Jack in the Green by Charles de Lint
Maria Martinez works as a maid in an upscale gated community. One day while she’s cleaning an upstairs bedroom, she glances out the window and notices a gang burglarizing the house next door. One of the gang members is a girl who used to be her best friend and another is a cute red-headed green-hoodied boy who catches Maria’s eye. Maria doesn’t call the police. Why should she? It’s not her house, they’re not her neighbors, and therefore it’s not her business. Later, when she runs into the burglars at the skating rink, Maria meets them and gets seduced into their world. It turns out that the gang has an admirable agenda — they steal from the rich and give to the poor. And they’ve got some magical help.
I love the Robin Hood legends and I love what I’ve read by Charles de Lint, so I should have really loved the novella Jack in the Green, de Lint’s modern spin on the myth. Unfortunately, I didn’t. The crux of the problems is that in order to make the story fit into a modern setting, de Lint has to ignore some modern realities that, if present, would ruin the story.
Let’s start with the one of the most glaring problems (at least for me): the idea that CEOs and bank executives (the people who the gang selectively targets) are rich because they’re greedy and evil. What about models, basketball players, and movie stars? Why isn’t Robin Hood’s gang going after them? The Robin Hood of legend was righting wrongs by taking ill-gotten gains from oppressive feudal lords and giving it back to the people who those same lords were oppressing. To suggest that CEOs are more evil than other rich people seems purposely obtuse. This modern Robin Hood is not punishing cruel greedy people; he’s redistributing wealth and stealing from insurance companies.
I’m pretty sure de Lint realized this made no sense because one of the gang’s victims (I won’t say who, but it’s a tie-in with the popular Disney version of the legend) actually is oppressing people in the town and he (rather than an insurance company) is truly hurt financially by the gang’s theft. If the rest of the victims had been like that man instead of just random CEOs living in gated communities, I could have bought into this story.
You may have realized that Maria the maid must be Robin Hood’s “Maid Marion,” and indeed she is. I thought this was cute, but the romance would have worked better for me if it had been based on something more than looks and if I hadn’t thought that Maria was the most morally reprehensible person in the whole story. I didn’t like her because she didn’t report the burglary (she uncaringly decided that it wasn’t her problem) and then she lied to the police about it.
Obviously, this novella didn’t work for me, but I probably could have overlooked these plot problems if the story had had the type of beautiful prose, vivid imagery and nuance I was expecting from de Lint. I did appreciate the magic system, the way de Lint played with mythological archetypes, and the desire to address the problem of poverty and inequality, but unfortunately I thought the plot was obvious, heavy-handed, and nonsensical.
Subterranean Press’s version of Jack in the Green has a lovely cover and a few interior drawings by Charles Vess.
It’s always annoying when authors try too hard to preach.
I had hoped this was going to be like *The Cats of Tanglewood Forest* with lots of illustrations by Vess! And yes, please, go after a local fat-cat or a *particular* CEO if you are going to make this post-Occupy trope work.
DeLint is too good a writer to fall into the intellectual laziness of assuming we’ll all cheer just because the villains are “CEOs” as a category.
And Robin Hood and Jack in the Green are two different folkloric characters, aren’t they? Jack in the Green is more like Robin Goodfellow/Puck.
Now, Midsummer Night’s Dream… two nasty CEOs and their trophy spouses get lost in a woods, partners change, people transform … that might be fun!