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VINE VOICEon 20 December 2003
Being a mediaevalist by trade I expected "Ivanhoe" to press all the wrong buttons - ludicrous inaccuracies, two-dimensional stock characters and a Disney-esque storyline. So I was pleasantly suprised when I found myself physically incapable of putting it down.
This sudden love affair with "Ivanhoe" (and, as a result, all Walter Scott) is even more surprising given the fact that it is indeed inaccurate, somewhat two-dimensional and very predictable. Yet, it is partly these "faults" that inspired me to enjoy it so much. "Ivanhoe" embodies every child's ideas about the Middle Ages, most of which have now been destroyed, or at least suppressed, by long years of studying it. It is impossible to resist the inherent charm invested in such veritable floods of buckling swash - knights, tournaments, ladies, dark forests, honest outlaws, sieges, hermits, swine-herders, jesters, evil Kings and crusades.
The story arc is incredibly simple: Ivanhoe, banished by his father, Cedric, for falling in love with Cedric's ward Rowena, wins the patronage and friendship of Richard the Lion-Heart on Crusade in the Holy Land. On his return to England, eager to reclaim both his birthright and his fair lady, he is drawn into the struggle between honourable ole' Richard I and his scheming, moustache-twiddling brother John (*boo!*). Then follows tournaments, sieges, intrigues, kidnaps, a mysterious Black Knight in disgiuse, an alliance with Robin Hood (and his merry men, of course), a witch trial and some evil villains (all moustache-twiddling). Add to this a not-so-ascetic hermit with an incredible appetite for pies, a beautiful and sincere Jewess, Rebecca, her rich father Issac and a bundle of memorable Saxon "yeoman" and the stage is set.
Scott eagerly caricatures the mediaeval period, with a self-reflexive understanding of his sources and historical reality. The framing "Dedicatory Epistle" to one Dr. Dry-as-dust alerts the reader to his purpose, which is not to relate historical fact but to create historical myth. This he does with a good helping of satircal humour and deprecation, evoking a parody of both of the mediaeval period and the Romantic period.
Yet, the parody is sincere. Scott understands the main attractions of mediaeval life and yokes them to his purpose, writing a romance which is both exciting and self-critical. Every character and actions is memorable in its ability to overwrite, and reinvoke, ideals already blooming in our minds.
When Scott's London publisher first received the proofs for the first Volume of the novel, he apparently took them to read on his journey from Edinburgh to York. He wrote to his Scottish associate the next day exlaiming: "I read it so anxiously that I did not take any exercise or physical relief at the stages. It is a most extroadinary book." I cannot recommend it higher than that.
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on 1 August 2011
A REVIEW OF `IVANHOE' BY SIR WALTER SCOTT

Ivanhoe (1819) is a heavyweight among `the classics'. It tells the story of an England disunited during the reign of King Richard I (1189-1199). The schism is not only between the feuding Plantagenet brothers, John and Richard, but also between Saxon and Norman. There is further religious tension between Christian and Jew. Thus, Scott unveils a backdrop of disarray and uncertainty for his unfolding narrative. It is the Norman vs. Saxon tension which is perhaps most interesting, as the French rulers are still viewed as occupying invaders by the `true' Saxon Englishmen, a perspective captured most forcibly in the proud form of Cedric, Ivanhoe's father.

On one level, `Ivanhoe' is the archetypal medieval romp. All of the key ingredients for a Middle Ages epic are here: feuding families, knights, jousting, sword-fights, castles, sieges, daring escapes, damsels in distress, thrown gauntlets, to name but a few. However, `Ivanhoe' is far more than a period drama tick list. As well as action, it offers complex characterisation and plenty of food for thought about what was paradoxically a `more civilised' yet (in many ways) truly barbaric era. As well as the big issues, Scott offers some clever stylistic touches. For example, a series of chapters which tell the parallel events of a number of characters separately held in captivity all end with the same bugle call, bringing us back to same moment in time.

