The Romance(s) of Robin Hood: N.B. Dixon’s Heir of Locksley (Burscough, Lancashire: Beaten Track Publishing, 2016)
Reviewed by Kristin Noone
Irvine Valley College
N.B. Dixon’s authorial description of the Outlaw’s Legacy novels (a planned series of four) asks the question, “Who do you owe most loyalty to, your family or yourself?” . In Heir of Locksley, book one of the series, the answer proves to be complex, involving families of blood and of choice, justice and ethics, and desire both sexual and romantic. While Dixon’s first novel in the historical romance sequence could benefit from a more nuanced depiction of medieval attitudes and character types, as well as a more thorough editorial process, this latest revision of the Robin Hood mythology provides a compelling overall narrative, as well as a welcome addition in terms of diversity, flexibility, and exploration of sexual possibilities—in keeping with the fluid, dynamic, protean figure of the outlaw himself.
The preeminent Robin Hood scholar Stephen Knight writes in Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography that “any work which both explores and celebrates the long-standing and still compelling idea of resistance to oppressive authority must not only be a matter of pleasure and excitement, but also—to reassert the central values of the tradition of the good outlaw—a matter of liberty and equality” . In Heir of Locksley, Dixon deftly incorporates both pleasure and excitement, as well as themes of liberty and equality, to craft an appealing portrayal of her central characters, particularly Robin himself. Robin struggles to balance personal desires that may not be socially accepted—romantic interest in both Lucy the miller’s daughter and his best friend Will Scathelock, as well as longstanding friendships and a sense of camaraderie with villagers he has worked alongside—with familial loyalties, obligations, and demands; these themes remain relatable to contemporary audiences, particularly those perhaps wrestling with questions of gender and social acceptance. Dixon presents a Robin Hood who is at times uncertain—at times rejecting, and at times embracing—of both his desires and his family, and his choices are presented with sympathy and an understanding of their difficulty.
As this is volume one of four, it also functions as a coming of age story: at the end of the novel, Robin has rejected his birthright as the heir of Locksley, but remains a young hero, having been invited to accompany Richard the Lionheart upon the Crusades. Robin’s struggles to comprehend himself and his desires invoke Knight’s suggested “pleasure and excitement” in terms of sensual language and affective reader identification, while questions of freedom and economics are raised by the author’s constant awareness and effective descriptions of class difference: Robin’s status as local gentry sets him above the villagers, but he in turn can be astonished by the lavish feasts spread for a king’s table. Dixon’s Robin moves between categories, a metamorphosis that is not always easy but always possible: he opens up spaces for multiple sexualities and identities, as lover and beloved of both women and men, disinherited son but friend of a king, object of desire and of obsession. The publisher of the series, Beaten Track, describes itself as “an independent publisher of diverse fiction and non-fiction. We operate on socialist principles and believe in equality, absolutely” . Dixon’s outlaw tale seems to fit this mission statement, and the themes of equality inherent in the Robin Hood myth, neatly.
While N.B. Dixon has evident knowledge of Robin Hood’s thematic history, however, this knowledge seems to be incomplete—not to any extent which might inconvenience a general audience, but may disconcert scholars of the outlaw, both amateur and professional. Dixon demonstrates an at times impressive attention to the details of twelfth-century village life (as in descriptions of water-wheels and mills, or fees and tithes), which serves to realistically and effectively ground the plot and characters; on the other hand, at several points universalizing generalizations appear which tend to flatten and remove historical nuance and rely on cultural assumptions, as when Robin thinks to himself that women who take lovers must always have their reputations destroyed , or when he admires the female “plucky spirit” . Dixon also references troubled Norman versus Saxon ethnic relations as paralleling class divisions in England, but does not pause to describe the sources of this conflict, a topic addressed more effectively in previous twentieth-century Robin Hood historical romances such as Jennifer Roberson’s Lady of the Forest (1992). More concerning for scholars, although Dixon’s "Author’s Note" mentions the manor rolls of Wakefield as a possible name-source for a potential Robin Hood, which shows a depth of research beyond the casual, the "Author's Note" also incorrectly states that Robin Hood’s wife “was named Matilda, the original name of Maid Marian as first seen in Anthony Munday’s play” . While the name Matilda is indeed incorporated into Munday’s Robin Hood plays of 1598-99, the process in fact moves the other direction. Maid Marian, like Friar Tuck, existed as part of a separate folk tradition, and then became linked to Robin Hood via village fairs and play-games, finally entering popular culture as part of Robin’s sixteenth-century gentrification. Munday’s plays assimilate but alters the “low” popular tradition in order to provide Marian with a more aristocratic origin in the form of the Lady Matilda, who, as Stephen Knight has demonstrated, Munday likely borrows—without acknowledgement—from Michael Drayton’s non-Robin Hood poem Matilda the Faire .
