As a reader of adventure tales, I've enjoyed the King Raven Trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead, the final book of which is Tuck, the subject of this month's Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour.
I grew up on Robin Hood tales, and there is a sense of childhood returned when I read or view a version of the legend, even when the version darkens the myth. Some reviews of Lawhead's trilogy have mentioned that darkness, and some have expressed dislike for the changes in Rhi Bran ap Brychan's (Robin's) character in the final book.
In the first book, Hood, he loses family and kingdom, and begins the struggle to win back his land; in Scarlet and in Tuck, the struggle continues, often with disheartening results, but rarely is anything worth winning obtained without struggle, or quickly, and rarely does one engaged in the endeavor emerge unchanged.
So, while some readers lost sympathy for Bran, I identified with his frustration, especially when he freed a king who was also a kinsman, and that man -- who owed a great debt -- did not repay it with anything stronger than words. It's odd, to me, that characters I seem to understand the most in their irritations, frustrations, or thwarted purposes, other readers view as arrogant or always angry. Don't know what that says about me. Bran isn't always the politest or most politick person, except when he's laying a trap. Among friends, he lets loose his true emotion, even if it is ugly. Rather than seeing that as a compliment, as a sign of trust, characters in the story react as real people might, and either respond with anger of their own, or with fear or contrition. Sometimes, I think, we expect heroes or friends to behave perfectly, to never lose their tempers or feel strong emotion, to never speak harshly, to always listen patiently and always agree with us. Is that not true arrogance?
But this review is supposed to be about the book itself, much of which is told through the point of view of Friar Tuck (Brother Aethelfrith) as he aids Bran and the Grellon (a more down-to-earth lot than the Merry Men of other tales) in the fight to regain their land and Bran's crown. I like the fact that Tuck's faith is a matter of course. There is no heavy-handed prosyletizing, no lengthy sermons, just an everyday faith that is so woven into the fabric of Tuck's life that it is a natural part of his speech and actions.
This is not to say that he doesn't participate in his share of the fighting! He wouldn't be Tuck if he didn't crack a few crowns and thwack any opponent who happened to be at hand.
Tuck turns the story in interesting directions, some opposite what they were at the end of Scarlet, and gathers in another legendary character, Alan a'Dale, minstrel, to join Robin Hood (Rhi Bran y Hud), Little John (Iwan), Will Scatlocke/Scarlet, Friar Tuck, and the infamous Marshal Guy of Gysburne. It's been like a game, seeing how Lawhead would incorporate old and new in his version of the legend, and I enjoyed watching for the familiar characters to make their appearances in the story.
As for the aforementioned darkness, perhaps it didn't strike me as so radical a way to tell the tale because, to this day, I recall the chapters in Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood that kept me on the edge of my seat, or made me fear and sweat and wonder how Robin or his men would get out of this predicament. One in particular -- "Will Stutely Rescued by his Good Companions" -- tells how Robin sends sly Will to spy on the Sheriff's men, but Will is caught and sentenced to the gallows. (Hmmm. This sounds a lot like the plot of Scarlet! Perhaps that's why I like that book the best of the trilogy.) Then there are the last chapters of HP's book, full of goodbyes and melancholy, and the death of Robin in the presence of Little John, which bears a resemblance to the Old Testament story of the death of Elisha.
The picture (right) is of the cover of my tattered but beloved copy of HP's telling of the legend. In fact, I waxed so nostalgic the other night that I found a copy of this edition for sale online, and bought it. Always good to have a backup!
For other opinions and reviews of Tuck, visit these stops along the tour:
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Todd Michael Greene
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Rachel Starr Thomson