In the early 2000s, I heard an audiobook version of a coherent retelling of the classic Robin Hood story. There was a frame story set in the modern world, a boy (I think) staying with his grandmother (?) who survives a massive storm one night and, after picking some berries in the morning, finds a huge oak that's blown down and a skeleton underneath it.

Then the tale of Robin Hood begins, starting from his childhood with his father (Martin?) and going through his whole life. He meets Marian as one of the "woodland folk" (some kind of exiles?) and they later have a son who's also called Martin after his grandfather. As well as the usual antagonist of the Sheriff of Nottingham, there's a woman referred to as "the abbess": I remember a line from Friar Tuck "I may be a sinner, but [the abbess is pure evil]". After many years, at the end of the story when Robin Hood is old or sick (?) and seeks shelter at a nunnery, the abbess crops up and poisons him to death with belladonna (deadly nightshade). His friends bury him with his longbow and an acorn - we're meant to surmise that the same acorn grew into the mighty oak that's just blown down hundreds of years later.

Back in the frame story, the boy goes home to his grandmother with the berries he picked, which turn out to be belladonna as well. Luckily he hadn't eaten any, but it provides a thematic connection between the main story from the past and the frame story. I don't know if it's implied that the boy in the modern world is Robin Hood reborn, or if it's left to the reader's imagination to make any explicit connection.

Obviously the setting is England; I got the audiobook from a public library in England; and probably the author is also English.

What was this story? It's always stuck in my mind, much like this Iliad retelling, but I don't remember the author.

1 Answer 1


This is Outlaw: The True Story of Robin Hood by Michael Morpurgo.

After a fierce storm, a boy discovers a human skull, buried beneath the roots of an ancient tree. A skull with a legendary story....

Vivid re-imagining of the legendary hero Robin Hood by the best-selling author of War Horse.

“Tell the sheriff, tell Sir Guy of Gisbourne, tell everyone in Nottingham, that the Outlaws rule here in Sherwood, that we rule in the king’s name… I am Robin Hood.”

Homeless and lost in a dark, strange forest, young Robin is rescued by a motley crew of misfits. He yearns to avenge his father and seek justice against cruel oppressors, to finally defeat the Sheriff of Nottingham, once and for all. And through his friends, Robin Hood finds the courage to become a legendary hero.

I wish I could say I drew on deep literary knowledge for this answer, but I just searched Audible for ‘Robin Hood’.

The identification is further verified by this text taken from onlinereadfreenovel.com

I was halfway down the hill when I saw the berries. There were a dozen or more, black and as big as cherries. I felt suddenly hungry. I filled my hand with them and walked on. I would have eaten them there and then, but I hadn’t a hand free to do it. Anyway, they would be good in yoghurt with a lot of sugar on top. I would save them and have a feast when I got home. I hurried on, dropping one or two of the berries as I went.

I hid my treasures away in the back of the garage before I went in. I said I was sorry I had been so long, but Gran said she didn’t know what I was talking about, that I had only been gone half an hour at the most. She rolled the berries from hand to hand, smelt them, and looked at me anxiously over her glasses. “You haven’t eaten any of these, have you?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

She took a deep breath. “Well, thank goodness for that. This is Deadly Nightshade. Atropa Belladonna. Poisonous, deadly poisonous. You’d better wash your hands, and the rest of you while you’re about it. Lord, you’re a mess. Mud all over you. Look at you. What you need it a good bath. Upstairs.”

@Randal'Thor notes in comments that the book, and audiobook, were originally called Robin of Sherwood. The Outlaw title comes from the 2012 edition.

Boldoutlaw.com notes in the preface to an interview with Morpurgo that

His book Robin of Sherwood was published in 1996 (with illustrations by Michael Foreman) and re-published in 2012 under the new title Outlaw: The Story of Robin Hood.

  • That's the one. Thanks for letting me relive some memories; I just reread the whole thing. Michael Morpurgo is an amazing writer.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 11, 2022 at 10:21
  • Just letting you know, I copied a link to your answer to tvtropes.org/pmwiki/query.php?parent_id=45621&type=ykts so that you can help two people. :-D Feb 11, 2022 at 17:19
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    @SeanDuggan Huh. That's not me, but apparently I have a lost twin with exactly the same childhood library experience and missing memories.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 11, 2022 at 17:28
  • Btw, the original version (and the version I must've had) was called simply Robin of Sherwood. The Outlaw title comes from the 2012 edition. (Not that it affects the correctness of the answer, which I will accept - just wanted to note it since the title "Outlaw" didn't quite seem familiar to me, and sounded more like a feature film than a children's book.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 11, 2022 at 20:16

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