Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review - Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

A few weeks ago, I took a quiz to find out how many books—among a list of about a hundred—had I read. I was a bit dismayed to find I could only check five books. I didn't count the movie version since that would be cheating. So, I decided I'd go to look for the books I haven't read and load them into my Android phone. This was the first book: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.

Having just written Legend of the Moon, which has a medieval setting, I naturally gravitated toward Ivanhoe. I knew about the book but nothing about the story. I remembered there was a movie once that I saw on TV back in the 1960's (I later learned the movie was from 1952) but couldn't remember much about it. I went to www.gutenburg.com because I found several old books there that were free. A few touches on my phone's screen and I had Ivanhoe in my hands.

Ivanhoe was written in 1820 by Sir Walter Scott and was set in 12th century England. More than a hundred years before, the Normans (from France), led by Duke William II fought and defeated the Saxons (from England) at the Battle of Hastings and became masters of the Saxon locals and nobles. Oppressed but proud, the Saxons grudgingly submitted to their Norman conquerors but the divide between these two peoples was very wide. With this setting, the book took off.

The book's title is Ivanhoe but the main character's real name was Wilfred. The Ivanhoe is actually appended to his name, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, and seems to imply that Wilfred comes from a place named Ivanhoe. There is, however, no mention of such a place in the book and the name of Wilfred and Ivanhoe is used almost equally in the story. Other characters such as his father, Cedric of Rotherwood (also known as Cedric the Saxon) is called Cedric and never Rotherwood. The only other character who seems to use his origin/hometown as his name is Locksley. His real name came out later in the story, Robin Hood.

Difficulties with the book:
I like to read aloud and try to duplicate the accents if I can. As other people who have read Ivanhoe would know, the dialogues are difficult. If you haven't read the book but have read the King James Version of the Bible, you'll know what I mean. If thou must read this book, prepare thyself to suffer twisting of the tongue (actually, it's more difficult than my example).

Aside from the Old English way of talking, I found most of the dialogue too lengthy to be practical. Maybe they spoke that way in the 12th century but I wouldn't know.

The Normans are French, first and foremost, so Ivanhoe's principal opponents had French names, which is difficult to pronounce if you don't know the language (and I happen to be one of those). Examples are: Ivanhoe's antagonist, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, Brian's friend Reginald Front de Boeuf, and the Grand Master of the Knights Templars, Lucas de Beaumanoir. I had to take a little time off from reading to actually learn how to pronounce them.

What I like about the book:
I don't want to be a spoiler by telling the story, even a short version (in case someone becomes interested in reading the book himself), but I liked the way Sir Walter hid certain things or deliberately misled the reader to make a surprising revelation later.

Surprisingly, Ivanhoe's love interest, the Lady Rowena, has a relatively minor role compared to another woman, Rebecca, a Jewish woman of exceptional beauty. This does not diminish the romantic aspect of the book in anyway, though. In fact, it makes it more interesting.

What I didn't like about the book:
My biggest disappointment was the duel between Ivanhoe and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert. Again, I don't want to be a spoiler but the duel had been building up and when it occurred, it was over in a flash.

So now I can tick off another book. Next up, Jane Eyre. (",)

No comments:

Post a Comment