But the folklore comes down to us in more concrete forms than the legendary Robin Hood, tights or no tights. When the English soccer players take to the field in the upcoming World Cup they will wear the same heraldry that Englishmen have worn into battle for 800 years, though the three lions will be emblazoned on their shirts rather than on their shields.
In his inimitably quizzical way, G.K.Chesterton [in The New Jerusalem, ch. X: 'The Endless Empire'], asks,
Why are there lions on the flag of England? There might as well be crocodiles, for all the apparent connection with England. Why was an English king described as having the heart of a lion, any more than of a tiger? ...Why did not the English princes find in the wild boars that were the object of their hunting the subject of their heraldry? ...Why did they not display three wolves on their shields?
Good questions! By Chesterton's day the newspapers were full of patriotic current affairs cartoons threatening the world with the wrath of the British Lion stamping his mark on the global conflicts, where today they might depict the American eagle. But at least there are eagles in America. In the days of King Richard, nobody would have seen a zoo, nor a TV documentary on African wildlife, nor even a dog-eared copy of National Geographic. Where did the image of a lion come from? As Chesterton puts is, it is as strange to speak of the wrath of the British lion as it is to speak of "the rage of the British rhinoceros"!
We don't know where the image that was portrayed on British heraldry came from, but we know where the idea must have come from. People who had never seen so much as a picture of a lion understood the imagery of the lion. And even though the illiterate nation had never read about lions in a Bible in their own language, their pagan culture had been washed and re-calibrated by the story of a King who was like a lion, the king who was the King of Kings, the king to whom other kings should look up and whose kingdom they should serve.
Our culture is being re-formed by the images we are constantly bombarded with in the liberal humanistic stories that define our heroes and values. We, like the ancient Britons, need to have our minds renewed by the Holy Spirit so that our thinking no longer conforms to the imagery (and idols created in those images) of this world. We need to be washed with the biblical story of reality that will open us up to ideas that are as foreign to us today as was a lion and a rhinoceros to King Richard I. Ideas that are so foreign and yet so gripping that we are moved to build our whole identity on them as soldiers in the culture wars of our day.