Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Elsa Watson (page 3)
 Talking with
Elsa Watson
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How did you reimagine the love story between Marian and Robin?
Through all its variations, the Robin Hood/Maid Marian romance is about opposites who attract. Each version describes the story in a different way — in some, Robin Hood is the noble, in others it’s Maid Marian — but most open with these two characters on opposites sides of the medieval “tracks.” Their romance, then, has immense obstacles to overcome. Concessions will have to be made on both sides. Their love for each other will, without question, leave both of them permanently altered. That, I think, is the bedrock of a moving story, and one that allows for serious risks, bravery, and genuine sacrifice — the elements of a touching romance. Since this is told in the first person, I also wanted to include the internal doubts that accompany first love. Marian is inexperienced when she first meets Robin Hood, and she has to feel her way through the situation — something she isn’t accustomed to.
What is it about the story and the Sherwood Forest characters that continues to be popular?
What we love about the Sherwood Forest characters is the freedom they’ve found in the midst of oppression. Robin Hood epitomizes this idea — we love his disrespect for authority and his drive to maintain a “merry” lifestyle right under the Sheriff of Nottingham’s nose. When I began Maid Marian, I wanted to demonstrate this in her story as well. I wanted to show the restrictions on her life, and then let her break them in pursuit of her own course.
     Robin Hood is also beloved because he is the champion of the little man, the independent spirit who looks after the poor even when they’ve been abandoned by their own rulers. He and his men fulfill our need to find goodness in typically bad characters. The notion of a civic-minded band of thieves is inherently charming. Between their hunting skills and their boisterous laughter, they strike us as being very much alive and in touch with their world — something our society increasingly covets as we find ourselves becoming more removed from our natural environment.
In the book you have many of the historical conventions women struggled with during those times. Was that important to the story?
The situation of women was critical to this story. In the Middle Ages, very few people — of either sex — were truly independent, but women were certainly the worst off. Noble women were practically sold as marriage prizes; common women toiled as serfs. As I imagined Marian living in such a society, I felt intense frustration over her situation. I wanted her to feel that frustration too, to such an extent that she was willing to take grave risks for a chance to change her future.
     Marian is the sort of person who wants to be the decision-maker, the one in control — it made sense to me that she would do nearly anything to gain autonomy. Also, beyond the restrictions of planned marriages, I wanted to show the tedium of women’s lives: rich women endlessly spinning and sewing; poor women caught in the drudgery of fieldwork. I thought these elements gave important background texture to the story and helped explain why Marian felt so eager to break free of the mold.
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