My grandma, a master storyteller and descendant of some noble folks from England and Scotland, was understandably a devoted fan of Sir Walter Scott. Since I spent most of my childhood living in her home, I read Ivanhoe when I was quite young. A long while ago.
So I picked it up on Kindle and — after wading through an interminable preface — soon got charmed by a jester outwitting a boisterous Knight of the Templars on leave from the crusades. Before long I met with surprisingly convincing versions of the infamous Prince John, and soon thereafter of Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, and King Richard
Equally fascinating were the depictions of conflict and collusion between the church and “state” (i.e. gangs of “nobles” exploiting the less fortunate); cultural attitudes between the rugged and earthy Saxons and the snooty Normans; and the loathing of Christians toward Jews, far deeper than toward their Muslim crusade enemies.
Whether Sir Walter’s fictional knights are honest depictions of the much-honored code of chivalry, I can hardly attest. But their prideful ways and will to conquer — be it lady or kingdom or Holy Land — feel so familiar, so universal, I trust his depiction. Even Ivanhoe and King Richard prove to be far less noble than reckless, macho, and avaricious.
The novel’s truly noble characters are those lacking worldly power: a few servants and the leading ladies, Rowena and Rebecca, one of whom assumes Christ-like moral proportions.
The plotting is as deft as any I can recall, with every thread woven into an exquisite tapestry. And the final pages are as fulfilling those of any great mystery. While we might guess correctly about the conclusion in general , the details are a delicious surprise and, in retrospect, entirely right.
In addition to all that, after a drink or two I might argue the final dialog between Rebecca and the Templar is as poetic, well-wrought, and significant as any from Shakespeare.
Thanks, Grandma, for Ivanhoe and everything.