Ivanhoe

by Sir Walter Scott
ages: adult
First sentence: “In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and vallies which lie between Sheffield and that pleasant tow of Doncaster.”

Oh, Ivanhoe. How I wanted to like you. I like historical fiction, generally speaking, and I wanted, so very much, to enjoy the book that basically defined it as a genre. I love Robin Hood and the legend surrounding him, and I don’t mind the whole Prince John/Prince Richard, early England thing. In fact, I adore Renaissance festivals. So, it’s not the subject matter.

No, it was the language. The best word I can think of was “stuffy”. And I don’t know why that was: I don’t mind, usually, books written in the early 1800s. I can wade through long, complex sentences. But with you, Ivanhoe, I felt like I was looking at the words, reading them, and then they would just slide right out of my brain. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t even tell you half of the main characters, let alone the plot. At one point, I was thinking that maybe I had a bad translation, and if I just found a different one, everything would be okay… then I remembered that Scott was English.

I’m sure you’re a fun adventure story, full of jousts, knights, antisemitism, and silly jesters, but honestly? I’m not sure I care enough to wade through the book again to find out.

I know it’s me, though, and not you.

11 thoughts on “Ivanhoe

  1. I read Ivanhoe a long time and really enjoyed it, I tried to read another book by Scot a couple of years ago and found myself battling the same “brain slide” you describe. I didn't finish. Was the recent book just not as good as Ivanhoe, or has something changed about the way I read? I don't know.

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  2. I had similar problems with “Last Days of Pompeii” by Lytton but managed to slug through it. Ultimately it was an unsatisfying experiencnce. I've never been able to plow through “Ivanhoe” but perhaps because I already knew too much about the story.

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  3. I think Charlotte's right. I loved Ivanhoe in high school and read it a couple of times. When I reread it again a couple of years ago… not so much. I couldn't stomach the antisemitism- too over the top for me.

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  4. Clearly, you're not the only one. I saw a TV mini-series of Ivanhoe a few years back and really enjoyed it. That prompted me to pick up the book and that prompted me to drop it. Yup, it was the language I got lost in and not in a good way. Doesn't mean I don't feel a little guilty about not getting through it.
    Tammy
    Apples with Many Seeds

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  5. Guys you need to finish this book. I read the first half and put it away for awhile because I couldn't take it. About a year later I started over and COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. I guess you have to be into this stuff but I was so sad I finished and plan on reading it again (its only been 6 months)

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