USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Robin Hood’
Legends

The Legend of Ned Kelly

“Ned Kelly came from a very poor family. There are many stories about him and his exploits. The main story is that the police always gave him a hard time. One day, a police officer called Fitzpatrick turned up and was having a go at Ned Kelly’s sister. He tried to defend his sister. It ended in a fight the policeman, which meant that Kelly and his brother had to run away and become outlaws. This forced them to turn to a life of crime to sustain themselves. They started always robbing from the rich people. They would then go back to their community and share the money they stole. Eventually, two others joined him, and they became the Kelly gang. The police hired special trackers to find hunt them down. The gang soon got cornered in this town called Glenrowan. They knew they would get cornered, so they build armor for Ned to wear to protect him from the police’s gunfire. All the gang members were shot and killed except for Ned, who was captured. He was tried and hung for robbery and murder since he had killed some cops. He died very young. Allegedly, his last words were “such is life”.”

The legend of Ned Kelly is one that is often retold all over Australia. During the late 19th century, Ned was a real criminal and outlaw who rebelled against the British forces that had been ruling over Australia by stealing from them and distributing their money to the lower classes. There are many stories that Australians enjoy telling about him, but probably the most famous concerns the suit of armor that he wore to protect himself. The original suit still exists today and is held in a museum in Australia.

The informant, Angus Guthrie, is a 20-year-old student who was born and raised in Australia. Because he and his family have been in the country for a very long time, he believes that he is quite familiar with Australian folklore and traditions. Angus read story of the Kelly gang as a child in an Australian folklore book that had been written for children. He feels that people enjoy the legend because it is a truly fun story that is an integral part of Australia’s cultural history. Many, including Angus, see Ned as a national hero because he is a symbol of the fight against the tyrannical British government.

The story of Ned Kelly perfectly exemplifies the reason why some outlaws can become local legends and heroes. Although Ned Kelly and his gang did kill innocent people and steal property that did not belong to them, their battle against the British forces was interpreted as a futile but courageous stand against their oppressive government. His stoic death only cemented his position as a cultural icon. Because the Australian people had been suffering so much at the time, it is likely that they were seeking a source of strength and hope to make their days easier. Clearly, they found their source in Ned.

For more research on Robin Hood characters (including Ned Kelly), see Seal, Graham. “The Robin Hood principle: Folklore, history, and the social bandit.” Journal of Folklore Research 46.1 (2009): 67-89.

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Legends
Narrative

Chinese Version of Robin Hood and His Merry Men

“So, this is actually a very famous story, and I am going to give you the 20 seconds version of it. Basically, there are a bunch of guys, they are like Robin Hood, right? Basically they, they, they rob the rich, give to the poor, stuff like that. There are actually a bunch of them, 108 of them. Um, then, you know, their plans grow bigger because, you know, the government at that time was very weak, uh, but then they decide to join the government because there are some uh other nations, people from other ethnicities, whatever, trying to invade China, so they decide to join the government to help the government fight and most of them die in that fight, that’s basically it.”

 

The informant is a 19 year old, undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, studying accounting. He was born and lived in Shanghai, China for most of his life. He spent his high school years at a boarding school in Connecticut, before coming to college in California. He still spends his summers back in China, where he likes writing music and working on potential future business projects.

 

The informant provided this story after being asked what is an urban legend of China, something that sounds like history but may not entirely be true. He has heard this story a number of times from friends or family members, and it has had a few books written based on it.

 

The informant, being well-versed in Western urban legends, immediately compares this story to Robin Hood, the whole idea of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. This idea is very popular in urban legends and even contemporary popular culture. There is Robin Hood, an outlaw, often previous lord, goes on daring pursuits to retaliate against the high taxes of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood is often described as charming, witty, good with the ladies, everything a man should be. There have been many Western spinoffs and movies made based off of his story. There is also the Tv Show Leverage, which brings the practice of stealing from the rich to give to help the poor to modern situations. This idea is clearly just as popular in Chinese culture as in many other cultures, because of its ideals of stopping corruption and even the stratification of the classes. The stratification between classes is an incredibly important in China, as the government is largely based in the ideals of communism.

In the Chinese story, the members of this group are willing to give up their valiant goals aside when China itself is threatened. This adds another layer to the ideals of China. It is alright to fight the government during peacetime and when it is in the wrong, but if the entire nation is threatened, then it is important to put aside differences for the good of the nation and the people. This demonstrates some of China’s strong feelings of nationalism, and even some of its militaristic pursuits. Even the way the informant tells the story, describing the enemy as “people from other ethnicities” shows the “us vs. them” attitude of many Chinese people. Asian people in general differentiate themselves very clearly from one nation to another, sometimes even getting offended if someone thinks they are from a different country.This story supports that.

Why 108 members? It turns out that 108 is an important number for Buddhism and Hinduism, as that is the number of beads on a traditional mala, or prayer beads. In Hinduism, there is also the belief that there are 108 sacred sites in India and 108 sacred places of the body. Having 108 members of a group adds a sacred justification to their actions, which would allow them to be more accepted in their—generally illegal—actions.

Like many noble battles, many die in the end. If the members of this group had not died in the end, they would have continued to disrupt the government’s plans once the war was over and little would have changed. Because they died, especially because they died in support of the government, the final message is to support the government. They get to die a noble death instead of being executed. This story is definitely folklore, but it might as well be propaganda for the ideals it supports.

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