by Walter Scott

Other authorsIan Duncan (Editor)
Paperback, 1996



Call number





Oxford University Press, USA (1996), Paperback, 624 pages


Relates the adventures of the Saxon knight Ivanhoe in 1194, the year of Richard the Lion-Hearted's return from the Third Crusade.

User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
Ivanhoe is one of those books that is so much a part of our culture it's almost redundant to read it, like David Copperfield, The great Gatsby, or whatever. Every book, film, or TV series of the last 190 years that has anything to do with medieval England, knights, jousting, castles, Templars, crusaders, Robin Hood, Richard Coeur de Lion, or whatever has to engage in some way with Ivanhoe: whether it builds on Scott's version of the events or debunks it.

Picking holes is easy. Scott rearranged historical events to match his story, and generally used whatever interesting ideas he could pick up from medieval and antiquarian texts, without worrying too much about which century they referred to. But that's hardly the point: it's a glorious romp through medieval England, and we're there to enjoy ourselves, not to be pedantic. Knights are bold, Normans nasty, priests devious, and Robin Hood and his men are prepared to take on all comers if there's the chance of a good fight followed by a feast under the trysting tree. Volume one has a tournament as its climax; in volume two the evil baron's castle is besieged; and in volume three there is a trial by combat. What more could you want from a story?

Scott's technique is rather Shakespearean - the "important" characters come on with a flourish of trumpets and do their stuff, but it's only in their dialogues with minor characters that we really get to know them. Ivanhoe himself is rather elusive as a hero - we only meet him rather briefly at the beginning and end of the book, and he's unconscious for just about the whole of volume two. The swineherd Gurth, the jester Wamba, and the superb Friar Tuck are the really interesting, memorable characters, who help us to work through the moral dilemmas of the plot.

What's surprising about the book, if we remember it as just an adventure story, is that there are real moral dilemmas confronting the characters. Even in the trial scene, where the reader might expect little more than a show trial, Scott gives free rein to his inner lawyer, and we work systematically through the legal basis for the trial, the motivations of accuser and accused, and the testimonies of the witnesses. Even though we know the result has been pre-cooked, all the characters involved are reminded that they have a moral choice to make.

This also comes out strikingly in the relations between the two women and their abductors. Neither de Bracy nor de Bois-Guilbert is quite sure what to do next when the maiden he has captured puts up a spirited resistance: we get to see the situation from the villains' point of view for a little bit and even feel sorry for them when they try to repent their crimes and win the hearts of their victims.

An underlying theme of the whole book is the "Norman Yoke" idea: England in the 12th century still feels like an occupied country. The language divide is foregrounded to draw our attention to this. In the opening sequence, Wamba reminds us that Saxon pigs, sheep and cows become Norman pork, mutton and beef when they end up on someone else's plate. Scott probably wasn't aware that these distinctions only became firmly established in the 18th century, but it's an effective and memorable image. Cedric, the crusty Saxon thane who refuses to speak French or even move more than three steps from his table to greet a Norman guest, is a dignified but faintly ridiculous symbol of the old ways - Scott was surely thinking of the Scottish chieftains he depicts in his earlier Jacobite novels, refusing to acknowledge the Hannoverians and drinking to the king "over the water".

Uncomfortable for the modern reader is Scott's treatment of the Jewish characters, Isaac and Rebecca. Rebecca is great, a feisty heroine who gains independence and self-sufficiency from her exclusion from English society (apart from herself, the Jewish community in Ivanhoe consists exclusively of old men). Isaac, however, comes over as someone who has stepped straight out of The merchant of Venice. Scott goes to some lengths to present them as human beings with normal human motives and emotions ("Hath not a Jew eyes...?"), and to show us that the prejudices of the time against Jews are either unfounded or self-fulfilling (e.g. Jews that are seen as miserly because the only profession we allow them to follow is banking). However, he clearly doesn't like Jews himself, and reinforces the stereotypes in between undermining them.

