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31st July 1998 at 01:00
If you have a long journey and some boys aged between eight and 16, buy Robin of Sherwood (Hodder Pounds 7.99) immediately.

This three-hour tape of one of our great national myths, adapted and read by Michael Morpurgo, frames the ancient stories of class violence and moral outrage with the dreams of a modern Robin. He is a 12-year-old who stumbles on a medieval skull and dagger and is transported to a world, where another 12-year-old sees his father snatched by the Sheriff of Nottingham's bullies for poaching deer.

Morpurgo writes with the sensibility of a children's author, who never loses sight of the child within the adults he describes. The episode of the kidnapping of Robin's own boy child is particularly poignant. He sketches in the history behind the Crusades and Richard I, but the main compelling focus is on life in Sherwood Forest.

Outlaws are defined not as a brawny bunch of rascals but as those cast out by the Sheriff for physical or mental "defects": the blind, the lame, those whose tongues were cut out for speaking defiance. Marian is an albino.

A huge moral charge is generated and, with not a word wasted, Morpurgo moves the story along at a cracking pace. Guaranteed even to transcend a traffic jam on the M1.

Victoria Neumark

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