Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ivanhoe by Walter Scott - Boom Review #55

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
by Walter Scott

Set in the twelfth century, during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, Ivanhoe tells of the love of Wilfred of Ivanhoe for the Lady Rowena, his father Cedric's ward. Cedric, who is dedicated to the liberation of the Saxon people from Norman oppression and to the revival of the Saxon royal line, intends Rowena - a descendant of King Alfred - for the oafish Athelstane, and he banishes his son. Ivanhoe joins King Richard on his crusade in the Holy Land, and eventually the two men return secretly to England - Ivanhoe to regain his inheritance and the land of Rowena, Richard to secure his kingdom from his scheming brother John who has ruled in Richard's absence.

Walter Scott was a father of historical fiction. He also "had first turned men's minds in the direction of the middle ages," as per John Henry Newman. No one else before Scott described in such details and fictionalized medieval England. Most of the things that we know, read in the books, see in the movies about England of that era was inspired by Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. And that is definitely more than achievement and for that I’m eternally grateful to the Scott’s talent, dedication and creativity.

However, let me tell you, it is a heavy burden to read Ivanhoe with all the knowledge nowadays person have about medieval England and the irony is – if it wouldn’t be for Ivanhoe, maybe our impression about that historical time period would be different or we wouldn’t have known as many detail as we do now. So at times I found myself completely bored with insanely detailed descriptions in Ivanhoe, especially at the beginning of the book, first hundred pages were a drag. I was seriously thinking about abandoning Ivanhoe.

The thing that made me laugh was how self-involved most of the characters are in this book. How father didn’t recognize his son, how woman didn’t recognize love of her life, how when five people stand in one room talking and two suddenly leave, the remaining three didn’t notice that until much later. I think Walter Scott considered his readers to be not smart people at all, because after giving so many, so obvious clues about who was who he still drags that “mystery” for two hundred more pages and after that revealing it the way that it sounds like it should be a complete surprise for a reader. It is a definite surprise for all other characters, which brings me back to the complete self- involvement or stupidity of these characters.

Sometimes Ivanhoe was reading like some play with really bad actors that are so stiff and nervous that the only thing they can do is pronounce their lines like robots with unrealistic intonations and feelings.

To tell you the truth I didn’t much like Ivanhoe as a character. I used to love him when I was a child. He was a gallant knight – a dream come true. However, this time I was rereading the book, I liked the villain Brian du Bois-Guillbert much more. He might have been evil, but at least he was an open minded, unlike every other character in this book. He, a Templar, was willing to sacrifice everything for Rebecca, a Jewish girl. And who was Ivanhoe – a loyal and gallant, but completely close minded man, who was out of the picture during the most part of the story. Somehow from my childhood I didn’t remember that Ivanhoe was wounded for the most of the book, which made me wonder now why Scott called his book – Ivanhoe, because even Robin Hood played a larger role in the story.

In conclusion I have to say is that I have a very mixed feelings about Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe – I hated some parts of the book so much that I didn’t ever want to lay my eyes on it again and I loved other parts so much that I didn’t want this book to end.


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