First of all, happy new years!
Usually I try to pull up examples of good characters from popular culture, because people tend to know more about them (hence the name–popular culture). However, we can’t forget our roots. Fictional writers like us owe our existence and professions to the legends and sagas of times past.
Robin Hood has (even in more recent times) been subject to a number of tall tales and embellishments. However, the main story of Robin of Locksley remains the same (unless you’re a fan of the Kevin Costner Robin Hood). Names like Little John and Will Scarlet may be a little more prevalent in your mind than even you think.
And this doesn’t just extend to the Disney’s fox version of Robin Hood (Even though that was probably an indispensable part of your childhood). I am referring to the general tale of the mythology of Robin Hood: a rich, orphaned young noble who shot one of the king’s deer and became an outlaw joins other outlaws while they rob the rich and feed the poor.
Even the general image presents a lot to work with. First of all, there’s Robin’s origin story: he immediately touches that part of us that longs for the underdog story. He’s young and orphaned. Even though he’s rich, it mocks the concept and makes his wealth hollow. As we’ve gone over in past articles, building sympathy with your main character is something to be desired.
Then, Robin is beset by a very classic villain: the infamous Prince John. PJ (thanks, Duke of Chutney) is illogical, greedy, and hates responsibility. Robin is exactly a mirror opposite: he lives by his wits, is extremely generous, and bears the mantle of “hero” where others will not.
This mirroring of the main villain is a good thing. It makes sure of a clear conflict: good vs evil. When Robin is clearly the opposite of PJ, it encourages readers to get on Robin’s side and stay there. They make the readers love Robin more and hate PJ more. The more polarized you can make your heroes and villains, the better.
However, I’m going to rabbit trail myself a little: There are some instances in which you can make a comparison between the hero and the villain as if they were similar. Example: In the film The Dark Knight, the Joker makes the observation that Batman is just like him: they’re both “freaks” to those who they work with. They are different from the rest: outcasts, rejects.
However, Batman is still the exact opposite of Joker (mainly being that Joker has no proficiency toward good and can only do evil, and Batman has an extremely strong moral code). They’re only alike in this one way. This has nothing to do with Robin Hood, but it randomly popped into my head so I thought I’d mention it. Polarizing your heroes and villains is a good tactic, but creating a situation in which polarized heroes are similar is even better,
Back to Robin Hood: the fact that he is taking the law into his own hands creates an interesting moral dilemma: he himself is a criminal and he is opposing the law. Is the point of Robin Hood seriously to encourage people to disobey authority?
Obviously not. However it is telling you this: when the good becomes outlawed, heroes will become outlaws. The story is trying to tell you that Robin Hood (even though he’s a criminal) is a good guy, and that the men in authority are the bad guys.
Exploring moral dilemmas is tough, but is the best way to make your book into quality, meaningful entertainment. If you have the time, use your story to debate whether or not it’s right that the ends justify the means, or if it’s okay to kill this helpless grandmother to save one hundred people from a bomb. Try to play with that.
Good luck, and happy writing!