September 2, 2007 22 Comments
Last night we watched the first episode of the BBC’s new Robin Hood. Don’t bother.
Robin tells a very young Will Scarlet that the Saracen bow is curved the way it is to put more power into a smaller weapon.
I have no problem with folklore revisionism; updating the story to fit current concerns is an ancient and well-established part of folklore itself. I like the idea of Loxley returning from the Crusades with a distaste for bloodshed and respect for the Saracens — or at least for their technology.
But is this curvy bow a realistic weapon to put in the hands of a medieval English hero?
I love the web. The answer I found is so much more interesting than I had expected:
The composite bow that Robin uses in the TV show requires the use of very strong glues. The strongest glues at that time were made from collagen which is a main protein of connective tissue in animals. The collagen in our own skin, for example, helps bind it and keep it supple. If you boil up animal hide, sinew or parts of certain fish you can scoop of the collagen and get different types of hide glue, sinew glue and fish glue respectively. Although as strong as modern synthetic glues the biggest weakness for this type of glue is that it takes a long time to dry because any moisture in the glue will break down the bonds that hold it. And worse, once dry, if it gets wet the glue will begin to dissolve again. This is why composite bows were common in warm, dry climates but weren’t used in wetter climates, like England. So no, if Robin Hood were real he wouldn’t have used a composite “Saracen” bow. Or at least not for very long.