Oh, <em>that's</em> why no one sticks the ending of a Robin Hood retelling.

So, I was listening to a podcast of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff on a long drive recently, and someone asked a question something like this: Why do all long-running tv shows have terrible final seasons? It probably wasn’t quite that, but something close.

I don’t watch much tv these days, but of course that is the general pattern, isn’t it? No one liked the way Game of Thrones ended, did they? I wasn’t watching it and even I know that much. A lot of people considered the last season of Lost was famously bad. The last season of Buffy wasn’t anybody’s favorite. The list goes on and on.

Well, Ken and Robin have a suggestion about why it’s impossible to end a tv show like that properly, and I think it applies to Robin Hood retellings too.

It’s an episodic story, where the characters are doing the same kind of thing in episode after episode, and the pleasure the viewer derives from the show consists of watching the character act like themselves as they face and solve problems in a characteristic way. When the director tries to come up with a way to do something else, then inevitably that involves:

a) the ensemble cast breaks up, with everyone going off to pursue different lives.

b) a lot of people die.

c) the situation is jerked violently sideways, so that the finale involves characters doing stuff that is completely unlike the stuff they used to normally do.

No matter how the director handles it, the ending will feel unsatisfying to most viewers because it is too great a departure from the typical episode that has been enjoyed in all the previous seasons.

All the above is from memory, but I think it’s a close approximation of the discussion.

Obviously Robin Hood fits perfectly into this idea. It’s not a smooth story with a single arc. It’s an episodic story with an ensemble cast, just like a tv series. There’s Little John and the bridge over the river, there’s the thing with the golden arrow, there are all the episodes we’re familiar with. Lots of writers can do a great story that incorporates those elements. But then how do you end the story? You can’t. The ending, whatever you do, in intrinsically impossible to construct in a satisfying way.

Ken and Robin suggest that honestly, the best you can do is stop cold without trying to do a final arc or any kind of finale. Just cancel the show abruptly and leave James T Kirk and his crew to go off and continue their five-year mission without taking the viewer along. That way the viewer can derive some kind of satisfaction in the idea that the adventures are continuing just as always, only out of sight.

That, unfortunately, is probably not possible with The Adventures of Robin Hood. We all know how the story ended in the . . . I hesitate to say “original” . . . the version we read in grade school. That ending failed exactly as all other endings fail, but it’s probably not going to work to try to step away while The Adventures of Robin Hood are in full swing because everyone already does have that ending in their minds.

I do have a retelling or two of Robin Hood sitting around on my Kindle. But when I go into the stories, I’ll doing it expecting the books to wind up in a bit of a mess at the ending.

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12 thoughts on “Oh, <em>that's</em> why no one sticks the ending of a Robin Hood retelling.”

  1. Kathryn McConaughy

    Arthurian retellings have a similar problem. (Are you going to follow Malory and kill almost everyone? Or not? Either way, almost no reader will be happy.)

  2. One of the oldest Robin Hood tales we have have it end with the reconciliation with the king. (A Gest of Robyn Hode)

    OTOH, we have good evidence that there were tales more than a century before then. Not least being that Gest is the rather ramshackle combination of various tales, with the incompatibilities not smoothed out.

  3. I can be happy with an Arthurian retelling where almost everyone dies – that’s the way the story goes. Anything else would be like retelling Romeo & Juliet and letting them survive and thrive, or Hamlet succeed and live. unless, of course, it’s clearly marked as an AU/freely adapted take.

    BTW, any ideas on why my browsers think Rachel hasn’t posted on her blog since 12/21? I discovered she had by going to her home page and looking at the list of recent posts. I clear my cache regularly, so that shouldn’t be it.

  4. I don’t mind everyone dying in Arthurian stories. As Elaine says, that’s the way the story goes. I prefer to moderate the tragedy as much as possible, though.

    Elaine, I scheduled a bunch of these posts before Christmas because I can’t get my new laptop to tether to my phone. And I haven’t had time to sort that out because of Pippa. So that’s almost certainly why your browser is saying there’s been no action. I’ll start actually writing and posting new stuff very soon, as (a) the last scheduled post just went up; and (b) the new semester is starting next week, so I’ll actually be at my work computer every day.

  5. Just found a Sleeping Beauty variant that I actually like–it is normally *such* a boring story: Spindle, by W. R. Gingell. It starts with the fact that sleeping beauty is woken up by a wizard who finesses around the ‘true love’ part of the curse, and wakes up the princess with a somewhat grudging kiss. (He is rather put out to be sent on this quest by the government when he has better things to do.) And the princess turns out to be only a minor lady-in-waiting, and the curse is a whole lot nastier than in the original…

  6. It is actually a twofer: the princess’s hair keeps growing, though it doesn’t actually get used as an escape ladder, except metaphorically. And she writes well. And she writes good, sparkly dialog. Suspect strongly that you will like her work.

  7. Elaine, the page doesn’t refresh for me unless I explicitly push the “reload” button. (This is on Chrome.)

  8. Gingell — I’ll check her out.

    Part of the fairy tale stuff is that people keep turning to the Pop Top 20 tales, where you have to do something different to keep the readers awake, and all the most common ways are already cliched. (Which is why, in The Princess Seeks Her Fortune, I wandered much farther afield.)

  9. “Masque” is a bit later in the Gingell’s series. I am wondering if the intermediate books are based on fairytales. If so, I don’ recognize them.

  10. Well, it can be a bit tricky. I remember keenly the description of a purported Cinderella tale where the person describing it pointed out that the stepmother and stepsisters are in fact supportive of the Cinderella figure. What happened was that her father had left them all deeply in debt, and they had gone to the (modern-day) castle to get jobs, where the prince met the Cinderella figure on the job but was only wowed by her at the ball.

    And I was thinking, oh, that’s not Cinderella, that’s Catskin. The stepmother and stepsisters were just the sort of additions you have to add to make a novel out of a folk tale.

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