However, the ambition of `Ivanhoe' is arguably also a source of its limitations in truly engaging the reader. Although the novel's title is simply one man's name, `Ivanhoe' provides three distinct heroes, with Richard The Lionheart and Locksley* (ie. Robin Hood) making up the numbers. Whilst this adds variety to the settings and the direction of the narrative, it does rather dilute the reader's emotional involvement. Taking Ivanhoe himself, he does rather drift in and out of the unfolding story, albeit having a profound impact when present. Similarly, Locksley and his entourage (including Friar Tuck and Allan-a-Dale) seem to be crying out for an adventure that is truly their own. It is for this reason that I found Henry Gilbert's `Robin Hood' and more engaging and satisfying read than the more worthy and revered `Ivanhoe'.

Nevertheless, for its scale, ambition and scope, `Ivanhoe' more than merits its status as a book of high literary value. It numerous big-screen and small-screen reinventions stand testimony to its ability to continue to appeal to an audience keen to lose itself in a more chivalrous age, but still enjoy the modern comforts of the remote control. After all, it's so much easier to handle than a jousting pole.

Barty's Score: 8/10

* Scott has been credited with having effectively `named' the esteemed outlaw, who has been dubbed `Robin of Locksley' in countless retellings since 1819.
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on 16 June 2008
Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, is set in England during the reign of King Richard , who is away on the Crusades to the Holy Land , leaving the administration of the country to his scheming brother , John , and his corrupt court cronies like Waldemar Fitzurse , Malvoisin and Front-de-Bouef.
Meanwhile a mysterious Disinherited Knight, aided by another anonymous Knight in black amour (Le Noir Fainéant) defeats all of King John's favorite knights at the jousting tournament at Ashby.
The challenger is revealed as Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the disinherited son of the Saxon nobleman, Cedric, who is the beloved of his father's charge, the comely Rowena.
The character who was for me, the most interesting, was the beautiful `black eyed' Jewish beauty, Rebecca, the daughter of the merchant Isaac of York. Compassionate and yet fiery, humble yet proud, sensual and yet modest, it is not hard to understand the passion for her felt by the Knight Templar, Brian De-Bois Gilbert. She and her father must try to survive in a violently anti-Semitic society, in which they are rendered defenseless, as members of a humbled nation. Rebecca, faced with a horrific fate, refuses to renounce her faith, right until the end. In a sense she represents the Jewish Nation, or the Nation of Israel, right through the exile (Galut), and also today as the international community unjustly pillories the Jewish State, and plots her destruction.

Rebecca thus says during her trial by the order of Knights Templars: " ` To invoke your pity' said the lovely Jewess, with a voice tremulous with emotion `would I am be aware, , be as useless as I should hold it mean...Nor will I even vindicate myself at the expense of the oppressor which seem to convert the tyrant into the victim."

So you see how timeless words of wisdom can be.

Also thrown into the book are Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and the witty Jester Wamba . A quotable quote from Wamba from Wamba is " To restrain them by their sense of humanity is the same as to stop a runaway horse with a bridle of silk thread.

The book is a pleasure to read. As Herbert Strang wrote in an early 20th century edition of Ivanhoe: "In introducing this great story to a new generation of boys and girls, I find myself wishing that I too, where about to read Ivanhoe for the first time"

After having read Ivanhoe , I can understand exactly why he wrote that.
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Sir Walter Scott, the father of the modern historical novel whilst massive in his lifetime and after has probably diminished in popularity since the 1920s, however that doesn't stop him from being a good read. I will admit like the other reviewer for this that it is wordy, like all his works, but you must remember that we are talking about the early nineteeth century where most novelists were only really just moving on from what can be seen as the very verbose eighteenth century novels.

Ivanhoe is set in the middle ages and shows the conflict that was still going on between the Saxons and Normans, despite the number of years since the Conquest. This was the first novel to actually cast Robin Hood as a character, and arguably Scott's characterisation of him has been used for virtually every tale of Robin Hood since, whether in novels or on the screen. In many elements this is quite correct historically, allowing for obvious certain embellishments, and I have always found it enjoyable.

