In Defense of Maid Marion

 Brief History: Maid Marion (or Marian) of Robin Hood legend was a character added later in the stories (about 200 years later someone decided the story needed both a female and religious character so she and Friar Tuck were added). Even in the earliest oral tales of the merry men, Marion got a few of her own stories as all of the characters did. Originally, she was a commoner, usually a shepherdess, but as the ballads became more about fooling the aristocracy, Marion also became a noblewoman. My personal favorite early story of her is one where she dresses as a page boy in order to run away. Her mission is to warn Robin of some latest plot to kill him (or in some versions she’s escaping marriage to Sir Guy of Gisborne). When trying to pass through Sherwood Forest, a man she doesn’t recognize attempts to rob her. Maid Marion beats his ass and the man is so impressed he takes off his disguise. Turns out it’s Robin and he wants this mysterious page boy to join his band. Marion takes off her own disguise, apologizes for cutting his face, and joins the Merry Men anyway. This version of events was written down by... honestly, I’m not sure. That’s the hard part of English ballads. They were told, retold, and written down all around the same time. Most people who did the writing and collecting didn’t get credit. Marion first started appearing around the 15th century, but she got really popular during the 16th and 17th centuries as more people turned Robin Hood into plays and puppet shows.

Analysis: For being a maid, Marion was never a damsel in the early stories. She was compassionate, smart, and brave. She acted as a spy and could defend herself.  She was meant to represent Robin Hood’s equal, not a burden to be rescued. She was his partner and friend, as well as his sweetheart. This was fairly common of medieval noble women. When husbands were away on Crusades, the women defended the home. They had to know how to use and oversee the building of weapons. They needed to be aware of siege tactics and taxes and farming. They ran things. Damsels can’t do that.

Blame it on the Victorians (and Hollywood): By the late 1800/early 1900s Marion ended up kidnapped more often in stories and plays. Victorians loved the romance of a medieval damsels who needed saving by her one true love. By the time of the first long Robin Hood film in 1922 (written, produced, and staring Douglas Fairbanks) Marian retains the role of spy, but she’s more a pawn to be used against Robin than his badass girlfriend. This would be repeated in several Robin Hood movies including the Errol Flynn classic, Robin Hood Price of Thieves, and even Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

Final Thoughts: No, I did not see the new Robin Hood with that Elton John kid. Don’t bother asking.