(Sir Walter Scott)
I have often seen Ivanhoe in the library but was discouraged by its size. Then I took a gamble and bought the book. After the first chapter I realized that I had waited too long to read what is perhaps one of the finest stories set in medieval England. Ivanhoe is romantic classic by Sir Walter Scott set in 13th century England, against the backdrop of the crusades. It is not a story of an antagonist and a protagonist, but rather a life sketch of up to a dozen characters intimately linked to the one central character that is Ivanhoe.
The author has sought to give new dimensions to the chivalry, myths and facts of medieval England. The story starts off with a rather simple conversation between a swine herd and a fool, both servants of Cedric the Saxon who has disowned his son Ivanhoe for going off to the crusades with the Normans. Then the story takes some rather unexpected turns in the form of coups to trials that you would normally associate with a thriller.
The novel in reality has no more than about a dozen scenes, but Scott paints such a complete picture in his descriptions of everything from courtly dinners to castle sieges that it is a mammoth 500 plus pages.
The dialogues are long and give a good perspective into the insides of characters. The narrative speaks volumes about the political, economic and social order of those days as seen by the author. One unique theme that persists from beginning to end is about the life of the Knights Templar- the poor warrior monks whose brief tenure in history has been a unsolvable riddle for most scholars of history.
The real fun starts with the arrival of a mysterious Black knight on the scene, who happens to be the great monarch of England himself returned back from the crusades.
Even Robin Hood comes out with his band of outlaws to aid themselves and Ivanhoe. There are two women in the novel-Rowena and a black eyed Jewess. Of all the characters in the novel perhaps no one is more fascinating than the latter. We cannot help but sympathize with the misfortunes that come upon her because of being a Jew and admire her courage and kindness in the face of overbearing circumstances.
The antagonism of the medieval society against Jews and their irreplaceable roles as financiers is another important theme of the novel. But unlike King Arthur there is no fantastical element and the whole story is deeply rooted to everyday reality.
If you want medieval adventure, suspense and a little history of the best kind and are prepared to read a lot, then Ivanhoe is the book for you.