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Ivanhoe: a romanceUser Review - Not Available - Book Verdict
The Modern Library is making a killing on TV/feature film tie-ins to classics. Like its recent incarnations of Gulliver's Travels and Emma, this offers a quality hardcover for little more than a paperback price. Read full review
“Our scene now returns to the exterior of the castle, or preceptor, of Templestowe, about the hour when the bloody die was to be cast for the life or death of Rebecca. It was a scene of bustle and life, as if the whole vicinity had poured forth its inhabitants to a village wake or rural feast. But the earnest desire to look on blood and death is not peculiar to those dark ages; though in the gladiatorial exercise of single combat and general tourney, they were habituated to the bloody spectacle of brave men falling by each other’s hands. Even in our own day, when morals are better understood, an execution, a bruising match, a riot, or a meeting of radical reformers, collects, at considerable hazard to themselves, immense crowds of spectators, otherwise little interested, except to see how matters are to be conducted, or whether the heroes of the day are, in the heroic language of insurgent tailors, ‘flints’ or ‘dunghills’.”
There is, odd as it may sound to a modern ear, an edginess to Scott’s writing, like the amused glint in a favorite mean uncles eye, which crops up especially in his observations of human faults. It adds relish to the reading -- to hear someone skewered smoothly is a pleasure, the more so when his target aligns with our own natural bias – and indeed, one of his main targets of this guarded, almost subversive goading is the church:
“The Grand Master [Templar]was a man advanced in age, as was testified by his long grey beard, and the shaggy grey eyebrows, overhanging eyes of which, however, years had been unable to quench the fire. A formidable warrior, his thin and severe features retained the soldier’s fierceness of expression; an ascetic bigot, they were no less marked by the emaciation of abstinence, and the spiritual pride of the self-satisfied devotee.”
What saves these jabs is their honesty, and the sense that here is not a political, or partisan view of the subject, but a simple transcribing of what the teller has found, stripped to essence and delivered. If these evidences swim against the current of popular feeling, or common ideas, it is not swayed by the force of the stream, but remains impartial. So reading Scott is rewarded by these little passages set into the fabric of the novel like gems – but the choice of subject matter and theme is guided by the same clever wisdom. Here is a popular, romantic story about the middle ages of Knights replete with jousting and feasting and chivalry. But the story pivots on the unjust scorn and treatment of gentile for jew. And this is echoed and reinforced by the less virulent but still vigorous animosity between Norman and Saxon, though both Christian.
There is a little history, but mostly anecdotal, or by the wayside. Of more interest is the language encountered which show the sinuous evolution of words from age to age and language to tongue – donjon, for example, by which is meant a stone tower, as we might expect to see on a medieval castle, essentially a turret. Yet when we think of a dungeon, we think stairs going down to the basement, and dark wet depths. I suppose those who spent time in the Tower of London would recognize this iteration. Or consider a partizan, also called a quarter-staff, used for knocking sense into ones opponents.
There are arid stretches where antiquated speeches stretch into two pages when the modern novelist might make use of a comma and a period, and cover the same ground. But these were fewer than I thought they might be, and there were some bits of poetry to begin the chapters which were thick enough with meaning to stand up on their own.
What romance of the middle ages would be complete without – Robin Hood. Yes, here he is, already standing on his own merits, along with Friar Tuck and a band of merry men. There is no shadow of giving to the poor, but rather he is an outlaw; and a political organizer. His band of bowmen hunt the forest the Norman royalty have claimed for themselves, but that the peasant has historical right to. They fight and steal, but only in