Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott

2.5 stars

Hmmm, Ivanhoe - what did I make of thee? Of thine own self, not much, as it turns out that the titular character actually spends most of the book off-page recovering from injury. Instead, this was more concerned with the many crimes of Bad Prince (and later King) John and his cronies, the interventions of Robin Hood and the wanderings of Good (haha!) King Richard the Lionheart.

With Richard absent from his kingdom thanks to his disastrous Crusade and then imprisonment, Prince John rules in his stead, backed by a bunch of dicks including Norman noblemen and a Knight Templar. While John plots to keep Richard's throne, the disguised King (having returned unnoticed to our shores) pisses about entering tournaments, befriending Robin Hood and aiding distressed damsels who've been kidnapped by John's mates for their own foul ends. 

As well as the adventure element, Ivanhoe also depicts the bigoted divisions of 12th century England - the Saxons and the Normans can't stand one another, Christians despise Jewish people, and everyone hates women - and lampoons the hypocrisy of this age of chivalry, where Knights are usually anything but honourable and the nobility couldn't behave nobly if their lives depended on it. It mostly does this fairly well, and never more so than with Rebecca (a skilled healer whose kidnap by one of the Knights Templar sees her put on trial by the head of his Order - him wanting to rape her is all her own fault for which she must die, what with her being guilty of the crimes of being a woman and Jewish).

But while Rebecca emerged as the true hero of this story, it fell down somewhat when it came to her father, Isaac. While being quick to decry the awful bigotry of the age and its institutions (especially the Church, who seem to think that their God loves mass murder above all else), Scott deflated his success by being far too quick to stoop to racist caricature whenever it came to Isaac. While I could overlook some of this as his depicting a less enlightened age, more often than not it left a nasty taste in the mouth whenever I came across one of these scenes. This, along with Scott's habit of including way too many songs and conversations that halted the action and made my attention wander, led the scales that had been weighing in favour of the adventure tip slightly too far the other way for me to say that I truly enjoyed this.

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