Tuesday 26 June 2012

Richard Shelton

Richard “Dick” Shelton is the hero of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow. The book was published in 1888 and is an adventure-romance – a fun novel, more along the lines of a Treasure Island than a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Anyway, I love this book – I have a hard copy and a copy on my Kindle.

I first remember hearing about this book on Wishbone. It was a later season of the show, when Joe and company were in high school rather than middle school. As soon as I found out the main character was a Richard, I had to read it. If you want a visual representation of the book, I recommend you hunt down the Wishbone episode because the 1948 movie version of the book is terrible. I can’t even begin to describe all its flaws.

But back to the book. Richard Shelton is seventeen and an orphan who has been living with his guardian Sir Daniel Brackley since his father’s death when he was an infant. As was so often the case with medieval wardship, Sir Daniel did not exactly take Richard in out of the kindness of his heart, but in order to turn a profit. Medieval guardians managed their wards’ estates (Richard’s father was a knight, so he had some land) and usually made some extra cash by selling off their marriage rights. This is not to say that some sort of affection couldn’t develop, which it has in this book. Richard begins the book extremely devoted to Sir Daniel and Sir Daniel’s men; it is only as evidence of Sir Daniel’s treachery is brought to light that Richard wavers.

The book is set during the Wars of the Roses, so there’s a lot of fighting and flip-flopping going on. It is as Sir Daniel is preparing for battle that strange black arrows start appearing in the village, variously accusing Sir Daniel and his friends of having murdered Sir Harry Shelton, Richard’s father. Although everyone pleads innocence, the arrows keep coming and a few men hint to Richard that Sir Daniel is not all he seems. When Sir Daniel attempts to murder Richard, the boy escapes to the forest and takes up with a Robin-Hood-esque band of vengeful woodsmen known as “The Black Arrow,” whose leader is the awesomely-named Ellis Duckworth, an old friend of Richard’s father. The Fellowship of the Black Arrow informs Richard of Sir Daniel’s true nature: he is a piece of shit who murdered Richard’s father for money.

Naturally, Richard wants vengeance. But more than that, he wants to save his lady-love Joanna Sedley from the clutches of Sir Daniel. Joanna is introduced in the first section of the book when she is attempting to escape from Sir Daniel, who has kidnapped her. Disguised as a boy, she and Richard have an adventure in the woods but end up back at Sir Daniel’s manor. When Richard learns she is a girl, he decides he loves her, presumably because she is cool enough to pretend to be a boy (and she can swim, which impresses him to no end). Anyway, Joanna was unable to escape when Richard did, so he must work with the outlaws of the Black Arrow to save her and bring down Sir Daniel. As is to be expected, Richard triumphs. I won’t bore you with the details – read the book!

I will, however, note that Richard III, as Duke of Gloucester, makes an appearance in this book. There is a big battle at the end, and Richard Shelton fights under Richard of Gloucester (given the timeline of the book, this is technically impossible as the real Richard III would have been only seven or eight at the time, but whatever). Richard of Gloucester ends up knighting Shelton, who promptly marries Joanna. The two then spend their days back on Richard’s land, lying low and avoiding the conflicts of the Wars of the Roses.

And what about Sir Daniel? Well, Ellis Duckworth takes care of him with a black arrow. Richard and Sir Daniel have a confrontation, but Richard takes the high road and tells Sir D to piss off but lets him live. Ellis, who was creeping in the background, isn’t having that, so he shoots Sir Daniel. Ellis then lays down his bow and proclaims that the black arrow shall fly no more because “the fellowship is broken.” I always think that quote would work well in The Lord of the Rings!

So yeah, read The Black Arrow. You actually get two Dicks (Shelton and R3) for the price of one! Holy Robert Louis Stevenson!  

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