As Thackeray, and many others since, have said, we feel at the end of the book that Ivanhoe married the wrong girl. Rebecca was probably well out of it - it's nice to imagine that she will meet someone more interesting and intelligent than the Silent Knight in the livelier atmosphere of Moorish Spain. Thackeray, of course, kills off Rowena in his sequel, and has Rebecca convert to Christianity so that she can marry Ivanhoe.
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LibraryThing member atimco
Ah, Ivanhoe. You have it all: beautiful ladies, brave and desperate knights, daring feats in the lists, breaking lances and shattered spears, courtesy and gentility and even Robin Hood. You have all the beauty of the chivalric age... and all its ugliness, too. The bigotry of the Norman toward the Saxon is eclipsed only by the virulent anti-Semitism of the period, when reviling and even killing Jews was considered praiseworthy service to God.

The story is well known: Ivanhoe, a young Saxon knight, has been disinherited by his father Cedric for daring to love his ward Rowena, whom Cedric desires to marry Athelstane, descendant of the last Saxon kings in England. In his brother Richard's absence in the Holy Land, Prince John is scheming to take the throne. Three of his strongest supporters, Bois-Guilbert, De Bracy, and Front-de-Boeuf, become involved in a kidnapping scheme to carry off Rowena as well as a young and beautiful Jewess, Rebecca, whose father Isaac of York is John's moneylender.

My favorite character is Rebecca, hands down. She is supposed to be secondary to the lovely and regal Rowena, but even Scott admits that Rebecca is more interesting. Poor Rowena... she has a great moment in her defiance of De Bracy, so imperious and dignified and unbending. I was even thinking of using that passage to argue for her not being such a wimp as she is usually colored, but then Scott completely undermines her courage by saying that she only exercises it because she is so used to getting her own way in Cedric's household and couldn't imagine anyone not giving way to her wishes. When De Bracy proves a firmer man than her guardian, Rowena takes refuge in her only remaining defense: a flood of tears that routs him from the room, if not from his purpose. After that collapse, Scott mercifully does not allow her to be further tested... because she might just crumple under the pressure — !

But not so with Rebecca. She is made of sterner stuff, and the scenes of her defiance toward Bois-Guilbert are thrilling to read. Who can read of her courage and not root for her, even while wishing she would bend just a little so she could survive? But then she wouldn't be Rebecca, would she?

I thought the minor character of Ulrica was fascinating... a sort of precursor to the mad Bertha of Jane Eyre. There are several striking likenesses: a woman used for her beauty, insane, who sets fire to the castle of her imprisonment for revenge and perishes the night of the conflagration. Although, Ulrica wasn't locked in the attic and she is perhaps a shade more complex than the simply insane Bertha, because of her willing compliance in her degradation. In any case, it's masterful what Scott is able to do with even the minor characters.

Speaking of whom, how about Wamba? Is he not the best fool ever? I don't understand why people think classic novels are dry. Scott evinces quite a wit and sense of humor with the humble jester of Cedric's household. Athelstane is another character who amuses me, with his stolid passion for food and drink while Cedric is trying to urge him to think on higher things. Haha!

Ivanhoe himself is not much characterized in the story. He is very honorable and mighty in battle, faithful to a fault but not entirely free of the prejudices of his time and rank. He shows mercy to the despised Jew Isaac of York, but there is contempt mixed with his care. And I didn't much like how after his marriage to Rowena, his thoughts wandered to Rebecca "more frequently than the fair descendant of Alfred might altogether have approved." I guess that's fairly realistic though.

And the villains... they don't make them like this nowadays! They are mighty men, competent, strong, honorable according to their code, and not easily thrown off. There is almost something admirable about them... and that's what makes them such splendid villains. Selfish, proud, and wrongheaded as he is, Brian Bois-Guilbert nevertheless retains a vestige of attraction and fascination. He does nothing halfheartedly. Maurice De Bracy is another villain I couldn't quite hate; he's foolish, but there is something warm and pleasant about him. At least he escaped the heavier fate of his two partners in crime, Bois-Guilbert and Front-de-Boeuf.