I would say that this is in some ways a boys own adventure, and so men will probably find it more appealing than women. (I'll probably get in trouble for putting that).
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on 5 June 2011
I particularly like the detailed descriptions of the characters, the use of ancient language - e.g. "Thou shalt have" - and the humour the book is full of. Very funny is the dialogue between Wamba and Gurth, when they talk about the words "swine" and "pork." "Why, how call you the those grunting brutes running about on their four legs?" (Swine, in Saxon) "... but how call you the sow when she is flayed, and drawn, and quartered, and hung up by the heels, like a traitor?" (Pork, in Norman-French). "And so, when the brute lives, and is in the charge of a Saxon slave, she goes by her Saxon name; but becomes a Norman, and is called pork, when she is carried to the Castle-hall to feast among the nobles."
I recommend this book, together with Robin Hood, both edited by Wordsworth.
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...sexist and racial and religious bigots, women and anyone not of the Christian faith had a pretty raw deal! Reading this again about forty years after the first time I encountered it these are the strongest impressions with which I am left. It seems, therefore, even across the passage of a millenium, little changes! Of course, we receive these impressions through the filter of Scott's own presumptions and he is usually quick in drawing favourable distinctions between himself and his own time with regard to the prejudices that form the backbone to the structure of the story and not above being selective or actually manipulating history if it serves this purpose.

Having said all this it still, nevertheless, remains a ripping yarn, basically, of the return of the `prodigal' son or son's stripe, if we include Richard sneaking home through the back door to escape the notice of his clearly nasty younger brother, John with his equally repellent and sycophantic flunkies. The eponymous `hero' doesn't really make his own appearance till a significant way through the narrative and, when he does, we find him a somewhat proud, vainglorious, patronizing but probably, good looking chap who handles a lance and sword well.

It is the women, Rebecca, Rowena and Edith (Athelstane's mom) who come out of all of this with their integrity intact. Of the men, only the fool, Wamba and the serf, Gurth, have any truly noble qualities despite playing distinctly second rate roles in comparison to the kings, knights and unjustly accused outlaw chiefs they risk their lives to aid.

For those who don't mind breaking into the narrative there is a wealth of notes that give richness and clarity to Scott's occasionally slightly impenetrable prose.
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VINE VOICEon 25 March 2010
Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe opens in an idyllic England of old, when towns might still be called pleasant, forests were still extensive, and the land was peopled with dashing knights and amiable yeoman. King Richard (the Lionheart) is off fighting the crusades, and Prince John is taking advantage of his brother's absence to plot his own way to the throne.

An unknown palmer leads a band of Normans out of a stormy night and into the home of a Saxon nobleman, Cedric, and aids the early morning escape of unfortunate Jew, Isaac of York. Later a disinherited knight will prevail at a jousting tournament, and choose the beautiful Lady Rowena to be the tournament's Queen of Love and Beauty; his life will be saved during a melee by the mysterious knight clad in black: the Black Sluggard. The bewitching Jewess Rebecca, the archer Locksley, a fool, a swineherd, and a handful of proud Norman nobles make up a cast of memorable, and socially diverse characters that inhabit this romanticised land in the 12th Century.

A work of roughly "historical" fiction it may be, but Scott rarely lets a schoolmasterly lecture get in the way of a good story. Valour and chivalry are satiated as bouts of jousting, feasting, kidnap, rescue and sieges maintain pace and action, whilst elements of disguise and secrecy offer intrigue. Meanwhile, Rebecca champions female strength and dignity in her refusal of the advances of Brian de Bois-Gilbert, even as her fate hangs in the balance. Sure, there are places where the tale slows, and the characters are revealed more fully, usually in the course of grand conversations, but the reader will soon be rewarded for any patience these few chapters might humbly request.

I can't think of a single reason to deduct a star from Ivanhoe; it's a pre-cinematic action-adventure classic that moves swiftly from one tale of derring-do to the next; it's humorous, moving and exciting. It's a perfectly balanced tale, told by a master storyteller, in gently flowing prose. Scott is often credited with bringing about a revival of interest in the Middle Ages, and I challenge anyone to read* Ivanhoe and not be swept up in the drama, conflicts and heroism of a bygone world.

(*read means from beginning to end!)
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on 27 August 2014
Sir Walter Scott is credited with having invented the historical novel, and his Waverley series of books were the first critical and commercially successful stories to feature fictional characters alongside historical figures, and participating in actual events.

