Monday, August 21, 2017

Medievalists Respond to Charlottesville

Friends and colleagues, the IARHS, an inclusive group, has added our name to the recent Medieval Academy of America's response to the events at Charlottesville, the text of which can be found here:

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Reviews from the Greenwood: Melissa Ridley Elmes on Douglas Gray's Simple Forms (2015)

Douglas Gray, Simple Forms: Essays on Medieval English Popular Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015. ISBN 978-0-19-870609-0. Hbk, $95.00. 300 pp.

Reviewed by Melissa Ridley Elmes
Lindenwood University

As the title suggests, Douglas Gray’s Simple Forms is modeled on and expands the work of the mid-twentieth century German literary theorist Andre Jolles in Einfache Forem (1930). Gray’s book takes as its point of departure the argument that contemporary English literary studies often overlook or, at best, marginalize the “vast substratum of oral literature” lurking beneath the surface of extant literary forms (2). First reminding the reader that “popular beliefs and oral literature are alluded to or mediated through the learned or the relatively learned” (4) Gray points out that “it is misleading to suppose that medieval popular culture is totally opposed to or separate from the culture of the learned” (4) – an argument that has gained critical support recently in scholarly works such as Richard Firth Green’s Elf Queens and Holy Friars. [1]

After an Introduction in which he describes the decline since the mid-twentieth century in scholars’ attention to folk and oral culture studies, Gray makes a case for a definition of “folk literacy” that bridges the written and oral traditions, and considers what to call texts that derive from such a tradition (fairy tale, tale of wonder, international popular tale, or folk tale, the term he ultimately settles on). Gray turns in Chapter Two to a description of folk culture, which he charmingly deems “a loosely organized ramble with many pauses and some digressions” (19). From there, the chapters that follow focus on a specific genre or set of genres, taking as a starting point an English title or set of titles, and then showing how the English work demonstrates affinity with other similar works from the Continental folk tradition. Ultimately, Gray’s sophisticated approach highlights ways that these folk and oral traditions might be viewed as “the building blocks of learned and sophisticated literature” (2) — that is, how writers transformed the simpler folk tales of the oral tradition into sophisticated literary texts. The genres examined are Myth, Epic, and Heroic Lay (chapter 3); Ballads (chapter 4); Popular Romances (chapter 5); Folk Tale (chapter 6); Sage, Tale, and Legend (chapter 7); “Merry Tale” (a broad category including all forms of medieval comic literature including burlesque, parody, and the fabliau); Animal tale, and Fable (chapter 8); Proverb (chapter 9); Riddle (chapter 10); Satire (chapter 11); and Songs and Drama (chapter 12).

Although this book’s subject is folk literature, it ventures far beyond the most common literary genres, motifs, and subjects in such studies; therefore, the outlaw tales that typically take center stage in the study of popular folk literature in the medieval period are among the many, rather than the featured, works examined. Scholars interested in the outlaw tradition will find chapter 4 (“Ballad”) of particular interest. Pages 78-87 comprise discussion of the outlaw ballad tradition, including shorter consideration of Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, Robyn and Gandeleyn, and an extended study each of Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley and the Gest of Robyn Hode. There is a brief discussion of a Robin Hood proverb in chapter 9, and of the Robin Hood plays in chapter 12. Beyond this, outlaw tales are mentioned in passim, but not emphasized. From a comparative standpoint, on the other hand, scholars interested in considering the relationship between outlaw tales and other forms of popular literature will find this book to be a treasure-trove of possible avenues for further research.

Simple Forms is a highly ambitious undertaking that could have turned out disastrously in the hands of a scholar less well-versed in its various components; fortunately, with Douglas Gray at the helm wielding his exceptional learning lightly, earnestly, and with characteristic humor, the product is a study that should produce important new lines of inquiry and reinvigorate folk studies in a literary context. This book will be of great use to students of medieval literature at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, early-stage scholars thinking through the development of courses emphasizing genre and literary and cultural transmission, and anyone interested in how the literature that we have inherited can show us glimpses of the many acculturations that have gone into its development.

