Richard Carpenter, creator of “Robin of Sherwood,” dies aged 78

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 3, 2012 — 10 Comments

On Sunday, February 26th, British screenwriter and author Richard ‘Kip’ Carpenter died at the age of 78 after suffering a heart attack. While Carpenter first came to popular acclaim in Britain thanks to his 1970 children’s show “Catweazle,” about a time-traveling 11th century sorcerer, for most people (particularly Pagans of a certain age) he’s known as the head writer and creator of “Robin of Sherwood.” That show, which ran on British television in the mid-1980s, and then later broadcast in America on Showtime and PBS, modernized the Robin Hood legend, adding new elements that would repeat in other adaptations. Most significantly, he threaded pagan survivals and sorcery throughout the story, making his Robin Hood the “Son of Herne,” the horned god of England.

Richard 'Kip' Carpenter

Richard 'Kip' Carpenter

“Robin Hood is one of the few perennial legends with no magic in it.  There is a fragment of a ballad called Robin Hood and the witch I believe – but tantalisingly breaks off after a stanza. The Middle Ages were extremely superstitious and much remained of the old pre-christian fertility and tree worship religions.  You must remember that the country was largely based on agriculture: and the crops and the turning year were extremely important to everyone.  Vestiges of this still remain throughout Europe.  Although the Mother Goddess was supreme – the male principle was considered equally important.  The question is whether Herne is a shaman or if he – like shamans do – ‘becomes’ the god at certain times after practising certain rituals.”Richard Carpenter

While many Pagans, including me, love the cult-classic movie “The Wicker Man” for its portrayal of a Pagan society, it was really “Robin of Sherwood” that truly featured Paganism as a positive, life-affirming, nature-based, spirituality. One that worked to preserve human freedom and dignity, and fight against tyranny in all its forms.

“Well, obviously, we couldn’t use Merlin, because Merlin was part of the King Arthur legends. I cast around for a suitable mythological figure that was Celtic and of the earth, and it seemed to me that the old pre-Christian horned god – ‘Cernunnos,’ the Romans called him, ‘Herne’ we call him – was the ideal figure. ‘Herne’ as a place name crops up all over England. It’s quite likely that in those days, he was very much revered as a spirit of the forest by local people because everybody always paid their dues to the Church and at the same time threw salt over their left shoulder and [did] all the superstitious things which actually date back to pre-Christian times. I wanted to show that the folk beliefs could go on alongside the existing religion.”Richard Carpenter

As a young Pagan, I was deeply impressed by seeing a couple of  “Robin of Sherwood” episodes at a science fiction convention many, many years ago. I remember it really giving me a visceral feeling that the religion I was just entering was something real, something worthy of my time and attention. It molded me in ways that I feel persist today. Since then I’ve met many modern Pagans who see the show as a touchstone, a special program that affirmed their view of the world, and helped bind groups of people together. So I’d like to thank Richard Carpenter for his contributions, however unwitting, to modern Paganism. May his spirit rest, and may his creative accomplishments endure.

For those who are curious, who want to see “Robin of Sherwood,” you can order it on DVD and Blu-Ray (you can also order only the Michael Praed episodes, for those who aren’t fans of Jason Connery).

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://www.walkofthefallen.com Labrys

    My children loved year one of this series. And possibly because of it, when I finally “came out” to them about my paganism, and asked them to consider pagan deities they might consider as family gods, Herne was one they all agreed upon!

  • http://moma-fauna.blogspot.com/ Moma Fauna

    How weird is that?!? I had been waxing nostalgic this week & put that series into my Netflix queue two days ago.
    Such a rich & moving series… I look forward to sharing it with my family.

  • http://dmiley.livejournal.com/ David M

    RoS was part of a great upwelling of pagan revival in England in the years 1983-1987. Brian Bates’ Way of the Wyrd came out in 1983. Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood arrived in 1984 although the seed novella was some years earlier. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids rebooted after a lull under Philip Carr-Gomm. RJ Stewart was teaching at Hawkwood College along with John Matthews (see intro to Stewart’s the UnderWorld Initiation).
    The tv series opened my eyes to a world I did not imagine was possible. I did not find a way to realize that until druidry came around for me, but when it did, I recognized the magic of RoS and Mythago Wood and did not look back. So, I owe Richard Carpenter my thanks also.

  • Anonymous

    Aw, that’s too bad. My husband and I spent the the days around this past winter solstice watching both seasons of Robin of Sherwood (both with and without Michael Praed). Loved the pagan influences, the music, the look, the whole feel of that show. It was brilliant. Very quirky and special.

  • Ladyquality

    I loved that show so much and I had such a crush on Michael Praed (seriously dishy!). Growing up in a Christian family it’s a miracle I was allowed to watch it. Robin’s meetings with the divine Herne felt slightly uncomfortable for me at the time, mainly because it was so deep in a non-Christian way. It paved the road to becoming the black sheep of the family I suppose! The atmosphere was so rich and mysterious, helped by Clannad’s gorgeous music of course. It has absolutely stayed with me. Thank you Richard Carpenter!

    • Liz Adams

      I had a crush on Michael Praed, too, and *loved* this show. I especially loved the vision of pagan belief and ritual and practice that was woven throughout – it felt right, and still does. What R says to Marian in the final episode still makes me get weepy :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/sunnab1 Sunna Blalock

    One of my favourite shows growing up and through the years. Herne greet you on the other side, Kip!

  • Anonymous

    heh. When that show came out, I ordered the first two seasons on VHS thru one of the NH PBS fund-raising drives. One of the things I got with it was a poster of Micheal Praed – which only came down from my room at my parents’ two weeks ago :D

  • Raksha

    Aw, this is sad news. RoS was such a wonderful show.

  • Mjones11201

    So sad to hear of his passing. But how wonderful to have created something that has been so important to so many people. Herne protect him.