In Ivanhoe he revisited that formula, featuring a vivid cast of fictional characters interacting with King John and his Norman barons in England in 1194. The basic story is fairly straightforward, almost to the point of being predictable (though that might not have been the case in 1820): having been disowned and disinherited by his ferociously Saxon father for pledging loyalty to the Norman king, Richard I (of Lionheart fame), Wilfred of Ivanhoe leaves England to join the ill-fated Third Crusade where he covers himself in glory, battling valiantly against the Saracen. He returns to England, travelling in disguise to a major tournament in Ashby de la Zouch where, fighting incognito under the alias The Disinherited Knight, he emerges victorious on the first day after humiliating a host of proud but ineffectual Norman Barons. On the second day he fares almost as well, though the show is stolen by another anonymous knight clad in black armour who, having vanquished more Norman barons, disappears into the crowd, rather like the Lone Rnager leaving confusion in his wake as people ask, 'Who was that masked man?'

There are, however, a host of other complications to the plot, and Scott manages to keep the reader's attention firmly riveted to the book. He captures the feel of the Middle Ages, and even the plethora of details about the technicalities of armour, horseback warfare and estate management in the twelfth century fail to deflect the reader's interest. Given that this was published very early on in the history of the novel as a popular art form it seems surprisingly up to date. I had started reading it with a certain trepidation, and perhaps more from a sense of duty than with the expectation of much enjoyment, but it proved to be most entertaining.
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VINE VOICEon 7 June 2014
This classic historical romance (pretty much the inspiration for the whole genre of medieval historical fiction) is extremely well written and, from a linguistic point of view, an excellent example of the complex sentence structure often used in 19th century novels and not often today, demanding much of the reader; it is as a consequence, a challenge to read, and it took me a fortnight to get through, though this edition was only some 350 pages, and it did get a bit dull and somewhat confusing in places. Ivanhoe himself is actually a fairly minor character throughout most of the novel, and is overshadowed by a number of other characters. For much of it, the novel is actually about oppression - the oppression suffered by the Jewish characters, Isaac of York and his daughter Rebecca at the hands and tongues of Norman and Saxon alike (though the author clearly disapproves of this anti-Semitism, an opposition which is a refreshing attitude for an author of this period, it does get quite dispiriting to read when this prejudice is displayed even by characters with whom the reader is supposed to sympathise); and the oppression suffered by Saxons at the hands of their Norman conquerors (though, given that the events take place some 130 years after the Norman Conquest, the starkness of this conflict was much less clear in reality than depicted in the novel). The novel is also famous, of course, for popularising the legend of Robin Hood and coining the epithet, Robin of Locksley. Good stuff, though it drags in places.
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...in the main, sexist and racial and religious bigots, women and anyone not of the Christian faith had a pretty raw deal! Reading this again about forty years after the first time I encountered it these are the strongest impressions with which I am left. Of course, we receive these impressions through the filter of Scott's own presumptions and he is usually quick in drawing favourable distinctions between himself and his own time with regard to the prejudices that form the backbone to the structure of the story and not above being selective or actually manipulating history if it serves this purpose.

Having said all this it still, nevertheless, remains a ripping yarn, basically, of the return of the `prodigal' son or son's stripe, if we include Richard sneaking home through the back door to escape the notice of his clearly nasty younger brother, John with his equally repellent and sycophantic flunkies. The eponymous `hero' doesn't really make his own appearance till a significant way through the narrative and, when he does, we find him a somewhat proud, vainglorious, patronizing but probably, good looking chap who handles a lance and sword well.

It is the women, Rebecca, Rowena and Edith (Athelstane's mom) who come out of all of this with their integrity intact. Of the men, only the fool, Wamba and the serf, Gurth, have any truly noble qualities despite playing distinctly second rate roles in comparison to the kings, knights and unjustly accused outlaw chiefs they risk their lives to aid.

For those who don't mind breaking into the narrative there is a wealth of notes that give richness and clarity to Scott's (only) occasionally mildly baffling prose.
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