Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Black Arrow

I've just read The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson. Can't think why I never read this adventure story set during the Wars of the Roses before, since that historical period has always interested me. The hero, Richard Shelton, is brave if unworldly, sometimes to the point of silliness and recklessness. Still, his struggles with divided loyalties, adventures with outlaws in the wildwood, participation in an all too grownup and deadly if relatively small battle and, above all, his determination to rescue and marry his pretty sweetheart, Joanna Sedley should please readers of all ages.

The only major drawback to the book is Stevenson's treatment of Richard Plantagenet. In accordance with the calumny so effectively propagated by the Tudors and not finally discredited till the mid to late Twentieth Century, Stevenson depicts Richard as a villain, an ugly and bitter hunchback, ruthless and ambitious. In this view, Richard's undeniable nobility and courage serve only as spurs to his wickedness. It is highly to be regretted that an intelligent, sensitive man and fine writer such as Stevenson accepted these lies as historical fact. He did accept them, though, and using them he paints a vivid picture of "Richard Crookback," as he is called in the novel. Briefly though he appears, Crookback is a formidable figure against whom the hero, Richard Shelton shows both to good and to bad advantage. That is, young Master Shelton is, to be blunt, no warrior. At the same time, he has a true and loyal heart and, the reader is sure, has learned from his youthful mistakes and will grow into both a goodhearted and a sensible man.