This misunderstanding is not a one-time occurrence. Dixon’s website quotes the Gest of Robin Hood, calling it “an early ballad” . While not technically inaccurate when one considers the entire history of Robin Hood texts, the Gest is not generally classed among the earliest of the ballads by scholars (a difference of roughly fifty years, for reference), and Dixon does not include any of the easily obtainable information on the Gest, for instance the year of printing (1510) or that it serves as a kind of “encyclopedia” of the collected Robin Hood mythos thus far. To the author’s credit, Dixon does acknowledge the fictionality inherent in Heir of Locksley, writing that “all the events described in this book are entirely fictional”  and that the association of Robin with the Crusades is a later development in the outlaw’s mythology. However, the assurance with which statements such as “we now have a rough birthplace for Robin”  are delivered might tend to give academics or serious scholars pause—but then, Dixon’s work is intended as a fictionalized historical romance for a non-specialist, albeit interested, readership. On this level, it succeeds at crafting a compelling character-driven story, though at the cost of some accuracy.
For the non-specialist audience, or for scholars interested primarily in the romance (particularly non-heteronormative romance) genre and pop-culture adaptations of the Robin Hood legend, Dixon’s recreation of the outlaw invites identification and interest in expansion of his role. Robin’s growth and increasing maturity are depicted believably, as his relationships and personal ethical code both evolve: his interactions with the outlaw Gilbert White-Hand, with his father, and with Guy of Gisborne provide excellent recurring evidence of this development. The female characters of the novel are less carefully portrayed and skirt the edges of character stereotypes—the scorned and obsessive former betrothed, the kindly old nurse, the love interest who must be sacrificed to further the hero’s journey—but they are at least given individual personalities and voices within those confines. The story of Lucy the miller’s daughter, and her fate, evokes genuine emotion despite its potential for clichés regarding the martyred female body.
As Dixon writes from Robin’s point of view, and in book one of the four-book series he must grow up and come of age, this simplistic perspective may be in part a reflection of character immaturity—we see what Robin sees, and he is on his way to becoming a hero, but not yet fully arrived. His development into heroism, via relationships and love and loyalty, is the driving force behind the novel and the series, and proves sufficiently absorbing for the sequels to hold promise. One minor issue, which may be corrected in future editions of the text, involves several word-confusion errors—not simply an occasional typo, but many words that change the meaning of the intended sentence: “jingling of bridals” as something a horse might wear, a character feeling “a might agitated” rather than “mite”, and visiting a “village fare” rather than a “village fair”, to name a few. While the overall historical romance remains enjoyable, these errors become numerous enough to distract readers from the story, especially when they occur during climactic moments.
Despite these critiques, N.B. Dixon’s Heir of Locksley successfully extends the tradition of re-imagining and deploying Robin Hood into spaces which benefit from the symbols of carnival, resistance, and support of equality in the face of oppression. Here, Dixon explores the intersection of gender, family loyalty, and class politics. This is in keeping with an outlaw who, as Stephen Knight notes, has had a fluid relationship with sexuality since the fifteenth century: Robin “acknowledges the value of women as a source of pleasure and sometimes partnership, though he…has strong homosocial, even perhaps homosexual, values” .
Additionally, increased interest in the Robin Hood figure tends to appear during times of restriction or repression . Dixon’s romance of Robin Hood, appearing in the culturally turbulent year of 2016, blends myth and fiction with historical research and sensuality, and offers readers a hero who can simultaneously feel attraction to both women and men, as well as loyalty to both loved ones and to his personal sense of justice and fairness. While not without flaws, Heir of Locksley should provoke conversations among both scholars and readers for its sympathetic portrait of a conflicted and complex young hero on the first step of his legendary journey.
 N.B. Dixon, “N.B. Dixon: Author of Historical Fiction.” Accessed December 29, 2016.
 Stephen Knight. Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2003), xix.
 Beaten Track Publishing, “Beaten Track: Publisher of Diverse Fiction and Non-Fiction.” Accessed December 29, 2016.
 N.B. Dixon, Heir of Locksley (Outlaw’s Legacy Quartet, Book One; Burscough, Lancashire: Beaten Track Publishing 2016), 195. Available as print and ebook.
 Dixon, Heir, 207.
 Dixon, Heir, 387.
 Knight, Mythic Biography, 59.
 Dixon, “Author.”
 Dixon, Heir, 388.
 Dixon, Heir, 388.
 Dixon, Heir; in order, these examples are drawn from pages 153, 194, and 370. More can be found.
 Knight, Mythic Biography, 142.
 Knight, Mythic Biography, 207.