The Outlaw in every Writer

I have just been reading about outlaws and how we oscillate between admiring them and fearing or pitying them.  Before the Norman conquest Outlaws were sad, lonely souls lost like wild beasts in the dark woods outside of a society where everyone was tightly linked to their neighbours by bonds of obligation and loyalty.

The age of Robin Hood and the superstar Outlaws came later. These bands of thieves and murderers were simultaneously feared for their violence and admired for their resistance against greedy Lords and unjust laws.  We still have that double vision.  Outlawry is an irregular verb.  I am fighting tyranny , you are terrorists and they are the Taliban.

Outlaws, mediaeval or contemporary, fight for a world in which they are the new Lord of the Manor and they can put the world to rights. In every outlaw there is a man or woman who both struggles to be the government at the same time as using the freedom from responsibility of life outside the law.

I think there is a little bit of this tension in every writer’s mind.  We want to be outsiders because then we have the freedom to criticize and carp and fantasize about how much better it could be.  At the same time we desperately want to be in the centre of things, in the know and with the sales and power over other writers that goes with it. We say that power is so corrupt but we really want to taste it all the same. There is a little bit of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham in all of us.

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One Response to The Outlaw in every Writer

  1. Andy Polaine says:

    It’s the usual story that, “the world would be a better place if everyone did it my way,” isn’t it? I think we admire outlaws when it seems like they have a just cause that aligns with ours, but don’t when it seems like they’re riding roughshod over everyone else’s rights and laws (these days we call them terrorists).

    What I always find astonishing, particularly in film, is the way we accept “natural justice” in fiction. The baddy gets bumped off without trial, without always much proof and the person doing the deed walks away from it without any remorse or follow-up whatsoever. It shows the power of a good story and character development when we accept it so easily I think.

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