Heroes have dominated human thought since humans could think. Every generation, every civilization, has a recurring story about a hero. Whether these people actually existed or not is a cause for much debate in the world of history and mythology, but it almost doesn’t matter. These heroes have inspired lessons and stories for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years. Whether they existed or not they have certainly had an impact on the human race.
Robin Hood -
In English history there is almost no one that can touch Robin Hood for fame, maybe King Arthur. His story, to steal from the rich and give to the poor, is known around the world and his legend has inspired countless books, poems, TV shows and Movies. He is in every sense of the word, a legend. The famed Robin of Loxley, the fearless outlaw who patrolled Sherwood forest with his band of merry men, the hero of the people and scourge to the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.
Although a lesser known part of the story of Robin Hood, his death is fairly well agreed on, and just as interesting.
While being treated for an illness by his aunt, someone convinces her to murder her nephew, which she does by bleeding him. Before his death he manages to summon his ever present friend and confidante, Little John. With Little John’s help Robin fires an arrow one last time from the window of his room, at which point he asks Little John to bury him where the arrow landed. To this day you can see a mound where the arrow landed, many believe this to be the final resting place of the great Robin Hood.
An interesting thing to note about Robin Hood is how his story adapted to the time it was in. Over the centuries he has been portrayed as a number of different characters. In our time we know him best as a dashing outlaw of incomparable wit and charm. But in times of political upheavel and rebellion his stories showed him as more of a hero of war, a loyal and dedicated subject to Richard the Lionheart. In earlier stories he is shown as far more violent. While he still maintained his outlaw status and his willingness to help the poor, he was also shown as brutally killing his enemies and disfiguring their faces and bodies. Even decapitating one and staking his head on the end of his bow.
Whatever history says, the story of Robin Hood is one of my all time favourites. In my eyes he’s the adventurous, fearless and intelligent hero to the poor living with his fellow outlaws in Sherwood Forest. The greatest archer in the land.
Student of religion or not, we all know David. His name has been uttered at every mismatched sporting event in the last 100 years, “Another David and Goliath ladies and gentlemen.” A bit of a cliche, but an interesting story none-the-less. The man who killed the giant champion of his enemy’s army, Goliath, with a single stone.
David, far from being the helpless underdog that we’ve all come to accept, was in fact a man of great martial prowess and a renowned warrior. This was his quote in the face of Goliath’s taunts and insults:
Seems like the words of a hyper confident soldier and killer to me. King David, as he is later known, is a character up for debate. Obviously ask any keen preacher of the bible and they’ll tell you of course he’s real, it’s right here in my book! But in truth there is very little historical evidence that he existed at all. But as I’ll keep saying, a hero doesn’t need to be real to inspire.
King Arthur -
Arthur, Merlin and The Knights of The Round Table. A group of men who have inspired countless stories, poems, movies, books and anything else you can think of. The famed Warrior King of all of Britain who led his armies against the Saxon hordes and searched the world for The Holy Grail.
Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Percival, Excalibur, Camelot, Guinevere… How many of those names did you recognize? What other stories could claim to be as old as King Arthur’s and yet still remain so fiercely in the fore-front of our culture? I’d wager it’s pretty close to none.
The story of King Arthur, perhaps on par with Robin Hood, has effected me personally more than any other legend. The stories of chivalry and heroism and magic and war all inspired my own interests in history, fantasy, writing and reading. The Knights of The Round Table led by their indomitable King and aided by the mystical and magical Merlin caught my attention and never let go.
For a story so heavily bogged down in myth, legend and controversy, it has survived the ages with an unmolested grace. May it continue to inspire and entertain for ages to come.
I’ll leave the debate about whether our heroes from history are fiction or fact to the archaeologists and the historians. Real or not, the stories and the heroes themselves continue to inspire, teach and entertain millions of people around the world.
To paraphrase a very fictional queen
“Legends are real to those who hold them.”
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