March Read: Ivanhoe

Hello everyone! Here is my review for my March Read, Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott. As always, I will be doing a content review of this book as well as my own personal review at the end!

So without further ado, here is my review of Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott.

The Synopsis (Taken from Goodreads)

Ivanhoe (1819) was the first of Scott’s novels to adopt a purely English subject and was also his first attempt to combine history and romance, which later influenced Victorian medievalism. Set at the time of the Norman Conquest, Ivanhoe returns from the Crusades to claim his inheritance and the love of Rowena and becomes involved in the struggle between Richard Coeur de Lion and his Norman brother John. The gripping narrative is structured by a series of conflicts: Saxon versus Norman, Christian versus Jew, men versus women, played out against Scott’s unflinching moral realism.

Content Review:

Positive Messages: As this was set during the time of chivalry, there are many honorable characteristics of the main characters. Gurth and Wamba, two of Ivanhoe’s father’s servants, are loyal to their master, even risking their own lives for him when he treats them wrongly.

Ivanhoe himself is noble, respects his father, and fights for honor. He even protects Isaac the Jew, despite the bigotry of the day, and fights for the life of his daughter, Rebecca. He even asks for his father’s forgiveness, though really he has done nothing wrong, and waits for his blessing before marrying the girl he loves.

Isaac the Jew loves his money, but even then, he loves his daughter more, at times wondering what all the gold in the world would mean to him if he lost her. Despite his flaw of greediness, he seems to have a kind heart, wanting to go and thank Ivanhoe for saving his daughter’s life, and lending Ivanhoe some armor when he helps him out.

Rebecca is probably the most honorable of the characters, as she remains strong in her faith and morals, even when her life is on the line. She refuses the suit of her captor, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, and threatens to kill herself rather than give into his sinful demands. That earns his respect, and as the book progresses, his admiration at her strength and fearlessness. She rarely shows fear, and often defends her faith, ultimately trusting in God. She cares for Ivanhoe, even when he treats her with coolness upon learning she is a Jewess, and though she falls in love with him, at the end of the book, she goes to his wife Rowena and gives her beautiful jewels and compliments her beauty, basically saying she is happy they are together, despite how it pains her.

Even the main villain, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert has noble moments. Though he is arrogant, proud, and power-hungry, when he meets Rebecca, she has an affect on him. Her courage wins his respect, and he gives her his word he will deal honorably with her. He wants her to want to be with him, and though he kidnaps her (basically twice), he protects her against showers of arrows, and allows himself to take the hits. When he takes her to a place where she is accused of witchcraft just for being a Jewess, he complains of the bigotry, and wonders why it must exist. He offers to forsake all his fame and fortune if she will go with him to another country, and even wishes he were a Jew or she a Christian so they could marry. Though he’s basically a hypocrite, claiming to be a Knight Templar, but not practicing the principles of his religion, he can at least see the wrongness in what his fellow Templar’s are pushing. Unfortunately, however, he ultimately allows pride and fame to get the better of him.

Rating: 4/5

Spiritual Content: As the synopsis states, there are two religions at work here — Christianity and Judaism. There are many abbots and priests in the story, prayers and vigils, monks and Knights Templar (for those of you who don’t know who the Knights Templar are, they were basically a group of monkish knights who fought for the church and were under the Pope’s authority). The Knights Templar are mostly shown in a negative light, as are some of the other abbots and priests. Most of them drink, and a few are said to have a fun time with women. As mentioned before, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert is a Knight Templar, and his actions are very hypocritical of what he claims to fight for. Other so-called “Christian” men kidnap women in order to force them to marry them or become their lovers.

However, there are some honorable Christian men and women. Ivanhoe, for example, is an honorable Christian, though slightly bigoted towards Jews. Friar Tuck, though a little loose with the wine, still desires to be a priest even when given the opportunity to be release from his vows. And on the part of the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, at least he wishes to scourge all the hypocrisy from the Templars and make them more Godly.

People cross themselves and say Latin phrases and prayers. Because the church was such an important part of medieval culture, there are several mentions to the church, giving gifts, and so on.

Judaism is also mentioned, though not as in depth. There is a Rabbi seen with Isaac once, and Rebecca often recounts the heroic past of her people, bemoaning how they have become scattered and trampled down. Both Isaac and Rebecca often cry out or pray using phrases such as “O Jacob!” and “Holy God of Abraham!”

Rebecca has great trust in the Lord, saying “the Lord’s will be done” and saying she will trust in the “Rock of Ages”. Both Rebecca and her father both say that God made both Jew and Gentile.

There are mentions of witchcraft, someone using spells, someone being under a spell, and someone shapeshifting into a bird, but all the claims are false and none of it ever happened. There is also talk of the ancient Saxon gods.