Overall, Ivanhoe is a thrilling read, for all its intricate language and sentence structure. The characters, the romance, the humor... it's the complete package. Literary fun in the world of chivalry doesn't get much better. Recommended!
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LibraryThing member ACDoyleLibrary
"What a book it is! The second greatest historical novel in our language, I think. Every successive reading has deepened my admiration for it. Scott's soldiers are always as good as his women (with exceptions) are weak; but here; while the soldiers are at their very best, the romantic figure of Rebecca redeems the female side of the story from the usual commonplace routine. Scott drew manly men because he was a manly man himself, and found the task a sympathetic one..." - Trough the Magic Door, 27.… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
There was a time when Walter Scott was seen as the great novelist of his age--far superior to Jane Austen. Donizetti used one of Scott's novels for the basis of Lucia de Lammermoor. Mark Twain decried Scott's influence on Southern American culture with his "sham chivalries" Twain blamed for the American Civil War. Well, these days while Austen is triumphant, hardly anyone reads Scott anymore. Ivanhoe is the novel you'd most likely still find on shelves, its readership possibly kept alive by the film adaptations. While I wouldn't reverse the judgement of history--Austen is one of my favorite authors and in comparison Scott feels shallow--I did find this great fun when I discovered this in my teens.

The history part of the historical fiction? Well, there are lots of ahistorical and anachronistic touches. By the time of King Richard I, I doubt the Anglo Saxons still kept a distinctive culture or dreamed of ever ousting the Normans, or even thought of the Plantagenets as a foreign dynasty. (Even if Richard the Lionheart didn't speak English or spend much of his reign in England.) And Robin Hood is legend, not history. I'd also say that the main characters we're supposed to be most enamored with--Ivanhoe and Rowena--seem rather bland to me. But ah, then there's Rebecca! Although one could see some anti-Semitic stereotypes in her father Isaac, if for nothing else, Scott should be given credit for creating such a strong, appealing Jewish heroine at a time when Anti-semitism was still rampant in English fiction. And I love the villain, Brian Bois-Guilbert, who isn't painted completely black but has, shall we say, some interesting qualities. And well, it's simply fun to read this--not in my opinion dry at all. It's a fun romp through history--as long as you don't ask it to be too historical.
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LibraryThing member MarquesadeFlambe
Everyone told me that I wouldn't like this book, and that I'd be bored out of my mind. My scholar-of-Medieval-history mother even told me it was incredibly boring. I loved it. The two major characters are rather uninteresting, but they're not even really in the book that much.
LibraryThing member DarthDeverell
Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel, Ivanhoe, tells the story of Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a Saxon knight in the twelfth century. Ivanhoe was disinherited by his father, Cedric of Rotherwood, for supporting the Norman King Richard Cœur-de-Lion and falling in love with Rowena, Cedric’s ward. Cedric had hoped to wed Rowena to Athelstane, the descendant of the great Saxon kings, in order to restore the Saxon nobility.

King John holds a tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouch Castle, at which a disguised Ivanhoe bests the Norman champion and Templar knight, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, and where Robin of Locksley splits a willow reed with his arrow as well as his competitor’s arrow, a scene that first entered the Robin Hood legend in this novel. A Black Knight also performs admirably, but departs when besieged during the melee. A major subplot focuses on the place of Isaac of York and his daughter, Rebecca, as Jews in Norman-conquered England. Scott describes how Isaac’s wealth allows him to interact with Norman society, though, as a non-Christian, the Normans hold him in the same contempt with which they view the conquered Saxons. Rebecca’s intelligence and beauty, however, attract would-be Norman suitors.

After the tournament, Bois-Guilbert and Reginald Front-de-Bœuf, a fellow Norman Templar, capture Cedric and his party along with Isaac and Rebecca. In his fortress Torquilstone, Front-de-Bœuf demands an impossible ransom from Isaac in exchange for his daughter. Meanwhile, the Black Knight meets the Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst, Friar Tuck, and joins in the siege of Torquilstone with Locksley’s men. Front-de-Bœuf dies during the siege along with Athelstane, though Bois-Guilbert escapes with Rebecca as a prisoner. The Black Knight rescues Ivanhoe from the burning castle and reveals himself to be King Richard.

