Places: The Black Arrow

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1888

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: Fifteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Tunstall Forest

*Tunstall Black Arrow, TheForest. Hardwood forest dotted with knolls and hollows and crossed by numerous dirt trails that lies in Suffolk, though the county is never named in the novel. The forest was larger in the fifteenth century than it is today. Since at least the time of the Robin Hood legend, woods have often played a romantic role in English literature. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Tunstall Forest stands in for the Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood. The woods provide hideouts for the heroes, young Dick Shelton–the protagonist–and the honorable “outlaw” band known as the “Black Arrow.” It also serves occasionally as a source of threat when it cloaks potential ambushes.

Lawless’s den

Lawless’s den. Den excavated under a giant beech tree in the forest that is partially uprooted during a storm that is the hiding place of Dick Shelton’s accomplice Will Lawless. Although the cave has a hearth that gives it a homey feel, its roof is of roots, its walls of sod, and its floors of dirt.

Tunstall Moat House

Tunstall Moat House. Castle of Sir Daniel Brackley, Dick Shelton’s guardian and the story’s chief villain, located within the forest. This moss-covered fortress of the woods is complete with guard towers, a lily-strewn moat, a supposedly haunted room, and secret passageways that are both narrow and dank. It is heavily romanticized, even to the point of helping to reinforce what later become literary clichés about medieval castles.

St. Bride’s Cross

St. Bride’s Cross. Crossroad point within the forest where two major plot advancements occur. There, Dick Shelton meets Lord Foxham, who helps in his quest to marry Joanna Sedley, and Richard “Crookback,” who will one day be King Richard III of England. Shelton saves Crookback in a battle beneath the cross, then joins the future king to fight for the House of York against the House of Lancaster–Sir Daniel’s side–in the civil war.

Shoreby-on-the-Till

Shoreby-on-the-Till. Fictional small town on the river Till near where the river supposedly empties into the North Sea. Shoreby is the site of a battle between the forces of Lancaster and York. Its streets serve as battlefields, its taverns as command centers. After the battle, the town is sacked. The division of the town during the battle serves as a metaphor for the division of England during the Wars of the Roses, although it is unclear if Stevenson intended such a connection. The sack of Shoreby may well represent the devastation of England caused by the wars.

At the edge of Shoreby stands a beach house in which Joanna Sedley is held captive by Sir Daniel during portions of the narrative. This is actually a collection of buildings lying amid sand-hills and patches of grassy upland dotted with brush. A more important building in Shoreby is the abbey church where Dick is trapped after escaping from Sir Daniel’s house in town. The church itself is a holy place, but not all of its human representatives are holy. This contrast between the sacred and the corrupt may be a comment on the politicizing of religion, particularly during the Wars of the Roses.

*Tunstall Hamlet

*Tunstall Hamlet. Small village of scattered houses at the edge of Tunstall Forest. Stevenson describes it as lying within a green valley that rises from a river. There are farms on the outskirts of Tunstall Hamlet, including that of Nick Appleyard, an old soldier who is the first to die by the Black Arrow. Tunstall Hamlet was a real place but is heavily fictionalized by Stevenson; the name is still known to local inhabitants but is not officially recognized by the government.

River Till

River Till. Wide and sluggish stream whose many fens and marshy islets provide both atmosphere and a barrier to travel for the characters in the novel. (England has at least three rivers named Till, but none of them appears to be close enough to the real Tunstall Forest to be the river Stevenson uses in his story. However, a tributary of the River Tweed in Northumberland that is named Till matches the physical description of the River Till in The Black Arrow.)

BibliographyCalder, Jenni. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. A study of the works of Stevenson and the circumstances in his life that influenced his books. The emphasis is on the works, rather than on the author’s life. Includes analyses of many of Stevenson’s novels.Green, Martin. Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire. New York: Basic Books, 1979. A discussion of the genre of romantic adventure in English literature, particularly focusing on the nineteenth century. An excellent source for placing works such as The Black Arrow in their literary context.Kiely, Robert. Robert Louis Stevenson and the Fiction of Adventure. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964. A discussion of Stevenson’s adventure stories, their antecedents in English literature, and their effects on later works. Particular emphasis is placed on Treasure Island and The Black Arrow.McLynn, Frank J. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1993. A highly detailed biography of the author, covering his life from early childhood to his death in Samoa in 1894. Emphasizes the author’s extensive travels and their influence on his work.Pope-Hennessy, James. Robert Louis Stevenson. London: Jonathan Cape, 1974. A biography, including a detailed discussion of the times and places in which the works were written and the circumstances that inspired them. Includes many illustrations.
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