Not long ago, my brother came up to me and gleefully announced, “I’ve been doing research on Ancestry.com. Guess who our ancestor is!”
“I don’t know, but whoever it is better be cool.”
I stared at him. “Prince John?”
“THE Prince John? Thumb-sucking Prince John? ‘I want my mama’ Prince John? The scummy Prince John that was King Richard’s little brother? THAT Prince John?”
“Great. I’m descended from a Disney cartoon character!”
I know next to nothing about the real Prince John, but I grew up on the Disney version of Robin Hood, in which he went around sucking his thumb, fingering through bags of gold and bopping his assistant on the head. In Ivanhoe, the inaccurate novel by Sir Walter Scott, John is a young man unprepared to deal with the difficulties of being king. John is the reason Robin Hood and the Merry Men hide out in the woods and rob passing nobleman to feed the poor.
As a kid, I never paid much attention to the underlining politics of the tale. I was caught up in the heroism of Robin courting the pretty Maid Marion and saving the day. It never occurred to me that the story of Robin Hood might have a political agenda, but a fresh take on the legend brings awareness to the alarming similarities between the 1200’s and our situation in modern-day politics. The new Robin Hood (directed by Ridley Scott and rated PG13), opens with the death of King Richard, passing the English crown to his younger brother, Prince John, who insists on over-taxing the landowners to pay off his massive debts. But most of the landowners have lost their wealth, causing the surfs that work their properties to suffer starvation, undergo unfair taxation, and harbor growing resentment against the monarchy.
Robin Hood this time around is not wealthy or a nobleman, but a common archer who impersonates a fallen nobleman in order to return from France on the King’s Barge. In returning the sword that belonged to the fallen knight, he meets Lady Marion, a woman with very pronounced ideas about the abuses of the tax system and the hardship it wages on her household, and is convinced to continue impersonating her husband in order to avoid her losing the property and provide a voice of reason for the people at the king’s court. In the meantime, French soldiers slip across the channel and begin to molest the peasants, hoping to create an uprising among the common people that will make England vulnerable to invasion. Robin must not only face down John, he must rally the peasants and disheartened nobleman to fight for their country, before all is lost.
John’s fatal flaw is not listening to his subjects, in over-taxing them, and continuing to remove their liberties. Robin winds up not stealing from the rich but as a voice of strength among the people. His greatest message is one of FREEDOM. In a rousing speech, he references his belief that every man’s home should be his castle, and his success should not be hampered by handouts. In essence, he should be able to improve his station and be in control of his own life. Robin is asking for the right for Prince John to spend taxes wisely and leave the peasants alone. Not to tax them, not to rule over them, but to protect them.
It strikes me that this is no different from what most Americans desire in their life—simply to be left alone by the government. It seems we have a number of Prince Johns in D.C. who think they know what is best for us, who believe they can do whatever they want, and who refuse to listen to what “we the people” want. Just as over-taxing the landowners hurt the peasants, over-taxing businesses and corporations will hurt the working class. That particular time in history was called the Dark Ages because of a combination of mass ignorance and lavish living among the ruling class, at the expense of the common men. Most people (like Robin) could not change their station. There was no way to improve their lives because they all relied on a “welfare state” (employment with the landowners, and hand-outs from the landowners) for their very survival. Enlightenment did eventually come and the lives of most improved, but it took a long time to transition from a ruling class to an open and free society. In the film, Robin wants to encourage John to make that valuable first step by signing the Magna Carta.
I doubt Ridley Scott thinks much of conservatives but he has re-created a classic character into a champion of freedom who protests taxation without representation and has a problem with the government telling the people what to do. As one pleasantly surprised reviewer put it, “Dare I say it… this Robin and his men would have fit in nicely at a modern day TEA Party.”
Huh. Ya think? ♥
Reprinted with permission. (c) Prairie Times 2010.