While Locksley hosts Richard Cœur-de-Lion, Bois-Guilbert’s Templar master, the zealot Lucas de Beaumanoir, believes that Rebecca has ensorcelled his knight and plans to execute her as a witch. She demands trial by combat and a call is sent for a champion. At Coningsburgh, while Cedric plans Athelstane’s funeral, the Saxon lord is discovered to have survived his wounds. Though Cedric still hopes to wed Athelstane to Rowena, Athelstane demurs and frees her to marry Ivanhoe. Rebecca’s message arrives, and Ivanhoe, Richard, and Cedric depart for the Templar Preceptory. There, Ivanhoe fights Bois-Guilbert, who dies of natural causes in the saddle. Rebecca, now free, makes plans for she and her father to leave England for Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), where she believes they will be free from persecution. Before departing, Rebecca visits Rowena and gives her a gift on her wedding day to Ivanhoe.

Scott wrote a fictionalized history, though he sought to give it verisimilitude with references to historical sources, including those he invented such as the Norman Wardour Manuscript, which first appeared in Scott’s 1816 novel, The Antiquary. Though Robin Hood is not the main character of Ivanhoe, Scott’s portrayal of the outlaw left a lasting mark on the character’s history. Future retellings of Robin Hood included the arrow-splitting and transposed elements of Ivanhoe’s narrative on to Robin. According to Hector Hugh Munro, Scott misspelled “Cerdic,” creating the name Cedric in the English language. Further, Scott helped popularize Robin Hood as Robin of Locksley. In addition to this, while Scott’s portrayal of Jewish characters was likely progressive and sympathetic for 1820 (much like Shakespeare’s portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice was for its time), his focus on Isaac’s avaricious nature resembles the worst stereotyping of the twentieth century and has not aged particularly well. Rebecca fares better, but only in comparison to Isaac. That said, the work is a must-read for those studying English literature or who enjoy historical fiction or fantasy. This Heritage Press edition contains illustrations from Edward A. Wilson, who brilliantly captures the spirit of Scott’s text.
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LibraryThing member Meredy
When I was a youngster, one of our favorite family activities was to play the then-familiar card game called Authors, which was basically "Go Fish" with the likes of Hawthorne, Tennyson, Longfellow, and Dickens in sets of four instead of numeric rank within suit. (Where else would you find James Fenimore Cooper on a peer footing with William Shakespeare?) Thus the face of Sir Walter Scott was more familiar to me than that of my own deceased grandmother.

Scott was, in fact, an icon of classic entertainment, an author whose works were among the staples of childhood and young adult reading, with their jousting knights in armor, their chivalrous deeds and dark intrigues, their acts of high valor and foul treachery, their political allegiances and divided loyalties, their spirited damsels and their swashbuckling heroes.

In ninth grade, when my classmates and I were assigned to read Ivanhoe, I met Scott like an old family friend. The affectionate greeting, however, was not returned with equal warmth. In fact, the language and substance of this novel were both so alien to me that I honestly don't know how I managed to read it at all.

In those days, meaning the end of the Eisenhower administration, Ivanhoe was required reading in public schools across the U.S. I can't imagine why. I didn't hate it--I never hated anything we read in school. I was a straight-A English student throughout my scholastic career and later made language the basis of my profession. But the necessary knowledge of British history and traditional social structure, command of an archaic vocabulary, and ability to parse the convoluted style and grammar of the early nineteenth century in another culture all seem like formidable obstacles to comprehension for young teenagers, even without the adult themes and conflicts, the violence, and the very disturbing vein of institutionalized antisemitism that prevail throughout the novel.

How many 14-year-olds could have been expected to get much of anything out of this? All else aside, how much knowledge of medieval England and its politics was any American highschooler expected to have? I'm amazed that there weren't dozens of more recent, more generally readable, and more culturally apt choices that were considered to be essential to the education of American young people. I got through it somehow, along with the rest of my ninth-grade class, but I missed all the adventure in a sea of confusing language, lost context, and bewildering names. What a shame that curriculum requirements, both then and now, should serve to foster lifelong antipathy toward certain works and toward reading in general when, now more than ever, literacy is an essential skill and severely weakened cultural bonds could use reinforcement.

In intervening years I have read quantities of British literature and older literature and older British literature, and I feel very much at home with it. I'm comfortable with both a nineteenth-century prose style and a medieval setting. Archaic vocabulary does not trip me up, and I don't mind protracted descriptions, windy commentary, or so-called author intrusion. Still, it took me a long while to come back around to Scott.

