Lisa's Reviews > The Talisman

The Talisman by Walter Scott
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's review
Sep 09, 2011

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bookshelves: c19th, britain, kindle
Read from August 15 to September 09, 2011

Sir Walter Scott was a much-loved author of the 19th century: he wrote great tales of adventure, as appealing now as they were then, but today we read them with a keen awareness of the British sense of entitlement which guides Scott’s characters’ actions.

The Talisman is a tale of the Crusades, set in 1190 and beginning when there was a truce between the Saracens and King Richard the Lionheart. As with many another historical novel, Scott takes liberties with the historical record, and probably with his depictions of Arab culture too, but rather than analyse its deficiencies with a post-colonial eye, I chose to surrender to the adventure instead.

BEWARE: SPOILERS (Nothing but, really)

It begins, as does The Faerie Queen with the image of the lone knight plodding through an eerie landscape, in this case the arid wastes of the desert. He’s weighed down by all the chain mail paraphernalia of the knight and Scott notes that many crusaders died from the effects of the torpid heat. However this knight (and his horse) have adapted easily. Clearly he has exceptional qualities of endurance, and he’s also honorable. After two years on the campaign he’s run out of money to support the usual followers (who we presume would cook his meals, wash his socks and help him repel the enemy) but the reason for his impecunious state is that (a) he wasn’t well off to start with, though clearly better off than a luckless peasant and (b) (unlike other crusaders) he’s chosen not to rob those he’s defeated nor demand ransom for their return. His squire, who by rights should be loyal and therefore not in need of any such sordid inducement as regular payment, is absent because he is ill, not because he’s shot through. Is our hero cast down by his circumstances? Certainly not. He ‘was accustomed to consider his good sword as his safest escort, and devout thoughts as his best companion’.

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Reading Progress

16.0% "Start of chapter 4"
20.0% "Ch 5, I'm catching up"
51.0% "end of Ch 14 and poor old Sir K seems to get into one scrape after another..."
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