Ivanhoe Book Review
Ohhhhhh let me tell you about this book.
It has it all. Knights and fair maidens. Truth and deception. Betrayal and loyalty. True love and fateful lust. Jousting tournaments and an epic battle for a castle. Wounded warriors’ fevered brows being tenderly washed by the slender fingers of a beautiful Jewess.
Does it get any better?!
Of knights and fair maidens didn’t used to make my heart flutter. I think it could be a last ditch effort to cling to whatever remnants of childhood are left in my last days of being mortgage free. (more on that later). At any rate, Ivanhoe was exactly what the doctor ordered to get me back into reading. If you remember my last post about literature, I had given up reading a Grisham novel in favor of reveling in the word art of classical literature.
“At a little distance, on the right hand, a fountain of the purest water trickled out of the rock, and was received in a hollow stone, which labour had formed into a rustic basin. Escaping from thence, the stream murmured down th descent by a channel which its course had long worn, and so wandered through the little plain to lose itself in the neighbouring wood.”
They stopped writing like that after the early 1900’s. (except for Tolkien.) Sir Walter Scott’s writing is a lovely balance of lush description, but not excessive detail, like Mr. Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans in which every blade of grass and dejected shrub must be chronicled in exact terms and translated to your feeble brain to project as accurately as humanly possible. Scott has the ability to give unique character to ordinary objects with tasteful poignancy that doesn’t verge on verbosity.
“The guests were seated at a table which groaned under the quantity of good cheer.”
“My vengeance is awake, and she is a falcon that slumbers not til she has been gorged.”
My appetite for word-art satisfied, I quickly became intrigued with a fascinating plot that I had almost overlooked in my hunger for big words. The title, Ivanhoe, is really rather misleading because the book is more about King Richard the Lionhearted and a woman named Rebecca than it is about Wilfred of Ivanhoe. King Richard returns to England to reclaim his throne from his scoundrel brother Prince John and crosses paths with Ivanhoe, Robin Hood and his Merry Men (WHAT!? Robin Hood is in this book too?!?! Ohhh yes. Because a knight in shining armor fighting for his beloved Rowena and King Richard battling for his kingdom definitely does NOT meet the manly-man requirement for this book…) and a band a rogue knights with an evil scheme to carry off said maidens to marry them and/or make a small fortune in ransom money. Many adventures follow with a substantial amount of comic relief provided by the fool Wamba, Friar Tuck, and the never ending rivalry betwixt the Normans and the Saxons.
Ivanhoe also makes some deeper statements on the philosophies of the day, chiefly revolving around a particularly dark season for Christianity and the emptiness of false religion. Much of this is communicated through the thoughts of Rebecca, a Jew who is carried off by Brian du Bois-Guillbert, a knight who is enflamed with lust by Rebecca’s beauty. Rebecca is the champion of morality and steadfastness and it is through her captivity by the “Christian” knights that we truly see the hypocrisy that diseased the Church during the time of the Crusades. Scott also addresses fundamental issues of human nature in a manner reminiscent of a Shakespearian play. At times I was convinced Ivanhoe was a satire but then the veil of humor would drop and we could see the depth of the character’s flaws being handled with sobriety and a realism that made each of the many characters more human. Some of the more complex characters have moments of strength only to fall into sin in the next.
Cedric is blinded by his pride and is unwilling to mend his broken relationship with his son. Bois-Guillbert has been hurt in the past and has lost all compassion in his quest for fame. Ulrica is tormented by guilt from her past. Rebecca is torn between feelings for a man she can never have and doing what she knows is right. Each character reaps what he sows and the ending is classic poetic justice.
Between the beautiful syntax, plot twists, humor, action, and ample supply of chivalry at its finest, this book easily made it to my top ten list.
P.S. I am starting a campaign to get Peter Jackson to direct this as his next film and I already have to cast list picked out! Let me know if you are interested in getting on board :)