A couple of years ago I enjoyed The Bride of Lammermoor, followed by The Heart of Midlothian. After that it seemed to be time to revisit Ivanhoe. I finished it a week ago.

From my present perspective, Ivanhoe is a relic, not so much of the historical period of its setting (with which Scott admitted to having taken considerable liberties) or even of the literary era in which it was written (early nineteenth century) as of a period in our European-American cultural and educational history in which youngsters read romances such as Ivanhoe voluntarily and for pleasure. Those same audiences these days would be viewing action movies for which you don't actually need a vocabulary at all.

Or maybe those aren't the kids avidly watching car chases and explosions and splattering pixels of gore in first-person-shooter video games. Maybe they're among the considerably smaller number who play chess and Magic: The Gathering and Sodoku: a relatively privileged, nerdy set (privileged if only with the motive, means, and opportunity to do those things) who don't gravitate toward the lowest common denominator. In any event, their path to imaginative excitement and adventure is not via such printed words as these:

=====(Excerpt begins)

"I am indeed bound to vengeance," murmured Cedric; "Saint Withold knows my heart."

Front-de-Boeuf, in the meanwhile, led the way to a postern, where, passing the moat on a single plank, they reached a small barbican, or exterior defence, which communicated with the open field by a well-fortified sallyport.

"Begone, then; and if thou wilt do mine errand, and if thou return hither when it is done, thou shalt see Saxon flesh cheap as ever was hog's in the shambles of Sheffield. And, hark thee, thou seemest to be a jolly confessor---come hither after the onslaught, and thou shalt have as much Malvoisie as would drench thy whole convent."

"Assuredly we shall meet again," answered Cedric.

"Something in hand the whilst," continued the Norman; and, as they parted at the postern door, he thrust into Cedric's reluctant hand a gold byzant, adding, "Remember, I will flay off both cowl and skin, if thou failest in thy purpose."

"And full leave will I give thee to do both," answered Cedric, leaving the postern, and striding forth over the free field with a joyful step, "if, when we meet next, I deserve not better at thine hand."---Turning then back towards the castle, he threw the piece of gold towards the donor, exclaiming at the same time, "False Norman, thy money perish with thee!"

Front-de-Boeuf heard the words imperfectly, but the action was suspicious---"Archers," he called to the warders on the outward battlements, "send me an arrow through yon monk's frock!---yet stay," he said, as his retainers were bending their bows, "it avails not--we must thus far trust him since we have no better shift. I think he dares not betray me---at the worst I can but treat with these Saxon dogs whom I have safe in kennel. Ho! Giles gaoler, let them bring Cedric of Rotherwood before me, and the other churl, his companion---him I mean of Coningsburgh ---Athelstane there, or what call they him? Their very names are an encumbrance to a Norman knight's mouth, and have, as it were, a flavour of bacon. Give me a stoup of wine, as jolly Prince John said, that I may wash away the relish---place it in the armoury, and thither lead the prisoners."

His commands were obeyed; and, upon entering that Gothic apartment, hung with many spoils won by his own valour and that of his father, he found a flagon of wine on the massive oaken table, and the two Saxon captives under the guard of four of his dependents. Front-de-Boeuf took a long drought of wine, and then addressed his prisoners---for the manner in which Wamba drew the cap over his face, the change of dress, the gloomy and broken light, and the Baron's imperfect acquaintance with the features of Cedric (who avoided his Norman neighbours, and seldom stirred beyond his own domains) prevented him from discovering that the most important of his captives had made his escape.

=====(Excerpt ends)

That lengthy and randomly chosen passage depicting a tense, suspenseful escape is adequately representative of the flavor of the whole. I would be willing to wager that no reader in 2013, no matter how widely read and how well versed in older literature, would have difficulty understanding how daunting four hundred pages of the same would be to today's young reader.

Did I enjoy the book? I did. I was sorry when it ended. And naturally it is no fault of the author and no criticism of his literary tradition to anticipate that the present generation of readers will have little appetite for this work. Whether that should be so is irrelevant; the truth is that it is.

