Today I am very excited to welcome author J. Tullos Hennig to the blog. J. is here to talk to us more about her series, the Books of the Wode. She has also brought a copy of one of the books to giveaway to a lucky reader. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
One of the main questions I get asked about the Books of the Wode is: “Why a gay Robin Hood?”
My first instinct is to answer (in a proper seditious fashion of which ‘my’ Robyn would be proud): “Well, why not?”
Yet… I’m not really sure it’s all that simple.
You see, I really dig retellings that twist the tails of our expectations. A skilled storyteller who can take something, turn it inside out, sweep me up, convince me–even if only for the length of that story? I’m all for that.
If you can sell it, then tell it.
A big if, but really, the telling of this particular point wasn’t the hardest part. One has, after all, a tight-knit and homosocial group of males hanging out where they aren’t supposed to, eating and drinking what they aren’t supposed to, whacking each other with staves and giving the two-finger salute to the powers-that-be. Perfect recipe for subversion. Whatever the reasons or theories why (and believe me, for every theory you can possibly imagine there is a reasonably-informed scholar or author backing or denying it), history originally places before us the legend of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men as living on their own, outcast, in a forbidden forest.
Lad’s club, right?
And these lads are outcast in a way most modern people cannot even begin to fathom. Casual brutality is a way of life, and that life can be very brutal indeed, and dependant upon which side of the blanket you’re born. It is also a time in flux. The 12th century is on the cusp of a paradoxical era which will usher in both Magna Carta and a widespread fever of superstition that will end in thousands tortured and burnt under charges of ‘sodomy’ and ‘witchcraft’. Robyn and his lads exist on a sharper edge than usual. As outlaws, their lives are worth only the price on their heads; they can be killed by anyone, even a serf who has no rights. They would have to trust only in each other and the forest that shelters them. The ballads show them as competent rascals with an utter respect for the Divine Feminine–whatever name one chooses to give Her, it can hardly be denied that the outlaws live upon Her bounty. Yet they also remain culturally and physically separate from Her.
It’s a fascinating question–harsh duality forced from something that, perhaps, isn’t necessarily adversarial.
Therefore, in putting together my answers for said question, the story of Greenwode and its sequel Shirewode isn’t solely about who Robyn beds. It’s about who he is, in the necessity of this retelling and place. It’s about who chooses to love him, hate him or follow his lead; it describes a Britain being inevitably winnowed of an ancient magic and those magicians who choose to stand for old ways; it’s about cultural obliteration and the fighting–and dying–for what choices are possible in life. It’s about subverting the system, religious and social to all the impositions in between. It posits what Robyn and his outcasts do with what power they can wrest from the corruption surrounding them. Being homosexual is one aspect–albeit less employed but, to my eyes, extremely vital–of an utterly fascinating character. That aspect also gives a core definition to his being. Robyn is reaction, a force of nature indefinable by the norm; he wields change as easily as he wields his longbow.
And he doesn’t go it alone.
Not too long ago Stephen Knight, a noted Robin Hood scholar–and another maverick who enjoys twisting the leaden tail of expectation–said it was past time for a gay Robin Hood. But he also said something that truly resonated with me: “Robin Hood… always disappears into the forest, always eludes the constraints of authority, identity, sexuality…”
Robyn has, throughout history, been a voice for the victimised, the dispossessed… the ones who have no voice in a rapacious system. He and his people are sustained by a huge, magical forest… one that has, sadly, all but vanished–again, because of a rapacious system.
But you know, all this theory and musing is after the fact. When I’m writing, I plug into the ol’ reptile brain; research is the cornerstone, but it is not the be-all, end-all. Story is what matters in the moment.
So the most important reason I wrote Robyn’s sexual orientation the way I did?–it’s this: a tall, skinny archer lad said, very reasonably, Look, pet. You ‘ave this all sidelong. Y’ know I love you, and I ken you love me… but trust to’t, there’s a proper Story waitin’ in th’ Wode if you’d but open your eyes.
(And yes, shut up, it was in that same low voice with its odd polyglot of Yorkshire, Wales and the North…)
Not only England’s Greatest Archer was tapping me on my creative shoulder; there was a young woman–his sister, not his mate–smiling and shaking her head and leaning on not only a whopping great longbow but another lad. This second lad was almost as red-headed as she–and giving me a look like he didn’t quite trust me. I’m not sure I blame him, as when I wrote his first incarnation he was a bit of a walk-on… mea culpa, Gamelyn, sometimes your writer is stupid.
And the characters are always right. It’s their story, after all.
Maybe my first instincts weren’t so flippant, after all. It is time. Past time. Perhaps it is that simple. There is no decent reason “Why not?”
So. It’s time to be subversive. Give me a “‘Why not?” of your choice–statement, credo, affirmation–and I’ll put your name in for a drawing of a giveaway ebook, again of your choice: Greenwode or Shirewode.
SHIREWODE (Book Two of the Wode)
The King of the Shire Wode. That is what they will call you…
Once, a pagan commoner named Rob of Loxley befriended the nobleman’s son Gamelyn Boundys, against insurmountable odds—and with horrific consequences. Home razed by Church edict, loved ones struck down by treachery, Rob is left for dead. Taken by an old druid master into the deeps, Rob survives to emerge as driven leader of a band of tight-knit outcasts, claiming the forest as their own and wielding the Horned Lord’s vengeance with silent, deadly arrows. Unwilling witness to Loxley’s destruction and disowned by his noble family, Gamelyn Boundys takes flight from England. As a sworn knight of the Lionheart’s Crusade, Gamelyn has found new identity and purpose—but no absolution.
When the two boyhood lovers next cross paths, it will be in a brutal, blindfolded game of foxes and hounds, one which pits Templar assassin against Heathen outlaw. And when Rob discovers his sister Marion is also still alive, the game turns.
History will chronicle Robyn Hood and Guy of Gisbourne as the deadliest of enemies, but the reality is complicated—and infinitely more tragic.
Find the Books here:
Of course, if I’m in the middle of a writing jag, I’m likely to be absent from all of the above. No one should take that personally. I do welcome correspondence from readers and do my best to answer questions.
J. is generously offering up a copy of either Greenwode or Shirewode to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post for your chance to enter. The contest closes on Sunday, October 20th at 11:59 pm EST.
- By entering the giveaway, you’re confirming that you are at least 18 years old.
- Winners will be selected by random number. No purchase necessary to win. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning.
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- Void where prohibited by law.