(“The Queen of the Tournament: Ivanhoe” by Frank William Warwick Topham)

Reading Ivanhoe is like being inside a Pre-Raphaelite painting, that’s the best way I can describe it. It was first published in the early 18th century but it’s set in the 12th, so Walter Scott wanted to be sure the readers knew it by using lots of “thee”s, “thou”s and “steed” instead of “horse”. He also went positively baroque with his already ornate writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I had great fun with Ivanhoe, but I knew my cynical self would be eye-rolling all the damsels in distress and knights in shiny amours, so I took some protective measurements. My recipe for a full enjoyment of Ivanhoe is to read up of why it has become such a classic. Also, if like me you are partial to the Pre-Raphaelites and the Romantic Movement’s gardens you’re more likely to have fun.

I won’t go into the plot (you can find it here), but I will tell you 5 Things You Need To Know About Ivanhoe Before You Read It In Order To Fully Enjoy It:

  • Ivanhoe is often credited for the popular interest in all things Medieval and the mass-appeal of the Romantic Movement.
  • Just like Coca-Cola did for Santa Claus, the modern-day image of Robin Hood owes much to Ivanhoe. For instance, “Locksley” becomes Robin Hood’s title, Scott makes the Saxon-Norman conflict a major part of Robin’s life, he turns Robin into a contemporary of King Richard I (“King of Outlaws and prince of good fellows!”, Richard calls him), he comes up with the idea of his gang being “merry” instead of just scary, he introduces the famous scene where Robin’s splitting his competitor’s arrow in an archery contest , often Robin’s and Wilfred of Ivanhoe’s stories get confused: many decades later they both become ex-Crusaders who are disinherited and estranged from their father and come back to England to rescue their respective damsels.
  • It was such a popular book at the time that within a few months of its first publication, there were at least six stage versions of the story – often competing for theatre-goers attention on the same night.
  • It’s believed that Rebecca’s character in the book was inspired by Rebecca Gratz, a famous American educator, philanthropist and the first Jewish female college student in the United States.

So yes, the flawed plot becomes more apparent as the years go by, and we can only assume depth of character by what Scott tells us, but on the other hand I do like a good medieval tournament and I can see why Elizabeth Taylor went for Rebecca instead of Ivanhoe’s love-interest Rowena – she’s a cool heroine.

It’s one of those stories that one must read to better understand hundreds of others literary and cultural references. AND you get trated to sentences like this:

Chivalry!—why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection—the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant —Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword.


Other thoughts: couldn’t find other reviews by bloggers I follow – yours?