[1] Richard Firth Green, Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvanis Press, 2016).

IARHS CFP: Leeds International Medieval Congress 2018

Remembering Robin Hood:
Memory, Representation, and Adaptation in the Post-Medieval Outlaw Tradition

IARHS Sponsored Session
International Medieval Congress
University of Leeds

Stephen Basdeo

“The [Robin Hood] legend endured through adaptation. In each generation it acquired new twists from shifts in composition, outlook, and interests of the audience, or changes in the level of literacy, or developments in the means of communication”
James C. Holt, Robin Hood (1982)

Following on from a well-attended and very well-received panel at the IMC 2017, the International Association for Robin Hood Studies seeks to build upon this success by sponsoring a panel on the theme of memory in the outlaw tradition.

Of all medieval legends, Robin Hood is the one whose ‘afterlife’ in the modern period has proved to be the most successful in terms of longevity. Throughout history, he has been represented in plays, songs, books, and films, and memorialised in landmarks. The proposed panel will explore the various ways that certain aspects of the medieval Robin Hood tradition have been remembered by people and/or adapted by writers, artists, and filmmakers in the post-medieval period.

Possible papers might include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Robin Hood in landmarks (e.g. in sculpture, Robin Hood’s grave, Little John’s grave, Robin Hood’s well, etc.)
  • Robin Hood in post-medieval popular culture (e.g. 18th, 19th, and 20th-century medievalism: books, films, comics, etc.)

  • Community and contested memories of Robin Hood (e.g. local and nationalist appropriations of Robin Hood)
  • Folk memory and folk song.

In order to be considered for inclusion, please submit a 250 word abstract to by 15 September 2017.

The following should be included with your abstract:

  • Correspondence address and email address (this is important, as it will need to be submitted to the IMC)

  • Affiliation.

  • A brief biography (please indicate if you are a postgraduate student, as this will need to be included on the IMC submission)
If possible, please submit the abstract, your contact details, and biography as one word document.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

IARHS CFP: ICMS, Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 10-13, 2018

The International Association for Robin Hood Studies (IARHS) is sponsoring two sessions at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies. Please see below for session details and submission information.

  1. Multicultural, Multimedia Outlaws (Session of Papers)

The outlaw figure is a universal cross-cultural phenomenon. This session solicits papers that analyze adaptations of narratives about outlaws, whether literary or historical, male or female, from any period (medieval through contemporary), in any medium (ballad, saga, drama, novel, young adult fiction, films, television, comic books, opera, music, to name a few) from any location (Britain, Europe, America(s), Australia, Asia, ranging from the Merry Men to Icelandic outlaws, Ned Kelly, Pancho Villa, and Moll Flanders.

Please send 300-word abstracts, a brief bios, and completed Participant Information Forms to Lorraine Kochanske Stock ( by September 1, 2017.

  2. Oral Tactics of Medieval Outlaw Literature (Session of Papers)

This formal session of papers explores the modes of writing and of performance (and their interconnectedness) that exist within medieval outlaw tales. From the The Outlaw’s Song of Trailbaston to the late-medieval rhymes, plays, games, and “talkings” of Robin Hood, medieval outlaw tales are, like the medieval lyric, ad hoc, improvisatory, and situational works or literature. This session, inspired by Ingrid Nelson’s recent study Lyric Tactics, explores the ways in which the religious, societal, political, and manuscript contexts inform the genre, form, vernacular language, semantics, and voice of a medieval outlaw tale. 
Please send 300-word abstracts, a brief bios, and completed Participant Information Forms to Lesley Coote ( and Alexander L. Kaufman ( by September 1, 2017.

