Kicking the Sheriff’s Butteth: the world of Robin Hood at age eleven

Some days I need a little silly.

During my time as a sixth grade teacher at a private school, Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood was one of our texts. Its faux-medieval Victorian prose was actually a fairly easy way to accustom the students to some medieval vocabulary, preparing them for selections from Malory the next year, and Shakespeare the year after.

As school-assigned books go, Robin Hood was pretty popular, though some of the girls sighed that the females were few. But they were used to that in a literature program that depended so heavily on classics.

But there came a day when I had to be absent from school, and I knew that few subs would be up on this book. So I left behind instructions that the students could either get a head start on their vocabulary sheets, or . . . they could write a Missing Chapter, which I would read aloud the next day.

I knew I had a couple of creative writers, but I had no idea how enthusiastic the class would be until I got back to discover that not only had Sixth Grade English been quiet as the tomb during my absence, but many had taken their stories home to finish as homework, unasked: they loved being read to, but no poet or author, be they ever so famous, was in any way as thrilling as hearing their own words read out loud, with suitable drama.

So this fill-in became a regular staple of my curriculum.

Many years this or that class was reluctant to tackle the archaic verb conjugations. I always demonstrated, but didn’t hammer it too hard; I wanted these verb forms familiar, not memorized when they were still trying to deal with the vagaries of modern English.

So the kids usually got wot, wottest, wotteth, but the modal auxiliaries seem to trip up some. Doth became a universal, but no one ever seemed to remember dost–and then there were some who couldn’t grasp that -est = second person singular familiar, -eth  = third p. blah blah.

In fact, some were still shaky on the concept of verb conjugations at all,  despite the fact that I had a collection jar and required a nickel penalty* for every uttered “I laid in bed yesterday” or “The dog was laying down,” after I had thoroughly drilled all tenses and forms of lay and lie.

Anyway, over the years that I gave this assignment, the young writers happily slapped est and eth onto adjectives, adverbs, and nouns left and right, figuring it sounded good’n’Plantagenetoid. Either that or adding ‘eth’ suffixes would sufficiently age a word they weren’t sure they could get away with. Thus Robin could kick the Sheriff’s butteth.

As for the stories, one particular year the class had two alpha girls, their posses dividing the female half of the class right down the middle, with plenty of attendant social drama. One alpha decided to write her particular lieutenants into her story, inspiring a flurry of Mackynzi and McKyli and Logan and Ryli appearances throughout her story, heroically raiding the castle where her rival and her gang were all sniveling Sheriff’s weasels, cheating Normans, or Prince John’s spies.

Naturally, this story electrified half the class and outraged the other half with as much intensity as if those girls really had gone and shot up a castle with arrows, and poisoned Prince John’s dinners for his gathered villains and spies.

But the Sheriff also had feisty, heroic daughters in other stories, all of whom ran away to join Robin’s band.

In one of these chapters, a sheriff’s doughty daughter fell in love with Robin at first sight, and he with her, so by the time the two had finished walking into Sherwood, they were engaged to be married.

The merry men promptly decorated the forest for a wedding, which was carried out–presumably they had the beautiful white gown with the spangles among their disguise kits. (The merry men turned out to have warehouses full of disguise kits in the greenwood.)

After the wedding later that afternoon, the Sheriff appeared, demanding his daughter from Robin and the men, who were busy celebrating by having a shooting match. Where was the new wife? In a cave baking her wedding cake, of course, what else would she be doing?

Anyway the story ends with her emerging from her newlywed cookery to yell at her father and demand pardons all around, which of course the abashed Sheriff instantly provided, and all lived happily ever after.

Except for the Sheriff, who had to get a new cook.

In another, Robin and the Sheriff decide to besiege one another, which resolved into a dare. My inventive young student obviously thought that writing was far more arduous than drawing, and so his second page was taken up with the drawings of the castles the arch-enemies built in this deadly competition.

Robin was by far the better builder–his castle not only possessed towers but crenelations. The Sheriff’s offering was a mean little brick and stone hut that looked suspiciously like an outhouse.

And of course all these were built in a day.

In another story, two daughters of one of the Butchers of the Butchers’ Guild went off to the forest looking for adventure, instead of doing their shopping. They spent a delightful day with the merry outlaws, and went home at dark, as you do.

Even so, their dad got angry until they told him that Robin Hood was so impressed with their shooting and quarterstaff skills that he invited them into the band, whereupon Father promptly gave his permission, because he knew the girls would be helping good Saxons by robbing the rich and giving to the poor.

One student, whose dad only let him read fiction if it was assigned in school (otherwise his strictly supervised reading was entirely science based),  had little concept of telling a story, and so turned in several solid paragraph-indentation-free pages of description, working hard to be poetic. This story featured long adjective-loaded (perhaps the kind word would be lyrical) descriptions of the countryside, featuring crinkling bushes and birds that hale.

