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September 03, 2015

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Oh, I've read Ivanhoe. All of it; aloud, even (for reasons that seemed excellent at the time).

While the fair Rowena is probably the best contender for the title of "least interesting character", she faces considerable competition from Wilfred of Ivanhoe himself. It's almost as if Scott put these two in as deliberate stereotypes of the romantic hero and heroine, letting them go through the motions of driving the story, while the truly fascinating cast of secondary characters gets on with all the fun stuff.

Of the "officially designated" major characters, the only interesting one is the villainous Templar, Brian de Bois-Guilbert. He's a study in built-in conflicts; a knight who's aware his chivalry is irrevocably stained, a Christian crusader who's been completely Easternized in his habits... ultimately, it's his inner conflicts that finish him off, in what Robertson Davies called "one of the most interesting psychological deaths in all literature".

But the "designated" hero and heroine are rather flat and uninteresting people - and I find it hard to believe that a writer of Scott's talent and experience wasn't aware of that as he wrote.

I haven't done any research on the subject, but from reading Ivanhoe, I always assumed Rebecca was supposed to be the heroine. How much clearer a sign can you get than God striking down her persecutor during a trial by combat?

I wonder how similar the cases are of the "ideal hero/heroine" and elves (especially Tolkein elves). Both, in some sense, reflect an ideal to which we think we ought to aspire.

In both cases, I think we can admire from afar. But we only really get attached to the ones who step off their pedestal and become real people.

My favorite is the BBC Ivanhoe, with the great Ciaran Hinds as Bois-Guilbert. Really amazing, and Rebbecca is clearly the heroine in that version. I love the old movies, but that 1952 Ivanhoe cannot compare.

I have never been fond of love triangles, but wow, what a set up in that story.

I have the paperback of Ivanhoe; perhaps one day I will get to it, if I can break away from watching the SFF flame war.

I find myself agreeing very much with the idea that Wilfred and Rowena are intentional cardboard cutouts. They are both so boring and bland that they deserve each other.

Rebecca is an example of superior character building in a book where you really don't expect it. She is intelligent, articulate, religious, but not a zealot, brave and just simply a good person.

Another character of whom I'd love to read more: Wamba. He is extremely clever and knows just how to hide it and play the fool so he gets on reasonably well in a time not very good for clever Saxons. I even used to have an idea of writing a retelling of Ivanhoe where Wamba was the mastermind in the background all along.

Eva:

I even used to have an idea of writing a retelling of Ivanhoe where Wamba was the mastermind in the background all along.

Doooooo eeeeeeeeeet. This is the sort of thing that could be quite the bestseller, you know.

Ironically, the first version of Ivanhoe I came in contact with as a kid (an audio play) left the Jewish angle out completely, and the final duel between Ivanhoe and Bois-Gilbert was about Prince John's attempt to pseudo-legally take over the throne for good. The Knight Templar was also into Rowena of course.
Wamba was a major character, maybe even the main driver of the action for most of the time.
Given that it was aimed at children and probably less than an hour long, I see no problem there and do not suspect any ideological mmotive.
A saw the 1952 movie many years later (long after reading the book itself) and was not overly impressed. 2 newer adaptations are still waiting for me to watch on my DVD shelf.

If anyone else has read Dorothy Dunnett's Crawford of Lymond series . . . is the monster Gabriel partly a riff on Brian?

Hartmut:

Was that audio play in German, or English? and what decade was it?

JakeB:

I consulted with Mr Dr Science, who's read the Lymond series many times, and we think Gabriel isn't really a riff on Bois-Guilbert, except in that they're both Templars. B-G never pretends to be humble, God-fearing, etc., he's always upfront about being proud and interested in doing what he wants.

Hartmut:

Was that audio play in German, or English? and what decade was it?

In German, made in 1974 (other sources say 1976 or 1978) by Kurt Vethake, length slighly above 45 minutes.

It seems that guy made a significant percentage of the audio plays I loved as a kid (and that introduced me to a lot of literary classics). Feeling a wave of nostalgia sweeping over me.

slightly not slighly

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