Your first book

Russell Crowe as Robin Hood
Russell Crowe as Robin Hood

Can you remember the first grown-up book you read? I went to see Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood the other day. I’d been waiting for the movie with an uncharacteristic and almost overwhelming sense of excitement that reminded me of Christmas Eve as a youngster. My sister and I would be packed off to bed early (diabolically early now I look back on it – no doubt providing my parents a heaven-sent opportunity for some well deserved R & R) to wait, trembling in anticipation, for Santa’s visit.

So why my eagerness over a story that’s been told and retold over the centuries to a point where nobody knows the facts anymore? Criticism has been levelled at Scott for mangling history. But, for goodness sake, Robin Hood is a rollicking yarn and always has been, so why let facts get in the way of a good story? And, as for Russell Crow’s Yorkshire/Geordie/Scottish/Irish accent, Robin must have had a lot of mates, and you know how hanging around folk can sometimes make you talk funny.

Howard Pyle's Robin Hood takes on Little John
Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood takes on Little John

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle was the first serious book I read as a child. I remember the tome felt enormous in my small hands. I think it took a year for me to read it, but perhaps I devoured it more than once in that time. I know that I referred to the illustrations countless times as I immersed myself in Sherwood Forest’s leaf-strewn adventures.

Arrows flew with unerring accuracy, covering vast tracts of forest, to shudder dramatically into just the right oak tree and there vibrate with twanging urgency. Fabulous. And what little boy couldn’t visualise Robin’s comically serious encounter with Little John, or shrug resignedly at the required elements of love brought to the story by the fair Lady Marian’s elegant boyishness?

This book must have helped form much of my future preferences for reading. I can still disappear for hours under the influence of an historical novel, as long as there’s a decent role model in it somewhere, someone – who cares whether they’re male or female? – with a major dollop of wickedness to blend with the do-good deeds will usually fit the bill.

He read scientific journals as a little boy.
He read scientific journals as a little boy.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to discover how much of our early exposure to the written word influences our future tastes? For example, do children who’ve been fed a few dry tomes gravitate down certain academic paths and then onto related careers? No doubt someone has a heap of data that could give us some invaluable insights into the correlation between what little minds sponge up and their chosen professions.

Now, sadly, I must put away my quiver, sheathe my broadsword, and leave off saving England and any spare fair maidens for another day. But, before you go, pop a comment. What was the first book that really turned you on?

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