Altogether, the Sheriff had a terrible temper if anyone called him a loser or stole his lunch, Prince John seemed to spend a lot of time lurking and spying in the forest, just to get coconuts dropped on his head, or fall into mud, and the Merry Men were respectful of curfew and cheered on any eleven-year-old who challenged the Sheriff and all his guards to a duel.

Because the kid always won.

Finally, if the Sheriff wanted to lure Robin to another shooting match, all he had to do is send a mysterious lady to the Blue Boar inn to proclamatize it, dressed in fledged feathers and plooms.



*the penalties provided a surprise donut morning whenever I had accrued enough cash.













Kicking the Sheriff’s Butteth: the world of Robin Hood at age eleven — 26 Comments

  1. Hmph. This then seems to be the age for it.

    When in the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades I wrote many stories that featured all my classmates (country school, so this was possible), and read them aloud. Part of the fun was which one would be ‘the hero.’ Everyone wondered when it would be her or his turn for it. My classroom — and even the teacher whom we all hated — loved these stories. Whenever the county superintendent visited she would show him (of course the super was a him!) the latest installments.

    • It was still possible in private schools, too. I remember the year my daughter was in first grade, one of her classmates started a long novel about them. It rambled on and on, but they were all electrified with fascination, and couldn’t wait for Mondays when she’d come in with new pages having been penned over the weekend.

      • I’m still impressed that my urban public school had us writing stories annually (starting in kindergarten! Someone else wrote what we told them to) to be displayed during parent-teacher conferences.

        My second-grade effort was all about an orphan who had magical adventures, while my fourth-grade effort was a Redwall pastiche with pop-up illustrations.

  2. This is so much better than the year I was in fifth grade and we read something (I don’t think it was Lord of the Flies, but something relatively modern about being marooned somewhere) and, as a combined Social Studies/Language Arts assignment, had to each choose an environment and write a story about a group of kids being marooned there.

    This being a NYC private school full of wise-ass kids (and the 60s to boot) we had a lot of “realist” stories in which, eventually, the characters all died slowly… mostly from dearth of imagination.

  3. I love the one about the butcher’s two daughters! It sounds exciting and isn’t all about romance. Those girls have quarterstaff skills! That’s the one 11-year-old me most would have wanted to hear.

    • Oh, yes. Basically, Howard Pyle only saw fit to feature two females, buxom Maken at the Blue Boar, and drippy, die-away Ellen o’Dale. So the girls more than made up for the lack!

  4. I fell completely, madly in love with Robin Hood when I was in the fourth grade. I’m still completely in love with him, even after reading all the Childe poems. (There’s a clearly fan fiction work in there, from I believe the seventeenth century, about Clarissa, Queen of the Shepherds. She beats Robin in an archery contest and insists that he marry her. Which he does. Awesome terrible story.)

    When I was in sixth grade I was a complete Trekkie, and talked my teacher into assigning us to write a story based on a TV series. Yes, I wrote Star Trek fan fiction as a writing assignment. I even got an A. Sadly, my teacher kept my story as a sample for later years, so I don’t remember what the teen hero did with Mr. Spock and the rest of the crew.

    • What an awesome teacher, to let you write fanfic. (I can’t tell you how much Harry Potter fic I received from students!) Alas, sadly, in my day, it had to be a secret activity. I couldn’t even do a book report on Lord of the Rings, because It Was Trash.

  5. That was just the age when I loved both Robin Hood and all the faux-medieval stories. The Black Arrow was my favorite book in those days! Sadly, it has not held up for me: I reread it a few years ago and was appalled by all the gratuitous and undermotivated bloodthirstiness. Reminded me of the black knight in Monty Python (“it’s only a flesh wound!”) and I couldn’t stop laughing at it.

    • LOL! I know. I remember adoring Malory as a youngster, and being impressed with how realistic the fight scenes were. Reading it decades later, I saw that the fight scenes did appear to reflect personal experience, but the whole was nothing but young toughs roaming the vast greenland, like gang-bangers cruise the city streets today, looking for fights.

  6. I remember in… I think it was 4th grade, but it might have been later, our Reading class anthology included the first part of Phyllis McGinley’s ‘The Plain Princess’.

    I liked the opening, and the story sounded like one I’d enjoy, but we didn’t have the *story,* all we had was the *opening*. Right to the point that the peasant woman with the lovely daughters took Princess Esmerelda (who was a brat) off to live with her and her daughters in a cottage in the forest or wherever it was.

    And that was it. Our teacher assigned us to write our version of the rest. She’d already queered the pitch by tacitly informing us all that the Princess was plain because she was unhappy (although there was no clear and present reason why she should be).

    I have no recollection of what I wrote — although I’m sure it included magic. I gather that most of the class turned in something on the order of “She made the Princess happy, and she wasn’t plain any more.” All in all, I doubt that it was the most successful invocation of creative writing. But it was at least a lot more interesting an assignment than we usually got.

  7. “Naturally, this story electrified half the class and outraged the other half with as much intensity as if those girls really had gone and shot up a castle with arrows, and poisoned Prince John’s dinners for his gathered villains and spies.”

    Sherwood, this part made me laugh out loud. Several times!