Honour Among Thieves

French Netflix poster of season 3 of the Lupin tv show
image via Variety

On October 5th, part three of the acclaimed Lupin series will finally air on Netflix. One of my favourite shows, Lupin is an adaptation of Arsène Lupin by Maurice Leblanc, a classic French story about a world-famous gentleman thief and master of disguise. (Heads up: the show is also in French, but since I’m pro-subtitles even for my native English, I don’t mind this.)

Lupin had me thinking about the allure of gentlemen thieves—criminals with hearts (and motives!) of gold—and I thought it’d be fun to feature media of similar noble crooks.

But first, let’s define the term. According to TV Tropes, a gentleman thief has “…roguish good looks coupled with a breeding and style that manifests as a suave and debonair manner. He’s usually a charmer, too—think James Bond without the government authorization. He steals for the challenge/pleasure of the job and generally avoids violence while restricting his targets to those who can afford the loss.”

While gentlemen thieves are usually male, that’s not always the case. No doubt, several examples of such thieves have jumped to mind, but first, let’s start with some real life representatives of this trope!

Cover of Skyjack: the Hunt for D. B. Cooper by Geoffery Gray

D. B. Cooper is our first real life gentleman thief. Cooper is renowned for stealing $200,000 from an airline very politely, and then parachuting away and disappearing completely. While he didn’t steal the money for any noble reason (so far as anyone can tell) he did behave with remarkable civility the entire time. You know, besides threatening everyone with a bomb.

Read more about this remarkable man in Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper. With explosive new information and exclusive access to FBI files and forensic evidence, Skyjack reopens one of the great cold cases of the 20th century.

Picture of Vincenzo Pipino
image via Vocal Media

Next on our list is Vincenzo Pipino. Also known as ‘Encio’, Pipino was the first person to succeed in stealing from the Doge’s Palace, and has stolen from museums, galleries, banks, private residences, jewelry shops, and more. He’s also escaped from prison, published two memoirs, and believes he’s destined to die incarcerated.

True to form, he would always aim to steal from the rich and give—or at least, not inconvenience—the poor, earning him the nickname of ‘Venice’s Robin Hood’. (Unfortunately, VPL has nothing about him in the catalogue; feel free to request the purchase of a book about or by him!)

Cover of Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography by Stephen Knight

On to fictional media! The most famous gentleman thief of all, who’s already been mentioned and could be considered the origin of the trope is, of course, Robin Hood. We have so much media about or featuring him, but I’ll showcase two in particular.

The first is Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography by Stephen Knight. The only figure in the Dictionary of National Biography who is said never to have existed, Robin Hood has taken on an air of reality few historical figures achieve. His image in various guises has been put to use as a subject of ballads, nationalist rallying point, Disney cartoon fox, greenclad figure of farce, tabloid fodder, and template for petty criminals and progressive political candidates alike. In this engaging and deeply informed book, Stephen Knight looks at the different manifestations of Robin Hood at different times and places in a mythic biography with a thematic structure.

Cover of Travellers Along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi

The second book I want to feature is actually a remix of the popular legend. In Travellers Along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi, Rahma al-Hud, having joined older sister Zeena in fighting the war for the Holy Land, now wants nothing more than to return home safely. Headstrong Zeena, however, is determined to travel to Jerusalem and defend it from “False Queen Isabella.” The two embark on a daring trek through the Holy Land, in the process adding a host of characters to their retinue.

First comes Teni, a serene warrior clan mate of Genghis Khan; Jewish Andalusian scientist Viva; Majid, a charming childhood friend of Rahma’s with ulterior motives; and John, a reserved English chaplain. The crew’s modest ambitions soon explode into the greatest of responsibilities: attempting to defeat the ruthless queen and bring peace to the war-torn realm.

Cover of The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

You can probably guess from the title, but The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke features a gentleman thief as well. (…Gentle-boy thief?) Two orphaned children are on the run, hiding among the crumbling canals and misty alleyways of the city of Venice. (What is it about Venice and thieves?)

Befriended by a gang of street children and their mysterious leader, the Thief Lord, they shelter in an old, disused cinema. On their trail is a bungling detective, obsessed with disguises and the health of his pet tortoises. But a greater threat to the boys’ new-found freedom is something from a forgotten past—a beautiful magical treasure with the power to spin time itself.

Cover of Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Now Artemis Fowl, of the titular series by Eoin Colfer, is definitely a thief, but only a ‘gentleman’ (er, boy, since he’s twelve when the series starts) in the sense that he’s wealthy and comes from the upper class. In truth, he’s a pretty awful person even as he’s very particular about speaking and dressing like an adult.

The series is, amongst the hijinks and heists committed by this child prodigy, really about Artemis learning to develop a sense of empathy and selflessness that he completely lacks. I love this whacky series, though the film adaptation was awful and I discourage anyone from seeing it.

Cover of Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce.

Speaking of favourite book series, I have to mention the Tortall universe by Tamora Pierce, which is all about lady knights, magic, and—of course—thieves. The Song of the Lioness quartet in particular features a side-character and eventual love interest in gentleman thief George Cooper, aka the King of Thieves.

(If you like sprawling adventure epics with multiple spinoffs and strong, multidimensional characters, the Tortall universe is for you.)

Alrighty, onto digital media, and then this rather long post can be wrapped up.

Poster of the Ocean's Eleven movie
image via IMDB

First is the beloved (to me) Ocean’s Trilogy. In Ocean’s Eleven, Master thief Danny Ocean, just out of prison, plans an elaborate Las Vegas three-casino-heist to win back his ex-wife, Tess. To that end, he recruits ten other thieves and con-men to pull off the complex job, in hopes of stealing $160 million. See more heists in Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen (the latter which, I admit, is the weakest of the bunch).

Poster for Ocean's 8 movie

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ocean’s 8, an excellent spinoff featuring Danny Ocean’s sister, Debbie. Both siblings are thieves and the children of incredible thieves, delightfully charming, and value a certain level of class even as they commit their crimes, which are always done with the aim of correcting a wrong…

Even if they won’t turn down the profit that comes with it.

Poster for Season 1 of Leverage

In terms of TV shows featuring good-hearted thieves and all sorts of heists, Leverage is criminally underrated (pun fully intended).

A well-constructed five season show, Leverage begins with former insurance investigator Nate Ford and his band of cohorts, who act as modern-day Robin Hoods, pulling elaborate scams targeted against the greedy and the corrupt. Nate was inspired to begin his con business when his former employer refused to pay for treatment that could have saved his son’s life.

Poster of Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves

And finally, we come to the latest Dungeon & Dragons movie which gave this post its name. Honour Among Thieves is about a charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers who embark on an epic quest to retrieve a long lost relic, but their adventure goes dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people.

Poster of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl movie

I’ll close this post with some honourable mentions of thieves who’ve stolen my heart, among other things.

In no particular order, you have world famous thief Carmen Sandiego, Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean, Flynn Rider (aka Eugene Fitzherbert) of Tangled, would-be supervillain Megamind, accidental father-figure Gru of Despicable Me, the masked hero-bandit Zorro, and Hercule Flambeau, the master thief who repeatedly steals his way into the Father Brown TV series and short stories.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Do check out Lupin, if you have a chance, before the new season airs!

About Sumayyah

Sumayyah is an Information Assistant at the Vaughan Public Libraries. She's also a bookworm and author, constantly dreaming up a multitude of different stories and wrestling with finishing them.  |  Meet the team