The Sherwood Ring


Elizabeth Marie Pope




Date Reviewed:

April 16, 2022

he more I read The Sherwood Ring, the more it annoyed me. The plot is frustrating all the way through, but the ending is especially dismal. This is a children's book, and it was published in 1958, but no matter when it was written, there is little to recommend in it.

Peggy Grahame is informed by her dying father that he is sending her to America, where she will become a ward of his brother Enos. Enos lives in upstate New York in an old Revolutionary War era mansion that has the unlikely name of Rest-and-be-thankful. Peggy takes the train to the small town of New Jerusalem and disembarks. Since there is no one to meet her in the station, Peggy decides to walk the six miles to the estate - and this is the ONLY time in the novel where Peggy shows any initiative on her own, the rest of the novel our protagonist just sits around the mansion and mopes. Is that what proper young women were expected to do in 1958?

Marching through the woods, Peggy comes to a fork in the trail. She has no idea which way to turn to reach Rest-and-be-thankful. Suddenly a woman in 18th century dress appears on a horse - this is the ghost of Barbara Grahame, though Peggy does not realize that yet. The ghost is not translucent - Barbara appears as solid any living person. (I was troubled by several plot points here - the horse is also a ghost? Why does the ghost of Barbara Grahame appear so young, did she perish at a young age? Indeed, all of the ghosts who appear to Peggy in this story look like they are teenagers or in their early twenties. Did everyone die at an early age? The novel fails to explain the ghosts youthfulness. And isn't awfully creepy that all the ghosts of Rest-and-be-thankful can hear all of Peggy's thoughts? Peggy never gives a thought to this mind-reading ability, but I would have found that ghosts reading my mind to be quite unsettling!) Barbara directs Peggy on the proper route, and soon Peggy meets handsome young Pat Thorne, tinkering with his car. Pat offers to give Peggy a ride to Rest-and-be-thankful. But once the pair arrive at the mansion, Uncle Enos rudely demands that Pat immediately leave and never return. Such mysterious behavior by Uncle Enos - but I was more disturbed by the fact that Pat and Peggy are now fervently in love after spending an hour at most in each others company.

Uncle Enos has little patience for his new ward, and constantly orders Peggy away from his presence. Peggy is not to touch the precious papers in his library. So Peggy sits around and pines. While idling away the days, the ghost of dashing Richard Grahame appears and tells Peggy the tale of his attempt to capture the marauder Peaceable Sherwood. This is the only interesting part of the novel. Not all the colonists supported the revolution, about a third were loyal to the crown. General Washington has assigned Grahame to stop Sherwood's marauders - they are operating in upstate New York, which is Grahame's home territory. Indeed, Grahame can use Rest-and-be-thankful as his home base while searching for Sherwood. But returning to New York is not such welcome news for dashing Dick Grahame, because that is where Eleanor Shipley resides. Ever since childhood, Eleanor has used every opportunity to mock, insult, belittle and berate Colonel Grahame - her viciousness makes his life difficult. And sure enough, Eleanor is there waiting at the gate when Grahame and his men ride up - and she immediately taunts him in front of his men.

After a failed attempt to apprehend Peaceable Sherwood, Grahame wearily returns to Rest-and-be-thankful. In frustration, Grahame declares that he'll never catch Sherwood, the rogue is simply too clever. But suddenly Eleanor is berating Grahame for saying such a thing. "You stop!" she said, stomping her foot. "You stop talking about yourself that way! I won't have it! I won't have it, do you hear me?" Grahame is bewildered. After years of abuse, never missing an opportunity to put him down, why would Eleanor say something supportive? Eleanor that explains that she has been so mercilessly cruel to dashing Dick Grahame for all these years because she was trying to get him to notice her. Eleanor is madly love in Grahame, and her ceaselessly harsh tongue was her way of expressing her desire to have Grahame pay attention to her. (She doesn't apologize). Apparently that is good enough for dashing Dick Grahame, and now he is totally in love in Eleanor. I thought that was ridiculous.

Barbara Grahame is riding her horse on Christmas, when she gets trapped in a snowstorm. She is nearly frozen to death, but she is rescued by gallant Peaceable Sherwood. Upon regaining consciousness, Sherwood informs Barbara that he is in love with her (yes, this is the first time that they have met, apparently Peaceable was smitten by her frozen beauty) and he is going to marry her, and he always gets his way. The boor doesn't even go down on one knee and ask for her hand, he just informs Barbara that she is going to marry him. Naturally, this sets Barbara's heart all a flutter - the man who has tried to kill her brother, capture General Washington, and stymie the American Revolution can win her love by informing her that she must belong to him. Ugh.

At the end of the novel, Uncle Enos's guilty conscience is giving him a deadly fever. Uncle Enos mutters something about "Thorne" and "the papers". Peggy calls up Pat Thorne, and he comes racing over. Do they immediately look for these mysterious papers? No, instead Pat announces to Peggy that he has decided that he is going to marry her, and that she cannot refuse him because he always gets his way. Oh, and by the way, Thorne is an earl. (Of course he is! No one ever marries the yeoman or the son of a peasant farmer!) This is despite the fact that Pat and Peggy have spent a total of about 8 hours together. Thorne then solves the mystery of the hidden treasure room while Peggy dutifully admires him. What a ghastly romance.

It is books like this one that led to such an outcry that girls could have adventures too! It's not just boys who get to go on quests. In the last twenty years there has been an explosion of excellent novels featuring girls who are explorers, inventors, warriors, magic users - they go on their own journeys, and use their wits and show independent initiative. Much better than this novel, I recommend Ella Enchanted by Gail Levine, East by Edith Pattou, or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.