31 July 2010

Ivanhoe: A Romance

I finished reading Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott a few weeks ago. Actually I listened to it while I was exercising in the mornings. I downloaded the story from LibriVox. The first half of the story was recorded by Kristin LeMoine who did a marvelous job. For some reason Kristin could not finish reading the book but others picked up and also read well. But enough of that. On to the story.

Ivanhoe was written a long time ago, 1819 to be exact. And the story narration sound old. I rather enjoy it, but it is different than most books written today. The narrator often speaks directly to the reader giving necessary information or giving explanation for characters actions. It is kind of fun. It feels like you are listening to a story teller rather than reading a story.

Many of our favorite characters are weaved through the story, King Richard, Robin of Locksley, Prince John, and others. I received a new insight into these characters which I had never seen previously in other books or movies containing these men. It was also nice to gain insight into the history and culture of the earliest days of England. I suppose you could consider Ivanhoe one of the earliest historical novels. One of the aspects I liked in the book was to see the way the characters from different cultures treated each other. The generalization about each culture was perhaps exaggerated but it still gives a view into some of the prejudices the people held, either in Sir Walter Scotts day or in early England.

Overall I considered Ivanhoe quite exciting and fun to read. I would suggest it to anyone.

There is one dialog that I wanted to point out from chapter 29. The scene is one where Rebecca, the Jewess and healer, is looking out the turret window describing the war going on below to Ivanhoe who is anxiously lying wounded in bed.
"Alas," said Rebecca, leaving her station at the window, and approaching the couch of the wounded knight, "this impatient yearning after action—this struggling with and repining at your present weakness, will not fail to injure your returning health—How couldst thou hope to inflict wounds on others, ere that be healed which thou thyself hast received?"
"Rebecca," he replied, "thou knowest not how impossible it is for one trained to actions of chivalry to remain passive as a priest, or a woman, when they are acting deeds of honour around him. The love of battle is the food upon which we live—the dust of the 'melee' is the breath of our nostrils! We live not—we wish not to live—longer than while we are victorious and renowned—Such, maiden, are the laws of chivalry to which we are sworn, and to which we offer all that we hold dear."
"Alas!" said the fair Jewess, "and what is it, valiant knight, save an offering of sacrifice to a demon of vain glory, and a passing through the fire to Moloch?—What remains to you as the prize of all the blood you have spilled—of all the travail and pain you have endured—of all the tears which your deeds have caused, when death hath broken the strong man's spear, and overtaken the speed of his war-horse?"
"What remains?" cried Ivanhoe; "Glory, maiden, glory! which gilds our sepulchre and embalms our name."
"Glory?" continued Rebecca; "alas, is the rusted mail which hangs as a hatchment over the champion's dim and mouldering tomb—is the defaced sculpture of the inscription which the ignorant monk can hardly read to the enquiring pilgrim—are these sufficient rewards for the sacrifice of every kindly affection, for a life spent miserably that ye may make others miserable? Or is there such virtue in the rude rhymes of a wandering bard, that domestic love, kindly affection, peace and happiness, are so wildly bartered, to become the hero of those ballads which vagabond minstrels sing to drunken churls over their evening ale?"
"By the soul of Hereward!" replied the knight impatiently, "thou speakest, maiden, of thou knowest not what. Thou wouldst quench the pure light of chivalry, which alone distinguishes the noble from the base, the gentle knight from the churl and the savage; which rates our life far, far beneath the pitch of our honour; raises us victorious over pain, toil, and suffering, and teaches us to fear no evil but disgrace. Thou art no Christian, Rebecca; and to thee are unknown those high feelings which swell the bosom of a noble maiden when her lover hath done some deed of emprize which sanctions his flame. Chivalry!—why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection—the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant—Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword."
It seams as though war has brought conflict to the soul as well as to nations as long as it has existed.

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