Summer of Classics: Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe.  What a book!  I have read some dense stuff in my time (Tolstoy, Dickens, all of the Bronte’s, Seuss), and nothing comes close to Ivanhoe.

The back of my copy (because we all scour the back for details, right?) claims that the author, Sir Walter Scott, is “the father of the historical novel.”  He had to have earned that “sir” somehow!  But truly, this really did read like something ground-breaking.  As if no other novel had existed before Ivanhoe.

It was published in 1819 (long, long ago), and takes place during the Crusades (long, long, LONG ago).  So the book is written in a very Old English form (thou dost!) from a very Georgian Era standpoint.  Which means I sometimes had difficulty digesting the actual language.

My difficulty in actually reading the book did not detract from my enjoyment of the plot.  Ivanhoe is another action-adventure book on my Summer of Classics book list.  But this one was so chivalrous.  Which makes sense, since the main characters are knights in shining armor rescuing damsels in distress.  Many characters are in disguise.  All of them are memorable.  Hi there, Friar Tuck!  Why hello, Robin Hood!

My favorite characters (who I feel should be the ones listed as “hero” on the back cover) were the Jester and the Swineherd.  Loved them.  They opened the story, set me up for the adventure.  They were present at all the most important parts.  They saved the stated hero on numerous occasions.  And they were fun.  I loved them.

I was also really impressed with the female characters.  All two of them.  I might be alone in this, since they did tend to wait around for the men.  And yet.  Let’s look at the book: written in 1819 about the Crusades.  Women back couldn’t really be strong.  They sorta had to wait around for the men.

So while their plots revolved around marriage and rescue, they were very strong, independent-minded women.  Women who did not lay themselves down at the feet of their oppressors.  Women who had the strength to protect their feminine virtues as much as they could.  I loved watching their characters grow.

So, Ivanhoe was a very difficult book.  I wouldn’t rush out and recommend it to just anyone.  But if you are looking for a challenge, something to really slow you down and make you work, pick this up.  It’s poetic, beautiful, hilarious, exciting, and memorable.  But don’t take my word for it!