Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – 4/5 Stars

Norman knights have returned from Jerusalem, and now that King Richard is being held captive in Austria – an event that was in no small part helped by his brother Prince John – they are confident that Prince John can rule safely and that the conquered Saxons, yeoman, and Richard’s subjects can be scattered to the winds. Before the Normans returned from Jerusalem, warriors of the Temple, and particularly notorious knight Brian de Bois-Guilbert, aligned themselves with the French and thwarted King Richard’s conquest of Jerusalem. Those Saxon knights loyal to King Richard have yet to return to England to see the state it is in, or so we believe.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott - front cover

Strong and reckless oath-breaker and warrior of the Temple, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, is not one for subtlety, and makes his desire plain for beautiful Saxon ward Rowena as one of a few Norman guests of Cedric the Saxon’s keep in Rotherwood. The heart of the Saxon cause beats strongly in fiery leader Cedric, who detests the plight their Normal conquerers have put them in, never mind King John’s betrayal of his brother Richard and the oppression perpetrated by Norman knights. There is, however, more at stake than the political affairs of England, and of Rowena. In the keep a jousting tournament is discussed, to be held at Ashby de la Zouche to symbolise the ascendancy of Prince John (and so that he can raise his funds) and the Normans over the English Saxons. When the Jewish Isaac of York enters the guest hall and becomes the subject of slights and planned cruelties, one man gives up his seat so he can sit down. This man challenges Brian de Bois-Guilbert’s assertion that King Richard’s knights are second only to the warriors of the Temple: King Richard’s knights are ‘second to none’.

The jousting tournament is competitive. The Norman challengers beat the home team on the field, again and again, and the crowd are losing hope. Then, a mysterious knight appears, determined to fight every single one of the challengers for the defenders’ side. The Saxons and yeoman are emboldened by the knight’s victories and their honour is restored. Shocked Cedric is, when at the end of the joust it is revealed to all that the mysterious knight was none other than his disowned son Sir Ivanhoe, who bestows his favour on Rowena as the Queen of Love and Beauty, throwing a spanner in Cedric’s plans for Rowena to marry a Saxon heir. Prince John struggles to maintain dignity, especially when intrepid yeoman Robin Hood speaks of King Richard as England’s rightful King, and is ordered to prove his archery skills or be wrestled off the field.

I enjoyed Ivanhoe much more than I thought I would. There were unforgettable characters, and clashes in battle. There was that medieval romantic feeling as well, hinted at in a few passages. The reader sees the attraction and longing between Ivanhoe and the daughter of Isaac, Rebecca, and yet they cannot be together because of their different faiths in an intolerant and quarrelsome country. Though Ivanhoe and the Black Sluggard knight were adept in battle and showed valour in joust and siege, I also had a huge admiration for Rebecca’s forthright manner and how she could defend her sex, honour, and faith with a strength that stymied even the immoral/conflicted Brian de Bois-Guilbert whose physical strength and capacity for treachery were great.

The background to the entire story and the competing factions within was fascinating. It was Norman vs Saxon, and in the middle were outlawed yeoman led by Robin Hood and a few knights errant loyal to Richard. Robin Hood’s courage was great to read, and brought excitement and fast pace. The author had a grasp for how each faction would think. The Order of the Temple was originally corrupt before their extreme Grand Master put the Preceptory into order.

On the downside, there were too many references specific to the period in which Ivanhoe was written, in 1819, and though the quaint language wasn’t a barrier to understand most of the story, there were times when it was. After Rebecca is captured, three-quarters through the story, it slows down and is immersed in moralistic arguments. The end was disappointing too, and could be considered deus ex machina. I nearly gave Ivanhoe five stars.

Nevertheless, it is one to keep on your shelf. The excitement, battles, personality contrasts, romanticism, and chivalry made it fantastic.

The Silver Horn Echoes: A Song of Roland – 5/5 Stars

The Silver Horn Echoes A Song of Roland - front cover

Set in the Dark Ages: an account of Roland, a champion whose heroic deeds and code of honour are in demand to protect King Charles. The story is a weaving of short related tales that paint the history, battles, valour, internal fighting, and politics during this time. King Charles must keep his throne from grim conspirators and claimants to the throne, constantly fighting Saxons and Emir Marsilion of Saragossa who plots to exact revenge against Barcelona and sees an opportunity to invade France too!

I agree that the stories were reminiscent of the tales of King Arthur – bravery coupled with the courting of beautiful Princesses. Along with the above, it did ignite that nostalgic classical feeling within me, when I watch such films, of times when knights lived and died by honour and the sword.

The plans between Kings, Emirs, and Emperors made Europe feel like an authentically constructed setting, and this was bolstered with battle that actually provided glimpses of how the events played out and circled around the hero Roland. Tragedy and blood was apparent in equal measure – it wasn’t all fantastical heroism.

Some of the following criticism is just personal preference, as a consequence of reading omniscient point of view, which I’m less familiar with. The scenes were shorter than I would have liked, which stopped the flow of events at times, though they worked well in prioritising the setting and circumstances the main characters were involved in. I would have liked a bit more characterisation too, such as the rivalry between Ganelon and Roland at the beginning, which carried the emotional intensity of boiling water, which was good. I did sometimes forget who was who with sub-characters, an exception being Saleem who had an interesting background as the ‘wrong son’ banished from Marsilion’s court.

There is a hint of dark magic, such as ‘shades’, dreams, and sorcerous mystery. It mixed in nicely with religious devotion during this time. It added that little extra flavour to the theme without overpowering the essentially medieval content, which was nice.

The ending was exceptional – the reader is given just the right amount of perception to build a picture of the final battle, and it made use of heroism, loss, friendship, and objects within the story to make it a truly epic tale. I’d read more books like this, and would watch more films like this. The Silver Horn Echoes: A Song of Roland is an astonishing and proud achievement, and as a reader I feel I’ve reaped the rewards.

Website of A Silver Horn Echoes: The Song of Roland

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