Here is a link to the ICMS’s Participant Information Form:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

IARHS CFP: Southeastern Medieval Association Conference, November 15-18, 2017, Charleston, SC

CFP: Southeastern Medieval Association Conference, November 15-18, 2017, Charleston, SC
IARHS–sponsored panel: "Cities of Gold, Forests of Green:  Sacred and Profane Spaces in Outlaw Tales"
Session organizers: Melissa Ridley Elmes and Sherron Lux
Session Presider: Sherron Lux

A traditional reading of outlaw tales might classify them as antithetical to the concept of the biblical city of gold designated for those saved by God’s grace, viewing the outlaws as irredeemable sinners and the forests they inhabit as the liminal spaces where demons and fairies abound. Outlaw tales are typically viewed as more profane than sacred in nature. The International Association of Robin Hood Studies invites papers that go beyond such a view, to consider in more nuanced fashion the relationship between sacred and profane, or between characters and either concept, in the city and/or forest spaces of premodern outlaw tales or in outlaw narratives in the tradition of medievalism. Papers for this session might (re)consider the anticlerical attitudes of medieval and early modern Robin Hood narratives, or Robin’s or other of the merry men’s relationship to the sacred; how outlaws like Hereward and Gamelyn negotiate city/manor spaces; the tensions between the sacred and profane in city spaces; the forest as sacred or profane space; the relationship between ecocriticism, the sacred, and the profane in outlaw tales, or similarnot forgetting that churches, priories or abbeys, and graves are found in both city and forest, and can be sites of events both sacred and profane.

Please send a brief bio and abstract of 300 words to Melissa Ridley Elmes at and Sherron Lux at by June 5, 2017.

Friday, January 20, 2017

CFP: Deadline Extended for IARHS Conference

The Eleventh Biennial Conference of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies will take place on 16-17 June 2017 at Auburn University at Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama, USA.

The theme for this two-day international conference is “Southern Outlaws,” and proposals are welcome on any aspect of “southern” outlawry, banditry, piracy, and other transgressive activities and movements. Such topics spanning the fields of outlaws of the Southern United States, Australia, and South America are particularly welcome. Papers are also invited that explore the metaphorical and spatial conceptions of a “southern” outlaw, especially bad outlaws and trickster figures, and the ways in which geographical and topographical features create and foster outlawry. Papers on the Robin Hood tradition are also welcome. Conference participants will enjoy a variety of peer-reviewed papers from a number of academic fields: literature, history, folklore, theatre, music, anthropology, sociology, geography, art history, and media studies.

The deadline for abstracts for papers and fully formed sessions is March 1, 2017. Papers from graduate and undergraduate students are particularly welcome.

For more information on the conference and to submit abstracts, please see the conference's webpage:

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reviews from the Greewood: Kristin Noone on N. B. Dixon’s Heir of Locksley (2016)

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?” [1]. 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” [2].  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 uncertainat times rejecting, and at times embracingof 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” [3]. 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 [4], or when he admires the female “plucky spirit” [5]. 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” [6]. 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 [7].

This misunderstanding is not a one-time occurrence. Dixon’s website quotes the Gest of Robin Hood, calling it “an early ballad” [8].  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” [9] 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” [10] 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 clich├ęs 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”[11], 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” [12]. 

Additionally, increased interest in the Robin Hood figure tends to appear during times of restriction or repression [13]. 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.


[1] N.B. Dixon, “N.B. Dixon: Author of Historical Fiction.” Accessed December 29, 2016.
[2] Stephen Knight. Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2003), xix.
[3] Beaten Track Publishing, “Beaten Track: Publisher of Diverse Fiction and Non-Fiction.” Accessed December 29, 2016.
[4] N.B. Dixon, Heir of Locksley (Outlaw’s Legacy Quartet, Book One; Burscough, Lancashire: Beaten Track Publishing 2016), 195. Available as print and ebook.
[5] Dixon, Heir, 207.
[6] Dixon, Heir, 387.
[7] Knight, Mythic Biography, 59.
[8] Dixon, “Author.”
[9] Dixon, Heir, 388.
[10] Dixon, Heir, 388.
[11] Dixon, Heir; in order, these examples are drawn from pages 153, 194, and 370. More can be found.
[12] Knight, Mythic Biography, 142.
[13] Knight, Mythic Biography, 207.