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Ivanhoe (Penguin Classics) Paperback – October 1, 2000
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About the Author
Walter Scott (1771-1832) was born and educated in Edinburgh. He published several volumes of poetry and turned down the offer of the laureateship before concentrating on fiction. He is credited with establishing the form of the historical novel.
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This is the third time I've read the book, and I've probably seen the film a dozen times, and never seem to tire of it. This time, however, has had a special reward: Instead of having to guess or refer to a dictionary to understand archaic words no longer used or whose meaning has changed over the centuries, reading it on a Kindle, with a readily available, built-in dictionary has made this a special treat. I recommend it without reservation.
Overall though, I give this book four stars because it is a good story. To read about the plight of specific downtrodden people in merry old England is a bit of an eye-opener. And to see that certain characters can set aside these prejudices and do "what's right" makes this a good story.
This isn't the Hollywood movie version, even though the movie does follow the story, that concentrates more on swordplay and knights in armor to stirring martial music. This is more subtle and deals more with people, personalities, and inner strength.
But here's why you might want to take an "I'll read fifty pages, and if I don't like it, won't read the rest" approach to the tale of Ivanhoe: it's an intelligent, rollicking, swash-buckling, humorous tale of beautiful damsels and men with sword arms like tree trunks, couched in semi-medieval language that is so lush that you'll find yourself going around for days afterwards talking like the yeoman of yore that lived with Robin of Locksley in Sherwood Forest. Get those fifty pages under your mental belt, and you won't put it down. Why? Because it has it all: magnificent battles, truly good guys fighting truly bad guys, corrupt priests and abbots, arrogant noblemen, estranged fathers and sons, Robin Hood, Richard the Lionhearted, Knights Templar, the evil King John and his nefarious henchmen. But wait! More: accusations of witchcraft, a Lazarus scene, mortal wounds, near mortal wounds, and hearts that break or burst from love and/or anguish. Ah, for a world when right makes might, instead of the 21st century might makes right. Oh for a century where bromances were based on shared adventure and combat rather than epic bouts of drinking or the mentality that the Jackass movies are based on.
Through all of the above, Sir Walter Scott's witty, careful, and exquisitely crafted sequences of dialogue give a glimpse of the beauty of human discourse (or, intercourse, as Scott refers to it) before we began to communicate in tweets, twitters, text messages, instant messages, and Facebook comments.
Ivanhoe, one should know, is barely about the character Ivanhoe. Though he is a fine young man of courage and honor, the plot swirls and thickens while Ivanhoe is largely indisposed for one reason or another. Although the book wouldn't have sold had it been named properly (it should have been called "Rebecca"), the reader will find the struggle between an ultravirile Knight Templar with dishonorable intentions and Rebecca, beautiful in mind, body, and soul more absorbing than Ivanhoe's own contribution to the plot.
So. Ivanhoe is an important novel, but beshrew that, kind sirs and ladies: read it and dream of castles that have pennants on the battlements, Dark Knights that save the day, the clash of swords, the shattering of lances, fire-breathing war horses, and excellent archers that can split a wand at a hundred yards. To heck with you, Rhett Butler and your Southern Belles: life for real men doesn't start until the clank of arrows bouncing off one's suit of armor in the full riot of battle reaches a crescendo, and Sheffield forged swords bounce off Spanish made suits of chainmail. Scarlett, step aside for Rebecca, the Jewish physician of legendary beauty, intelligence, and resolve that comes to Ivanhoe's aid. Sir Walter Scott knows how to create characters of heroic proportion, and the reader that takes the time to pick up Ivanhoe will reap the benefits of his ability to tell a tale for the ages.