.
Nameless, Faceless Guards: One of my biggest pet peeves is any horde of guards that can be endlessly killed off with no consequences. Zombies and Nazis are the only mass-enemy that it’s okay to kill by the dozen, but Robin Hoods always seem to kill a whole lot of castle guards that were just doing their job. So I strove to have no nameless deaths. You’ll get to know the many characters of the Nottingham Guard just as well as the “Merry Men” … so when either side kills someone, you’ll know exactly who the victim was.
These three topics were just the beginning. I also wanted to take a new look at the wickedness of Prince John, the righteousness of King Richard, the infamous deus ex machina of his return, the idea of holding an archery tournament to lure Robin Hood out of hiding, and about a dozen more.
The moral of the story is as a writer, feel free to be motivated not just by the things you love, but also by the things you don’t. My biggest inspirations are the things I hate—so rather than just all-caps raging about something on Twitter, turn your criticisms into the next big thing … that someone else can hate.
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