I wonder how much longer there will be readers outside of academe who can read it at all.
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LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
Now I know why bookstores have different sections for fiction and literature. Just before reading this, I read The Ivanhoe Gambit, which is based on Ivanhoe. I thought Gambit to be a good book. But it is quite pale in comparison to Ivanhoe itself. The plot, the characters and the descriptions of the setting have much more depth than the same in Mr. Hawke's work. I was half tempted to believe that I was meeting real people in 12th Century England. (Of course, I should also point out that Ivanhoe is a much longer book...) Anyway, the tale centers on Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a Saxon knight who has returned from a crusade in the Holy Land. His father has disowned him, because he dared to love the noble Rowena against the old man's wishes. His nation is under the power of Prince John, the dishonest brother of King Richard, who is looking to seize the throne for himself and who would not welcome Wilfred, a loyal follower of the King. What follows is a masterful tale of chivalry, politics and romance played out by realistic characters. The 18th century English of the book is not for the faint of heart, but it is definitely worth the effort to read. It's a book for which I'll have to find space on my shelf.
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LibraryThing member mattmcg
Rarely-mitigated crap.

Like listening to a man with Tourette's (who nevertheless knows only pleasant words) as he relates a half-remembered dull secondhand story.

The Stephen King of (a)historical romances. By that I mean that there is a real story somewhere beneath this great mountain of bloviation. Sir Walter Scott would have been well served by a brutal editor.… (more)
LibraryThing member john257hopper
This classic historical romance (pretty much the inspiration for the whole genre of medieval historical fiction) is extremely well written and, from a linguistic point of view, an excellent example of the complex sentence structure often used in 19th century novels and not often today, demanding much of the reader; it is as a consequence, a challenge to read, and it took me a fortnight to get through, though this edition was only some 350 pages, and it did get a bit dull and somewhat confusing in places. Ivanhoe himself is actually a fairly minor character throughout most of the novel, and is overshadowed by a number of other characters. For much of it, the novel is actually about oppression - the oppression suffered by the Jewish characters, Isaac of York and his daughter Rebecca at the hands and tongues of Norman and Saxon alike (though the author clearly disapproves of this anti-Semitism, an opposition which is a refreshing attitude for an author of this period, it does get quite dispiriting to read when this prejudice is displayed even by characters with whom the reader is supposed to sympathise); and the oppression suffered by Saxons at the hands of their Norman conquerors (though, given that the events take place some 130 years after the Norman Conquest, the starkness of this conflict was much less clear in reality than depicted in the novel). The novel is also famous, of course, for popularising the legend of Robin Hood and coining the epithet, Robin of Locksley. Good stuff, though it drags in places.… (more)
LibraryThing member Chris_El
Gurth and Wamba son of Witless. How can one forget adventures with characters like these. Add in a few damsels in distress, saving England from a tyrant, knights that will not compromise right, and some cool jousting make this a rousing and fun medieval tale.
LibraryThing member TadAD
Knights, adventure, intrigue—it's got it all.
LibraryThing member John5918
I find myself re-reading this classic story again and again. It strikes a chord deep down in the emotions, although I'm not sure where and why. I love the "disinherited knight", and I suppose it's reassuring to see justice triumph in the end. Yet it is not simplistic and there are lots of strands in the story. The motif of local people living under a foreign invader is still topical in so many parts of the world.… (more)
LibraryThing member jrissman
Ivanhoe (published 1820) is a novel set in late 1100s Britain, before the rifts caused by the Norman (northern French) conquest in 1066 had time to heal. Although I had initially thought that Ivanhoe was a late addition to the Arthurian legendarium, this is incorrect: King Arthur and his knights ruled in the early 500s, more than six centuries prior to Ivanhoe. The late 1100s were an era of fervent Christianity, contemporaneous with the Third Crusade (led by King Richard the Lionheart) and the legend of the outlaw Robin Hood.

Ivanhoe is a very slow-paced novel. It spends a great deal of time describing the appearance of each character, and their speech is invariably long-winded and flowery, even at times when it seems like brevity would be necessary. During action or tense scenes, the dialogue almost feels like an aside in a play, where most actors pause the scene and allow one actor to express her thoughts, with time "frozen" in the background. The slow pace of action and sheer number of words required for anyone to say anything or get anything done really drags the book down.

