Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott: a Review

I chose to read this book for my 2016 Reading Challenge as one I’d previously abandoned. When I came to this category in the challenge, I was hard pressed to come up with something that qualified. I can recall only one time that I actually gave up on a book without finishing it, and that was so long ago I can recall neither the name of the author nor the title of the book. I’m not even sure what sort of book it was.

Ivanhoe, however, I gave up on before I ever began reading it in the first place. Back when I was in high school, I tried to earn a little extra credit in my English class. I was going to read Ivanhoe and write a paper on it. I never did. So, as the closest thing to an abandoned book that I could come up with, Ivanhoe made it onto my challenge list.

Published in 1820, the style of Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, is clearly not modern. Getting started on this book was difficult to say the least. Particularly beginning with the Introduction and the Dedicatory Epistle in which Scott laboriously declares his qualifications to write this book. Unless you’re into the historical or cultural study of the author and his works, I suggest skipping those parts.

Though it was difficult getting started, the story does eventually pick up. It is the story of King Richard, the Lion-Hearted, Robin Hood and his merry band and all the chivalrous, knighthood culture of twelfth century England. Lots of jousting, beautiful maidens, kidnapping, love, greed and religious angst.

Scott wrote from an omniscient point of view, a technique not often used any more, but popular in his time. Within this framework, Scott takes something of a god-like perspective over the story and characters. He frequently takes liberties with the time line, shifting backward and forward through time in order to catch up characters with the rest of the story. This is at times distracting, as is the author’s frequent intrusions into the narrative to directly address the reader. Scott takes great pride in his historical research and often inserts far more detail than is perhaps necessary to advance the story. And then deliberately draws the reader’s attention to those details.

The story finishes with a tidy closing of the circle first opened at the beginning of the book. The title character Ivanhoe finishes in a jousting duel with another knight who at the beginning arrogantly challenges Ivanhoe. The duel itself, however, is a bit disappointingly understated, ending in something of a “deus ex machina” sort of device.

According to britanica.com, Sir Walter Scott “is often considered both the inventor and the greatest practitioner of the historical novel.” He wrote many such novels, most exploring the history of his native Scotland. He was also a poet, historian and biographer. Ivanhoe remains Scott’s most popular book.

Overall, I found the book interesting. Will I read more of his work? Probably not. But I’m glad I took the time to read this one.

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One thought on “Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott: a Review

  1. Pingback: 2016 Reading Challenge – TAwrites

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