Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Reviews: Ivanhoe

I hope you liked the book review of Great Expectations I posted a while back. Today, I'm posting about another of my classic favorites: Ivanhoe.
When I was about seven years old, I read our abridged version of Ivanhoe for the first time. I disliked it, mostly because of the gore and blood that was involved. Thus, when I saw it on my eighth grade reading list…let’s just say that I could have been more excited. When I picked up the book, and began to read it, I didn’t expect too much.  But as I read, I became more and more intrigued with the story! In fact, I loved the story so much that I read the book for about forty-five minutes straight, and then had to put it down to do some other work.  By the end of three days, I had read the entire book cover-to-cover, and absolutely loved it! 
So, why did I like Ivanhoe so much? First of all, it had a fabulous storyline. It is during the ‘reign’ of John Lackland that Sir Walter Scott begins his novel.  Cedric, a Saxon lord, has disinherited his son, Wilfred of Ivanhoe and has taken guardianship of the beautiful and clever Rowena, a fair Saxon damsel.  Unbeknownst to Cedric, Rowena loves Ivanhoe, but tells no one this fact. When a merchant Jew named Isaac comes to John’s court, along with his dark-haired, attractive daughter Rebecca, Cedric learns that Ivanhoe has escaped from the battle in which the rightful king of England, Richard the Lion-hearted, was captured. Cedric dislikes this fact, but the lovely Rowena is joyful that her lover is safe, wherever he may be.
Cedric’s mind is taken off of Ivanhoe when, a few days later, a tournament is held at the fairgrounds. There, the usurping John sees for the first time the lovely Rebecca, daughter of the Jewish Isaac.  He is charmed by her beauty and wit, and vows to make her Queen-of-love-and-beauty during the tournament. However, his advisors quickly inform him that only the knight who wins the tournament may name the Queen-of-love-and-beauty.  John resigns himself to this fact, and waits for three days, until the last day of the tournament. When a knight in black armor, calling himself the Disinherited Knight, is proclaimed the winner, he promptly crowns Rowena-not Rebecca-the queen of the tournament.  As Rowena is placing the winning crown upon the knight’s head, the crowd shouts that he must take his helmet off. The Disinherited Knight begins to refuse, and finally must give in to the crowd's pleas. When the helmet is taken off, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe looks into Rowena's eyes, and promptly faints from a dangerous, open, bleeding wound in his side.

One thing leads to another and soon, Rowena, Rebecca, Ivanhoe, Isaac, and Cedric are locked in Maurice de Bracy’s tower, a leading knight in King John’s army.  De Bracy wants to marry the gorgeous Rowena, while Brian de Bois-Guilbert falls in love with the stunning Rebecca. Neither Rebecca nor Rowena want a marriage proposal from either of these men, and tell them so promptly. Nevertheless, Rebecca falls into the hands of Bois-Guilbert, and is in the process of refusing his proposal when news comes to the castle that Rebecca must be tried for witchcraft, as she is a Jew who learned medicine from a supposed Jewish witch. In the end, Rebecca must claim a knight to save her or else she dies by fire. Bois-Guilbert’s courage (or lack thereof) fails him, but Ivanhoe comes to save the young Jewish maiden, and succeeds in saving Rebecca, marrying Rowena, and gathering back his inheritance from Cedric.
Growing in Virtue (what is this? Go here to find out. It is in the lower part of the post.)
There are some really negative character traits in this book. There's a lot of anti-Semitism in here, but that's because of the time in which it was written. However, one of the big virtues that the reader is constantly brought back to is the virtue of fortitude. You see this the most in Isaac and Rebecca, the two Jewish characters in the book. Isaac, even in the face of fiery persecution, keeps standing up for his faith. He refuses to submit to the angry de Bracy and Bois-de-Guilbert, who, in his mind, are asking him to sin. Rebecca too shows great fortitude in refusing Bois-de-Guilbert's marriage proposal, and his constant pleas for her to convert.The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one; on the contrary, he wants to set us free from evil. We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leadsto sin. We are engaged in the battle "between flesh and spirit"; this petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength." This quote pertains perfectly to Ivanhoe! Isaac and Rebecca were fighting between flesh and spirit...and in the end, spirit won.
I hope you enjoy Ivanhoe as much as I did, and let me know what you think in the comments!
In XC,

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