Mar 28, 11
Read from March 11 to 28, 2011
** spoiler alert **
Thankfully, this second attempt at Walter Scott was better than my first. I’m still not won over exactly, but I think I can at least see the appeal now. I wish I could judge this book without the disadvantage of two centuries of imitation and parody clouding my view of things. To me, this book is basically a straight-laced, high-minded, and loquacious precursor to the paperback romance novel, but I imagine it came across rather differently when it was first published. I generally didn’t find much of the romance all that romantic, nor much of the adventure all that adventurous, but there were some parts here and there that got to me. I don’t care much for the damsel in distress or knight in shining armor archetypes, and consequently Rowena and Ivanhoe struck me as being pretty vanilla. I did like Rebecca, though. She was dignified and passionate and refreshingly willful. There are an important couple of chapters where most of the good guys of the story are held prisoner by the evil Norman knights, and it perfectly demonstrates my point. Rowena collapses sobbing when faced with a Norman who wants to marry her, while Rebecca vehemently stands her ground against a Norman who plans to rape her. Also, she obviously falls head over heels for Ivanhoe while he is in her care, but handles his oblivion and occasional contempt with admirable grace. Personally, I think I would have wanted to smack his pretty blonde head for being so arrogant and mean, but I try to allow the heroines in the books I read their own tastes.
And that leads me to my next observations about this book. Ivanhoe plainly thought that Rebecca was beautiful, kind, and intelligent, and she in turn found him handsome and dashing. Usually, this in combination with the truckload of time they spent tête-à-tête would be more than enough to stir up a bit of proper romantic intrigue. However, Ivanhoe refuses to even think about it because, *gasp*, Rebecca is Jewish. The racism in this book is grating, even more so because it seems to hide behind the author’s sense that he’s being liberal-minded. Perhaps he seemed so in the nineteenth century, but I nearly choked reading parts of this today. Isaac is nothing more than a caricature; he’s compulsively greedy and spouts lines about Moses and Jacob at every turn. Being “the Jew” is the entire sum of his character and personality. Rebecca, at least, is allowed to be a person along with being Jewish, but the reader isn’t ever allowed to forget for a moment what she is. I doubt many people would argue that the Jewish people had a pretty horrible time of it in European history, so I don’t accuse Scott of exaggerating the level of hatred his characters direct at Isaac and Rebecca. But I honestly just don’t get it. Last I checked, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the disciples, and just about everyone else in the Bible were Jews – seems like anti-Semitism would be in poor taste for Christians.
It wasn’t all bad, though. I admit that when I read the little hint from Ivanhoe that he knew “but one man in England that might do such a deed,” I elbowed my husband and said, “It’s Richard! The black knight – he’s King Richard!” like it was much more exciting than it probably was. Also, when Robin Hood split his competitor’s arrow at the archery competition, I may have shook him awake from dozing on the beach to tell him my book was turning out to be just like the animated version of Robin Hood (you know, the one with Sir Hiss and Lady Cluck) and wasn’t that cool. He’s very patient. So if you can let yourself get caught up in the action, such as there is, there are some fun moments when familiar faces show up and brave deeds are done.
My biggest problem with Scott remains his language. The flowery syntax is so distracting and so implausible to my modern eyes/ears, that it pulls me out of the story. Also, his word choice irritates and amuses me where it isn’t intended to. For instance, I dare you not to laugh when Friar Tuck is described as a “buxom hermit.” On the other side, there was so much annoying Renaissance Fair stuff that I wanted to shake the author; really, just say “horse” - it makes me want to slap you less than “steed.” I also find that I hate the word “lists” for some reason. I don’t think there is any other word to use for the area where jousts are conducted, but I hate it. I never claimed these reviews were logical, they just express what I feel :)
Overall, not a bad book, and I may have to re-watch the movie version in honor of Elizabeth Taylor even though that early, saturated Technicolor makes me feel nervous.