Monday, January 30, 2012

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Genre: historical fiction

Well. I finished it. If you haven't attempted reading this book, then you may not appreciate what an accomplishment this is.

Imagine the world of knights and maidens, Robin Hood and the bratty Prince John, an England that is not yet the unified blend of Norman and Saxon that it is today. A contentious time, where allegiances guide lives, battles and the tide of a country. As much as this book is a story, it also plays at being a sort of history of the period.

Ivanhoe is a disinherited son, a distinguished soldier and an honorable friend to King Richard. He loves the beautiful Saxon Rowena, whom he is unable to wed. There are all kinds of villains, jousting (of course), a fierce and bloody battle, woodland warriors, as well as all kinds of wicked church-men. Either you are for the defeated Saxons, you fear John enough to support him or you are holding out for King Richard. Whichever you choose, you'd better be ready to die for that loyalty or be ready to get out of the country quick.

Really, only about three major interesting things happen, unfortunately. And even those things are so drawn-out and so heavily-laden with bigotry, anti-semitism and just plain egocentrism that sometimes it was all I could do to keep reading. I get that Scott was trying to be true to the time period, but caricature without depth is just annoying to read. On the other hand, though, the Jewess Rebecca is a very interesting and sympathetic character. Her beauty and conviction just weren't enough to carry all the boring parts. Also, Scott just tended to use twenty words when five would have sufficed and when you have to read that for 400+ pages, it gets exhausting.

I just didn't appreciate it. Maybe if I hadn't already read and absolutely loved The Once and Future King, I might have appreciated it more. I can absolutely tell TOaFK looks to Ivanhoe as its forefather - I thought of it often, especially with both novels' present-and-commenting-narrator style (which I like). I DID like that in Ivanhoe I found so much familiar lore - this book and its portrayal of that period of time is truly something that's become a part of our English culture's fabric, and that's SOMETHING.  However, If you have to pick one of these really long medieval books to read, I personally would recommend The Once and Future King instead.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to


Tricia said...

Good on you for sticking with it though!

Melissa said...

Sometimes, finishing it is all you can do. :-D

Someone commented on my post that if you didn't read, and love, Ivanhoe by the time you were 13, then you never would. That sounds like a credible excuse to me.

Cozy in Texas said...

I have never attempted this - quite an achievement I would say.

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