Saturday, May 18, 2002

‘The Archer King’ by Reyna Thera Lorele

Book cover: "The Archer King" by Reyna Thera Lorele
Before Queen Amidala, Princess Leia or Xena, Warrior Princess, there was Maid Marion. And Maid Marion rocked.

The Robin Hood legend has appealed to me for a long time, and Marion is its chief attraction. What teen-age girl wouldn’t want to be Marion? Fleeing an arranged marriage to some loutish nobleman, she donned Lincoln green and took up the bow in Sherwood Forest. If Robin Hood was the Prince of Thieves, Marion was his Princess and his equal.

The Robin Hood legend seems to resonate with a lot of people, judging by the large body of novels and screenplays it has inspired. I never fail to marvel at the various interpretations that people come up with in retelling this time-honored legend.

A recent addition to the body of Robin Hood literature is Reyna Thera Lorele’s The Archer King: Robin of the Wood and the Maid Maerin (Blue Arrow Books, 2000).

Comparisons to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon seem inevitable when reading The Archer King. Like Bradley did with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Lorele has superimposed conflicts between Paganism and Christianity — the Old and New Religions — over the familiar trappings of the Robin Hood legend. The result is a fast-paced and entertaining novel that reads like a tale from an old broadside ballad.

In Lorele’s novel, the familiar figure of Robin Hood is a Druid, having been initiated into the Old Religion after returning, disillusioned, from the Crusades.

Mind you, this interpretation of Robin isn’t original to Lorele. A more apt comparison for her book might be with “Robin of Sherwood,” a TV show that aired in Britain from 1983 to 1985. In it, Robert of Loxley (Michael Praed in the first two seasons) and, later, Robert of Huntington (Jason Connery in the third and final season) was anointed as the God Herne’s chosen Son. The series developed a considerable cult following stateside, as well as on the Continent, judging by the number of Web sites called up by an Internet search.

As for Lorele’s story, it is set, traditionally enough, in England during the Crusades. All the characters you would expect to find are here — King Richard the Lion Heart, neglecting his country while he battles “infidels” in Jerusalem; the ineffectual Prince John, setting himself up to rule in his brother’s prolonged absence; and the ruthless Sheriff of Nottingham, subjugating the local peasants and attempting to seize a portion of his ward’s dowry by marrying her to the aforementioned loutish nobleman, Augustin de Coucy. Of course, any “nobility” Coucy possesses is entirely an accident of birth — the man has no redeeming moral fiber.

Maid Marion (Lorele spells it “Maerin”) has dedicated her life to serving what she believes to have been a manifestation of the Virgin Mary that appeared to her in her childhood. I had my suspicions early in the book, however, that this supernatural figure was really the Great Goddess of the Old Religion.

In presenting the conflicts between Christians and non-Christians, Lorele’s sympathies are a little obvious at times. Most of the Christian priests in this book are greedy, self-serving hypocrites who pervert their religion’s teachings to accumulate wealth (some of that wealth even finds its way into the coffers of the Church). The secular men of power who uphold the ChurchÕs doctrines are just as bad.

Taken as a whole, Lorele’s book poses interesting theories about the man or spirit that is known today as “Robin Hood.” Aficionados of the Robin Hood legend, especially fans of “Robin of Sherwood,” should find much that is entertaining, thought-provoking and, perhaps, even enlightening in The Archer King.

Published May 18, 2002 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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