Tuck by Stephen R. Lawhead

Tuck (The King Raven Trilogy)

by Stephen R. Lawhead

Published by Thomas Nelson

464 pages, 2009

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Beyond Robin

Reviewed by Iain Emsley


Stephen Lawhead's Tuck is the final installment of the King Raven trilogy. A retelling of the Robin Hood stories, Lawhead moves away from the Middle Eastern settings in his previous novels to the Marches, the borderlands between England and Wales, after the Norman conquest.

Bran is the dispossessed prince of Elfael, a fiefdom in Wales. He has taken to the forest with a band of fellow dispossessed people who are fighting against the puppet lord. Tuck, the ideal warrior monk, persuades Bran to go into Wales and begin to fight back to the natives against the Ffreinc. Using a combination of trickery and stealth, Tuck and Bran succeed in getting the true lord freed from prison in a human hunt. In so doing they make the nascent stories that are circulating about King Rhi Bran into truths and greater stories to inspire. In the larger story, Abbot Hugo and Guy of Gysburne are anxious to end this conflict when their lord wants to return to his Norman lands and go to the fiefdom to quell the rebellion.

In his travels across the country, Tuck sets about reminding the soldiers about their duties as Christians to save their souls. Lawhead extends the idea of muscular Christianity, a form Christianity which emphasised the physical as well as the spiritual aspects of faith, and looks to find a way to create a community through active participation. It combines with a very mid-20th century British response to the inter-war years in trying to recover a lost sense of self.

Setting the native British mythology against the conquering Norman stories, Lawhead echoes Philip Reeve's Here Lies Arthur in trying to recover the real person behind the legend. There is a better historical record for Arthur in being a Romano-British lord which Reeve is able to tap into to create a story. Lawhead tries something similar with Robin Hood. Hood is a more shadowy figure than Arthur in terms of appearing at the edge of manuscripts before his legend gathers steam in recognisable form. Both authors add to the mythology surrounding their figures in trying to find some sort of truth to them. Where Reeve emphasizes the raw violence of the time, Lawhead uses it to explore a Christian edge in creating community. Both add to the character's legend in recreating them as people, diverting from a retelling based upon the legend.

He is far more subtle than evangelical writers such as G.P. Taylor and allows the reader to find the message that they want, allowing the legendary character to come through. Stories mix in the trilogy as Lawhead explores a character who tends to be ignored. Echoing nationalist undertones in trying to recover a possible character. Well-told and fast paced, this is a series which has had me waiting for each installment. | June 2009


Iain Emsley is a reviewer and critic. He is researching a history of fantasy in chidren's literature and owns a specialist bookshop.