Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Ivanhoe was written by Sir Walter Scott in 1819. It is set in 12th century England when king Richard was returning from the crusades and prince John was attempting to usurp his throne. Ivanhoe is perhaps the best knight that served under Richard in their attempts to win back the Promised Land.

I almost didn't make it through this one. Scott opens every scene with a superfluity of detail near excessive enough to thwart even my most valiant attempts to endure this work. Couple that with his propensity towards arduous language (words like superfluity) and the fight was near to great for this brave knight. But hail, the foe is vanquished. If in patience you attend to my discourse I will distribute the spoils forthwith.

Ivanhoe is historical fiction. Scott shows his mastery of the time through his knowledge of people, places, customs, prejudices, clothes and even language. If his descriptive language was not difficult enough, all the dialog in the book is written in old English, complete with thees, thous, and thuss, that took quite an adjustment on my part.

By chapter 4 I nearly gave up. Until this point the story was boring, I had no sense where it was headed, and the title character had yet to be introduced. Today they tell you stories should start off with a bang. A conversation between a swine herder and a jester with no context besides the excessive detail about their clothes and personal affects was hardly the bang I was looking for. I don't say this to dissuade you from this book, but to prepare the reader for a difficult beginning.

By the time I came to terms with his writing and dialog the story picked up. Ivanhoe is story about knights and damsels in distress, concealed identities, battles, and a nation ill at ease with its own identity. It has the tenor of a fantasy novel without all the magic and dwarfs and hobbits. Notwithstanding, its characters are exceptional; from the bowman Locksley who can hit a switch from 100 paces to the mysterious Black Knight whose power in battle is beyond renown. Scott's interweaving of history with the legends of the time is masterful and well worth it.

Occasionally a book has a scene that fully exploits and demonstrates the power of the written word over other media. I recall one such scene in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities where a fight broke out between two woman that was so masterfully portrayed it could not be done justice in film. This book, too, had one such moment; in this case between a Jewish girl and a Templar knight. In his attempt to rape her she threatens to cast herself from the castle wall. She then expounds on the true meaning of virtue. The knight cannot help but change in her presence. To say more would spoil the work, but rarely is virtue so eloquently described while showing its insurmountable power against those who are without. There is mighty strength in purity and honest virtue, strength we often forget in our attempts to justify ourselves against a licentious world. Scott understood this power well and nobly embodied it in the form of the weak Jewish beauty who conquered the passions of the Templar knight.

Highly recommended for the stout of heart.

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  • Amira

    That is now the second time in a month I have heard a variation on ” there is power in purity”. The last time was with regard to dress, or lack of rather. A sea change back to more power and purity would be real welcome.