Rating: 4/5

Romantic Content: As mentioned before, some men plan and carry out their plan to kidnap women with the goal of marrying them or forcing them to become their lovers. There is talk of abbots having a good time with women.

Rowena, a Saxon lady, is chosen by the Disinherited Knight to be the Queen of Love and Beauty over the tournament. He kisses her hand. Rowena is betrothed to a man (*Possible spoiler alert: the betrothal is cut off*).

Ivanhoe is said to love Rowena (*Another possible spoiler alert: and ends up marrying her at the end*). Their relationship, however, is hardly ever developed, and they get like, one scene together. The romance is very flat and really just summed up. I will get more into this in my personal review because… arrrggghhh I really hated it.

On the other hand, most of Ivanhoe’s scenes have Rebecca involved in them, and Rebecca clearly loves Ivanhoe as well. However, she struggles with herself because she is a Jew and he is a Christian, and he probably doesn’t feel the same way about her.

However, that’s… never actually established, whether or not Ivanhoe feels anything for her. He treats her kindly, even though he is reserved towards her because of her status as a Jewess. He even runs off when he’s finally getting permission from his father to marry Rowena to save Rebecca, and it’s said at the very end of the book that it would be inquiring too deeply to ask if Rebecca did not come to his mind more frequently than his wife would have approved. So… I’m honestly not sure what his feelings were.

Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert has an obsession with Rebecca. I’m not sure if it ever turned into a real love at the end, but at least he admired and respected her, if he didn’t truly love her. In many of their scenes together, he asks her to run away with him, or become his lover.

It is said a lady jilted a knight for a free land owner, hurting the knight badly and making him live for revenge.

Rating: 2.5/5

Violent Content: There’s plenty of medieval conflict in this story! At the very beginning, there’s mentions of the planned robbery of a Jew. Then there are plenty of jousts and sword fights, as King John hosts a tournament. Nothing explicit is said, even though the jousts are detailed. Some people fall senseless, someone has some blood on their forehead, and plenty of knights get wounded, including Ivanhoe (and he spends the rest of the book recovering from the wound).

As stated before, a group of knights kidnap some ladies and their companions. Isaac the Jew is threatened with torture, and though it never happens, the dialogue describing it is detailed. Someone sets a castle on fire, and a girl is abducted from it. A wounded, evil knight is left to die in it, going mad at the last moment. A mad woman sings old Saxon songs before dying in the fire herself. Two battles happen around this castle, but I can’t recall any graphic details concerning them.

Finally, Rebecca is sentenced to burn at the stake if she is found guilty of witchcraft in her trial by combat. The sticks are gathered, and a brief joust is fought. Her knight wins the joust, the other knight falls from his horse, dead, his eyes “glazed”. It’s probably the most described death in the book. Two other people are said to be executed.

Rating: 4/5

Language: There is some language in this book, however some of the terms weren’t meant to be offensive at the time of the writing, as it’s old English. The jester calls himself an a– a few times, and both versions of the N-word are used once or twice. William the Conquerer is referred to by his other name once (William the Ba—), and there is one version of the D word. I can’t remember if there were any more.

As for other names, some people call the Jews “dogs”. Someone calls the Grand Master of the Templars a bigoted dotard, and people call Rebecca a sorceress.

Rating: 2/5

Other Negative Content: I will try not to get into a rant here, and save it for my personal review of this book. There is nothing negative in the content of the book, but the style, the details, and the romance… let’s just say this book broke a ton of modern writing rules.

First, the book opens up with three whole pages of nothing but details. The scenery comes first, then the details on two character’s clothes, down to the bells on a jester’s cap. I get this was written back in the 1800s, so I can forgive that, I suppose. But then I get a little bit of dialogue, just to discover that neither of these two characters are Ivanhoe! That grated on my nerves. Then we went to ten more pages of detail, describing this oncoming caravan of people, only two of whom are really important to the story. And neither of them are Ivanhoe.

I can usually read somewhere around 50-100 pages in an hour, depending on the ease of the reading, but I read 15 pages in an hour with this. 15. The paragraphs are HUGE, and packed with so much unnecessary detail, and I got so confused. The whole book is scattered around with these huge paragraphs or places of unnecessary detail (like finding out what these monks are eating AFTER Ivanhoe’s already left, and we’re never going to even see them again? Really?) so I may have missed some things in this content review because my mind couldn’t mentally take it.

