Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott


Historical Fiction

Ivanhoe IvanhoeSir Walter Scott; Dover Publications 2004WorldCat

The Normans have taken over England and have ruled for some decades. There are still Saxons, such as Cedric, who will not accept that they are beaten and the arrogant French now rule the country. There is still one descendant of the Saxon royalty alive, Athelstane of Coningsburgh. Cedric wants his ward, Rowena, to marry Athelstane and has promised the man her hand. Rowena had been raised to think for herself and is not willing. She instead wants to marry Cedric’s son, Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe left years earlier to join Richard the Lionhearted in the Crusades. Cedric now shuns his memory because Ivanhoe turned his back on the Saxons to join the Normans.

The Templar Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert stops at Cedric’s castle on his way to the grand tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Other, less important, wayfarers also spend the night on their way to the tournament. Athelstane is there. Rowena is at the dinner, but keeps herself veiled. Even the Templar has to admit she is one of the most beautiful maids he has seen. The next day each party leaves for the tournament.

Prince John and his retinue are at the tournament as well. He is the final judge of the games. He also is the land’s ruler while Richard the Lionhearted is imprisoned on the continent. He hopes his brother stays in jail so he can become the real king rather than the king-in-absence. The tournament is well attended by the people from the surrounding area, Saxon and Norman. Everyone knows Bois-Guilbert will be the victor at the jousting, Another favored is the ruthless Sir Reginald Front-de-Boeuf.

But two anonymous knights and one unknown archer take the tournament prizes. Rowena is given the title Queen of Love and Beauty for the tournament rather than one of many of Prince John’s beautiful Norman attendants. Then Prince John hears the rumor that Richard has escaped and is on his way back to England. The tournament is cut short so they can withdraw to York to plot against Richard.

But a few of the Norman knights have other plans to carry out before they join Prince John. There’s a wealthy Jew to rob, a couple of women to kidnap and woo, and some woodland robbers to vanquish. It should be no time at all before they’ve finished and headed to York…

Ah, this is a book of chivalry and bravery and derring-do and heraldry and true hearts. Good overcomes evil and the heroes save the day – and the women, and even the loathsome Jew. It’s close, though. The reader meets characters from English folklore and has a grand time doing so.

The modern reader will have some trouble with Ivanhoe. Sir Walter Scott wrote this book almost 200 years ago. He then used King James’ English for the characters’ conversations. It often sounds like Shakespeare when they are speaking. Many of the scenes are long and full of detail, especially early in the book. (Did Scott get paid by the word like Dickens and Dumas did?) Most of the characters are larger than life – but some are dead on. I especially like Gurth the swineherd and Wamba, the jester, the first two characters we meet. Wamba fills his role as comic relief throughout the book, even at his finest, most heroic hour. Gurth is true blue, even when he defies his master Cedric.

Ivanhoe is not a quick, easy read, but it is a fun, heroic read. Sir Walter Scott gave us heroes to worship and yet are still human. While most of the heroes live happily ever after, reality is not ignored in the end. Not everyone gets the prize desired. The book ends with a promise of a bright future – until the next upheaval, of course.

Notice:  Graphic violence, suggestive dialogue or situations

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