Author: Sir Walter Scott
Review Summary: The writing style takes some getting used to, but it’s well worth it for this story of romanticized adventure and chivalry.
As part of Alison at The Cheap Reader’s Project: Fairy Tale, I will be reviewing one original and three re-tellings of Robin Hood this month. Ivanhoe is the best I’ve been able to find as an original, since (at least according to Wikipedia), Ivanhoe is the first story in which Robin Hood appears in his modern incarnation. In this version of the story, Ivanhoe is the central hero fighting to preserve England for Richard the Lion-Hearted, an endeavor which leads to his alliance with Robin Hood. Fortunately for our purposes, Robin Hood gets at least as much spotlight as Ivanhoe. This book also has the same over-the-top chivalry and sense of adventure that I’ve always found so enjoyable in modern re-tellings of the story of Robin Hood.
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.