The romance… is a whole other topic, but it ties in a little here. Ivanhoe’s the title character, right? That means he should be the main character, right? And he should get the most book time, do the most action, and his love relationship should be the most developed, right? Well, apparently not. Brian de Bois-Guilbert even got more time than him — the villain! Even King Richard and Robin Hood got more time than him! And his relationship with Rowena? Omgosh, they got like one scene together. ONE. And the few scenes Ivanhoe was actually IN, he was with Rebecca. REBECCA! And he just HAD to marry Rowena.

That’s another thing. Save for Rebecca and Brian, I felt like all the other characters were flat. Cardboard. Except maybe Richard and Robin Hood, of course, but they weren’t even that developed. Poor Rowena, I can’t help but feel bad for her since she like, hardly gets any book time so it’s hard not to like Rebecca over her, but really, all she does the entire book is look pretty and cry. At least she has a nice scene at the end though (even though she’s still just looking pretty). And though I liked Ivanhoe, I barely got to see him, and he didn’t change much at all. I would have liked to see him maybe drop his prejudices towards the Jews at least, even if he still didn’t marry Rebecca.

Rating: 2/5

Total Content Rating: 3/5 Stars

Personal Review:

I really wanted to love this book. I read the abridged version when I was younger, and recalled liking it, though I couldn’t remember much about it. I knew it was medieval, had knights and adventure in it, and battles. So when I found a brand new copy of the unabridged version of Ivanhoe, I just had to get it.

First day I sat down with great anticipation. I opened the book and figured I could get at least fifty pages in during an hour, since I’m a speed reader. As I mentioned before, I got through fifteen. It was rough. It really was. Huge paragraphs describing people’s clothes, their horse’s ornaments, the setting… not to mention the fact that it was in old English, which confused me even more. I dreaded reading it again, but hoped it would get better.

It did… a little. Again, as I said above, Ivanhoe gets little time compared to some other characters in the book. I felt like the villain, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, actually probably got the most book time, along with Rebecca, and maybe King Richard. In fact, the majority of the scenes Ivanhoe got, he was with Rebecca, not with his girl Rowena, who he ends up marrying. That was frustrating.

The romance. That was probably the worst thing about this book. It’s stated that Ivanhoe has loved Rowena from childhood. Okay, that’s fine. Show me a scene of them together, so I can root for them. Okay, we get one scene of them together, and they’re in public, and it lasts about five seconds. The entire rest of the book, he’s never with her, and yet he marries her? And not Rebecca, who he’s with the rest of the book, who he rescues from death?!

Not to mention the differences between Rowena and Rebecca. In her defense, Rowena was a very flat character and also didn’t get much time. But in the time she did get, she proved herself just to be a wimp. She and Rebecca are both in the same sort of condition when they’re kidnapped, yet she’s treated much, much better, given a better room, and at least her kidnapper wants to marry her. But instead of trying to look for a way to escape, when confronted with her captor and hearing his suit, she cries. She’s proud and stubborn throughout the whole book, used to getting her own way, and then she cries. I had a hard time feeling bad for her. She reminded me of a spoiled brat, honestly.

Then there’s Rebecca. She’s placed in a worse place, with an old madwoman who also dislikes her just because she’s young, pretty, and a Jewess. Her captor doesn’t even want to marry her, he wants her as a mistress. Yet she resourcefully looks for a route of escape, refuses to give into her captor’s demands, and threatens to kill herself if he touches her, never once showing fear. She earns his respect and word that he won’t touch her without her consent. That’s the type of girl I admire.

Speaking of flat characters, most of the characters I felt were flat. That doesn’t mean they weren’t interesting (though some of them weren’t), but that they just… never really changed throughout the book. They didn’t have much personality, or gave me a reason to really… admire or like them outside of a “oh, he’s a good guy, he’s a bad guy” sort of way. In fact, the only reason I could actually keep reading this book was because of Brian and Rebecca, both of whom are wonderfully crafted and complex, especially Brian, who struggles with himself most of the book.

I would really love a retelling of this, with more modern, easy to read language, deeper character development, and a story where Ivanhoe gets more time to do stuff other than lie around wounded. Also, it would be nice if he liked Rebecca too, as I totally would have rooted for that romance. A version where Brian turns good too and ends up marrying Rebecca would be cool too, but I get that would be really changing the story.

There were some positives about this book, and some areas I actually was super into, but for the majority of the time, I was forcing myself through, looking at the page numbers to see if I’d read my quota for the week. Would I recommend this book to someone? Well, it would have to be a very, very, very specific person, otherwise, no. Either read the abridged version, or don’t read it at all.

Personal Review: 2.5/5 Stars

Thanks for reading my review! Have any of you ever read this book? What were your thoughts on it? Did you like it any better than I did? Do you think you shall read this book? Let me know in the comments below! God Bless! ~ Kay Leigh

3 thoughts on “March Read: Ivanhoe

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