"Ivanhoe" is unusual in that it does not have any character one could meaningfully call "the protagonist." Certainly Ivanhoe, for whom the book is named, could not be it- he gets remarkably little "screen time." In fact, the narrative camera follows a great many characters, giving them all modest portions of time, a style reminiscent of that used by George R. R. Martin in his Song of Ice and Fire series. But unlike Martin's series, the storyline of "Ivanhoe" has a clearly defined and manageable scope, set in a relatively small geographic area containing forests, a few castles, and a monastery.

The book is even more unusual in that its most important focus is the experience of Jewish people in late 1100s England, a society remarkably hostile to them. The most sympathetic characters in the novel are an old Jewish moneylender, Isaac of York, and his beautiful daughter, Rebecca. While one might criticize Isaac's portrayal as playing into old stereotypes of Jewish people (particularly a love of money), it is hard to know what Jewish people were really like so long ago, and Isaac at least appears to help explain why 1100s English society held some of the views that it held toward Jews. Rebecca does not play into these stereotypes at all. She is a passive but heroic figure who is proud of her Jewish heritage. Though people might disagree over the extent to which Scott reinforces or breaks down stereotypes, it seems clear that Scott was vastly ahead of writers and thinkers who came more than 100 years after him in promoting the equal rights, understanding, and acceptance of Jewish people in society.

Characters are typically entirely good or entirely evil, and they often fit stereotypes (the clever jester; the handsome, youthful knight who excels in combat; the greedy, evil knight; the religious zealot who leads a cult-like order; etc.) None of them are all that interesting, except for the pair of Jewish characters, and the other characters insofar as they interact with the Jews and what this reveals about them.

The book has three main action scenes: a tournament, storming a castle, and a trial by combat. Unfortunately, action writing is not Scott's forte. The actual events are short and sparsely described; even during a battle, the focus remains on the feelings of the characters present, rather than their actions or the strategic aspects of the fight.

In the end, the book was interesting, but was not worth the time I spent on it. I'd only recommend it for true aficionados of older stories set in the Middle Ages, or those who want to know more about the life, times, and court politics of England following the Norman Conquest. If your goal is simply entertainment, you can probably find a more fun novel elsewhere.
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LibraryThing member DoingDewey
For the modern reader, there are many complaints that could lodged against the writing in Ivanhoe (first published in the early 1800′s). Both the beginning of the book and every new character or location inspire several paragraphs of exposition. At first, I found these very detailed descriptions made it harder for me to picture the whole person or scene being described. The language was a little hard to deal with at first, with an archaic feel that reminded me most of Shakespeare out of anything I’ve read. The footnotes never explained anything of use and phrases of Latin or French were rarely translated. Finally, the author frequently breaks the fourth wall to explain to readers his choice of historical details and so on.

All of that said, this book also reminded me of Shakespeare in that I got used to all of those quirks that bothered me originally. Even at the beginning it was possible to follow the archaic language and appreciate the author’s use of word-play in jests (also reminiscent of Shakespeare). In fact, as time passed and I became involved in the story, I liked the atmosphere of the archaic language. It almost felt like a bard could be reciting this story of epic chivalry and adventure. I loved how excessively honorable the good guys were and how excessively unscrupulous the bad guys were. I’m not sure how to describe it better than by referring you to any experience you have with the story of Robin Hood, because Ivanhoe is clearly the inspiration for that light-hearted approach to an adventure story. So, while this was neither the most historically accurate nor the best written historical fiction I’ve ever read, it was definitely some of the most fun.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
I first read this book as a teenager (nearly 40 years ago) and, upon re-reading it, was amazed at how much of the story stayed with me.

