I’ve loved Disney’s Robin Hood ever since I was a little kid. But as I was reading the Christus Victor theory of the atonement, I came to realize more and more how many similarities it bears to the gospel.
Robin Hood opens with an explanation of why things are the way that they are: an illegitimate ruler (Prince John) has become the King of England while the true King Richard is off fighting the crusades. (Yes, I know, the Crusades are problematic here…) The Christian parallel is the understanding that while God is the true king of this world, Satan has been given power – “The god of this world.” More than once, John is referred to as “The Phony King of England.”
Robin Hood, our Christ figure of sorts, plans to rob Prince John of the good things he has taken from the people. Robin’s friend, Little John, reminds him that there is a law against robbing royalty. This corresponds to the pharisees reminder to Jesus that there’s a law against healing on the Sabbath, or doing so many things that he does. “And miss this chance to perform before royalty?” Robin replies. Jesus performs before “royalty” as well.
The Sheriff of Nottingham can be easily conceived as the pharisees and sadducees.
Like Jesus, Robin Hood plays with children, helps the lame, and brings good news to the poor. He does in a small way what Richard would do in a larger way were he present. Robin Hood is conceived of as a rebel because he rejects the authority of the god of this world (Prince John) while upholding the reign of the one true king. He continues to rob from the rich (particularly Prince John) to feed the poor. This can be conceived of Christ robbing the ruler of this world (“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”). Christ is considered an “outlaw” to the rulers of this world because he doesn’t follow their rules. Like Robin Hood, he serves.
In his guise as a blind beggar (one Jesus often takes), Robin allows himself to be “taken advantage of” by the Sheriff of Nottingham, only to turn around and reveal he has much more to give to the poor rabbit family.
Prince John shows himself as genuinely evil in his plan to “hang Friar Tuck, a man of the church”. Robin Hood raids Prince John’s castle (See “The Harrowing of Hell), releases all of his prisoners, and (unlike Jesus) makes a run for it. Robin Hood dives down from the tower in an attempt to escape Prince John. The archers fire on him, and his hat floats to the surface. John celebrates a false victory over Robin, believing he’s succeeded in getting him out of the picture for good: “He’s finished! Done for! Na na na…” John has shown the people that he is in no way for them, as he has attempted to have killed the very person who has been helping them. But Robin Hood is revealed to, like Christ, have had one last trick up his sleeve (Christ’s was Resurrection). Sir Hiss’s words must echo Satan’s at the resurrection of Christ: “He’s made it! He could win again!” And win again He will, and He has, until, as in the story of Robin Hood, “King Richard returned and, well, he just sort of straightened everything out.” And this is what we anticipate – the return of the true King.
Both stories are adequately described in the words of Lady Cluck: “Love conquers all.”
A pox on the phony king of England!