In 1937 Walt considered doing an animated version of Reynard the Fox based on English and French folk tales. This seed of an idea remained in the story department until seven years after his death in 1966 it germinated and became the 1973 cartoon Robin Hood. Along with its many shortcomings and faults it shares the essential Friar Tuck mistake of Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).
And the mistake, historical in nature, is this: Each of the two storylines accepts Robin Hood as the Saxon outlaw fighting for Richard the Lionheart’s return to the throne of England. That occurred in 1189. There were no friars in England at that time. Most of the mendicant orders originated in the next century.
The mistake’s origin lies in Robin Hood’s evolution. In the first written mention of the legend, Ballard of Robin Hood and the Monk, from about 1450, there is no mention of Richard I, just the sheriff and an unidentified king. In this telling Robin wants to attend mass to worship the Virgin Mary and his Merry Men kill the monk who Robin had robbed. Friar Tuck, thankfully, isn’t party to the murder because he isn’t in the ballad. But his character did exist before this ballad was composed.
In medieval May Day festivities something called Robin Hood games were played. In these Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and a “jolly friar” were the roles for the players. The “jolly monk” has to be the origin of Friar Tuck. This establishes Friar Tuck’s primogeniture over Richard I who doesn’t appear in the legend until the 1500’s in a playwriter’s version of Robin Hood. By then Friar Tuck had become too entwined into the Merry Men to be excised in favor of… what?
Certainly not a monk, of which there were plenty of in Merry Old England before Henry VIII turned them out. And certainly not a priest, because by the time of the Richard I addition (probably in the 18th and 19th century retellings) most of England attended Protestant churches. Anyway, Friars make much better color-characters than monks who tend to stagnate a story by being, well, monkish and living cloistered lives, and priests who tend to be Roman Catholic.
Friars, for some odd reason, aren’t perceived by the public as being much attached to the Catholic church. Real friars – the Dominicans, for instance – are tasked with going out into the community to spread the Gospel (start preaching Friar Tuck you lazy hedonist). Some experience the world outside of church vows (sometimes too much as done by Van Helsing’s horny Friar Carl). Not sure why Friar Laurence of Romero and Juliet was handing out sleeping potions. Maybe Shakespeare really believed Catholic friars to be well meaning bunglers who dabbled in the dark arts.
So, yeah, for some writers, friars are handy story elements. The friar characters just tend to lose their religion somewhere along the storyline. Hopefully mine won’t. In the to-be-written Book of Tobit of 1871 California, the archangel Raphael appears on earth as Friar Raphael. Thus disguised he adventures with Tobit’s son, helping him in non-miraculous ways. We’ll see how that turns out. However, I guarantee you he will not be gluttonous, he will not be adulterous, and he will not be dealing in drugs.
Digression One: Maybe it’s impossible to guess what were the bard’s real feelings about Catholics, but it should be pointed out that that his benefactor, the person who could make or break his career or his bones, was Elizabeth I, the queen who outlawed Catholics in her kingdom and executed a few to her make her point.
Digression Two (or rather a return to Disney’s Robin Hood): I’m not a fan of this cartoon movie. To start with, unlike Walt’s classics (Snow White, Fantasia, Lady and the Tramp, etc.) it’s cartoonish. It’s slapstick in a cartoonish way. It’s not an advancement in animation. It’s not even an advancement of the most slapstick goofy cartoon.
And another thing: What’s with the cowboy accents of Sheriff John and his men? Walt’s prior productions always used English accents where they belonged (Alice in Wonderland, 101 Dalmatians, especially Basil Rathbone in Toad of Toad Hall, and others). Walt had never said anything negative about British accents. In fact, his ideal modern girl, Hayley Mills, never lost her accent working for him (well, yeah, she kind of did part of the time in The Parent Trap).