Citadel professors offer in-depth discussion of medieval legend

Livingston, left and DeVries, right, examine and discuss medieval artifacts taken from their travels and research. (Brian Troutman/WCIV)

By Brian

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- It's a legend that has been told and retold since the Middle Ages - each version a little different but no less interesting.

"There's 102 movies that have been made," said Citadel professor of military history Kelly DeVries. "How many other characters have had 102 movies made about them. Not even Jesus Christ has had 102 movies made about him."

It's for that reason DeVries and Citadel assistant professor of English Michael Livingston will hold a joint lecture entitled "Robin Hood in Reality and Representation" on February 21. It will examine how Robin Hood has been depicted over time.

"It's pretty extraordinary," DeVries said. "The interest that even a more modern person has, but this interest goes all the way back. That's one of the things we are going to be talking about - how far back?"

DeVries and Livingston are considered experts in medieval studies, proficient in about 1,000 years of history - everything from philosophy to dead languages. Through research on other aspects of the period, they often find areas and things in history that could be tied back to the Robin Hood legend.

It doesn't just stop with the Middle Ages. The two say aspects of Robin Hood as well as other aspects of medieval life often apply to the modern world.

"I once read a paper on a Robin Hood conference where somebody had gone into one of these databases and looked up the use of Robin Hood, and had to stop," DeVries said. "There were so many thousands of uses in court cases in the United States where they had used Robin Hood as an example."

"I did a lecture last year on judicial, ethical, religious, chivalric restraints to warfare in the Middle Ages, and then I had an active duty Marine sergeant come up to me afterwards and say, 'I struggle with that every time I'm in combat.' That, to me, was better than any compliment I could have gotten. I touched him and maybe made him understand a little more. He wasn't alone in feeling what he was doing. He had a millennium, two millennium of background of people feeling the same."

The legend of Robin Hood, they two say, is similar. With so many different story lines and layers in the tale, Robin Hood allows for multiple points of entry for many different types of people. From robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, to being an outlaw beating up people, beating up the sheriff, the two agree the tale offers something to everyone.

"We all have our own sheriff," Livingston said. "It's a story that resonates with people of all walks in life. As a result, it changes over time."

The two note the difference in the legend with a simple look at some of the more popular films - the Errol Flynn Robin Hood much different than the Robin Hood portrayed by Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe.

With smiles, they both agree the Robin Hood movie more likely to be close to accurate was the 1958 character played by Daffy Duck. They say the legend is probably more interesting than the real person or accurate tale.

"If we'd found the real Robin Hood, the accurate Robin Hood, there'd never be a film made," DeVries said. "There would never have been a film made about the guys in the legends, because you don't make a film about unemployed soldiers living in the woods who got hung."

Given The Citadel's obvious focus on military life and history, the lecture is expected to be popular with students and the extended Citadel family.

"Our students here, they eat it up," DeVries said. "They really are interested."

The two scholars decided to host the joint lecture after noticing their research overlapped. DeVries approached the legend via research on long bow archery. Livingston entered through his interest and studies of medieval theology.

"Through our overlap, we've been able to pinpoint things more than many could at this point," Livingston said.

The lecture is free and will begin at 7 p.m. in Boone Hall, room 165. It is open to the public.