Since I had not read many classic novels for a while, it took me a while to get into the pace of the writing, with the extraordinary (by today's standards) level of detailed description. But, I found it well worth the effort to refamilarize myself with classical literature. The writing is absolutely beautiful. The story is engaging, the characters will stay with you forever.… (more)
LibraryThing member TeenBookReviews
Scott’s classic epic following the adventures of a disinherited knight who fights to restore Richard the Lion Heart to his throne and to regain his own honor. Battles, intrigue and romance abound in this heroic tale. Surprisingly easy to read and quite enjoyable. Ivanhoe reads like a fast-paced ballad and, although it is a long story, the action is evenly spread throughout. I would recommend this classic to anyone who enjoys an epic tale about knights, Templars, friars, lords, ladies and kings. Popular folk heroes Robin Hood, the Black Knight and Friar Tuck also make cameo appearances.… (more)
LibraryThing member prof_brazen_guff
A great tale, but marred by the staggeringly turgid language. I really struggled to make it to the end.
LibraryThing member surreality
Plot: At times a little hard to follow, and the subplots make it difficult to keep in mind exactly what is happening when and where. The plot moves very slowly but constantly.

Characters: Characterization isn't the book's strongest suit. Often stereotypes are employed, though there are notable exceptions. The inclusion of Robin Hood and his merry men feels a bit off. The women are surprisingly layered, though they do fall under the damsel type.

Style: Too many words. By far. The style is almost archaic at times and makes the story sound like a medieval knight's tale. Good for the atmosphere, but it makes reading rather difficult and exhausting at times. The book tries to be a historical novel, but there is too much fiction in it for that.

Plus: much swashbuckling, interesting portrayal of England during the 12th century.

Minus: The style can at times make it almost unreadable.

Summary: a classic, but not on the absolute must-read-list
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LibraryThing member MarysGirl
I couldn't remember if I had read this years ago or was remembering the movie. In any case, this was a fun read. The story is exciting with many of our favorite folk heroes - King Richard the Lion-Hearted, Robin Hood, Friar Tuck - shown in their most favorable light. The titular character actually spends a lot of the book flat on his back. What I enjoyed most about the book is the language and style. This first came out in 1820 and the prose style is delightfully archaic. Scott shows deep insight into human psyche, sharply drawing his characters, poking fun at hypocrisy and pomposity, and sympathetically portraying the humanity of the less fortunate.… (more)
LibraryThing member vidalia11
I'm listening to the Ivanhoe audiobook in my car, and it's quite entertaining. Perhaps hearing it is more enjoyable than reading it. For me, the language is beautiful to hear.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
898 Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott (read 26 Apr 1967) I read this in high school with less than absorption and since only books read by me cover to cover get into my list of books read, and since I was reading nearly everything by Scott, I felt I should read this in its own volume so it could get into my list of books read. I liked it well, but whether my memory is actually of the book read or is of movies based thereon I am not sure.… (more)
LibraryThing member MrsLee
A great tale of knights and adventure. Highly recommend
LibraryThing member robinamelia
Filling in the void while waiting for Martin's Dance with Dragons, I thought this classic novel of chivalry and Robin Hood would fit the bill. Certainly, it did offer more tournaments and jousting. But to my surprise, the plot revolved around Christian anti-semitism, an issue, it seems, I cannot escape. Condemning it more directly than his model, Shakespeare, did in Merchant of Venice, nonetheless, he can only hope to create sympathy for a Jew(ess) by making her the most beautiful, heroic and selfless creature to ever walk the earth. Since no real Jews can measure up, apparently this book so central to the English literary canon has not accomplished much in combating the endemic British dislike of the Jews.

Perhaps because it dealt with attitudes so prevalent in the world today, I found the book at times painful to read, even though I suspected correctly that all would end (relatively) well. Dense with description and a narrative voice at times intrusive to contemporary readers, the book still deserves to be read.
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LibraryThing member lunanshee
Scott’s classic epic following the adventures of a disinherited knight who fights to restore Richard the Lion Heart to his throne and to regain his own honor. Battles, intrigue and romance abound in this heroic tale. Surprisingly easy to read and quite enjoyable. Ivanhoe reads like a fast-paced ballad and, although it is a long story, the action is evenly spread throughout. I would recommend this classic to anyone who enjoys an epic tale about knights, Templars, friars, lords, ladies and kings. Popular folk heroes Robin Hood, the Black Knight and Friar Tuck also make cameo appearances.… (more)


Original publication date


Physical description

624 p.; 7.1 inches


0192831720 / 9780192831729

Other editions

Ivanhoe by Walter Scott (Paperback)
Ivanhoe by Walter Scott (Comic book)
Ivanhoe by Walter Scott (Hardcover)

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