Review: ‘Ivanhoe’, sir Walter Scott

IvanhoeIvanhoe by Walter Scott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ivanhoe is a classic. Yet, it is a classic of the early 19th century which is something we need to bear in mind while reading the novel. Undoubtedly, however, it is also one of the first books (in its many editions and re-translations) which got me into historical fiction and therefore I have some special history with it. Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I took it up again.

My present view, after finishing it, is that there is so much which Mr Scott did well but there is also a lot which was done in ways we would not approve of today. That the strong female character gets constantly ridiculed for her strengths is one such things, and the interminable tirade against Saxons another. Indeed, our understanding of the Saxon period has changed so much since ‘Ivanhoe’ was published that we would not consider saying half the things the author chastises (uncivilised, etc).

A lot of what Mr Scott did has become so commonplace that we don’t even think about it any more — such as the placement of Robin Hood into the end of the 12th century, and perhaps also the traditional characterisations of Richard, John and the Templars. I did not entirely enjoy the overt gravity given to the Templar plot (such as a non-historical grandmaster) with the ridiculous assertion that at a time like this in the Levant the Grand Master would be visiting random chapters in England.

Overall, while I would still recommend the book, I would also recommend that the modern reader take with a grain of salt what they see and read about and check some of the described details. It is also a time to re-interpret the female characters in a light where Rowena gets less of the glory, and to re-describe the constant religious conflicts that are described herein.

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