Wednesday, October 26, 2011

May I Have a Word with You, Sir Walter Scott?

Dear Sir Walter Scott,

For the past several months I've been reading your Robin Hood/Richard the Lion-Hearted adventure, Ivanhoe. I read it when I was in high school and had positive memories, so since it was a free classic for Kindle, I thought I'd check it out again. It was still a fun adventure story, but I have a few points of contention to discuss with you. 

First, for a book named Ivanhoe, the character of Ivanhoe certainly wasn't in the story very much. I first noticed this when he was injured in the tournament at Ashby. There was the dramatic moment in which he fainted from his wounds at Rowena's feet, and then.....he disappeared for a great many chapters. The same thing happened again later, when the castle at Torquilstone was captured and burned. Ivanhoe was rescued by the Black Knight, and then.....he disappeared again for several chapters. This was disappointing to me, because I liked Ivanhoe (just as you wanted me to). He had a very interesting conflict - he has (in the past) turned his back on his Saxon heritage to fight with King Richard and now he's back. Will he be reconciled to his father? Then there is also the love triangle with Ivanhoe, Rowena, and Rebecca. Will Ivanhoe marry his long-time but forbidden love interest Rowena, or will he fall in love with the beautiful, talented, kind, and brave--but most definitely forbidden--Jewess Rebecca? Those are questions packed with dramatic possibility, and while they are answered in the story, they don't get the play they could have, because so much of the story is taken up by the story of Locksley/Robin Hood and by the treachery of Prince John and his coterie of knight conspirators. That's too bad, because Ivanhoe is a very (potentially) appealing character who should have been a much bigger part of this whole story.

Second, you certainly took the long way around in your descriptions of the action at times. Including the lyrics to the death song of Ulrica?  Was that really necessary? There were several times you interrupted the story to give the lyrics of some song a character was singing. OK, I know you were writing in the nineteenth century and there was no such thing as television and the internet, so people needed a different kind of entertainment than we have today. I suppose there was a great deal more patience for such departures from the plot in your day. But I have to confess -- it made me have irritated feelings toward your book by the time Rowena was singing the death song for Athelstane....

But perhaps my biggest point of contention is your total sell-out at the climax of the novel. Brian de Bois-Gilbert was a fascinating character; although he is despicable early on, at some point I found myself actually feeling some sympathy for him. I suppose that happened when he was trying to convince Rebecca to accept him after he had kidnapped her and brought her to Torquilstone. Granted, that's a pretty dastardly thing to do; so why did I end up sort of liking him? (Or does that just make me weird?) When he visited Rebecca after sentence had been pronounced on her, I felt great sympathy for the conflict he found himself in - does he give up ambition and power to save the woman he loves, or does he keep quiet and watch her burn as a witch? Wow, what a struggle! While it appears he's choosing ambition, even at the point of no return, so to speak, he's still battling himself. When he rides up to Rebecca as she's sitting by the stake where they plan to burn her and proposes that she jump on the back of his horse and ride away with him, I found myself almost hoping she would do it.

But then, how does all this great conflict end? (Spoiler alert, if you care) He has a heart attack and dies while he's riding against the still-wounded and weak Ivanhoe, who has come forward to be Rebecca's champion. A heart attack????? Really, that is just too coincidental. It's not even satisfying. I mean, sure, he's dead and Ivanhoe won and Rebecca is vindicated and free, but.....a heart attack? It was just a real letdown.

I'm not sorry I went back and re-read your book, but I must say I'm glad to be finished. 


Ephemera said...

So did you actually read the songs that interrupted the story? There were songs in Lord of the Rings...I just skipped them! LOL Maybe I missed something by doing that, but I'm not dedicated enough to wade through them.

Augustina Peach said...

I did read them...thinking the whole time, "I ought to skip this."