A few weeks ago, Emily wrote a post about the Tumblr trend of listing your “top 10 favorite books” or the “top 10 books that changed your life” or something along those lines. I already wrote about the top book on that list—Lord of the Rings, no brainer—but now I’m going to write about another book that is both a favorite book and a book that changed my life: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.
As Emily reviews her top ten books, she’ll explain how each of them shaped her into the writer she is today (which is an awesome writer, by the way). Ivanhoe didn’t influence me as a writer in any major way, but it certainly shaped a large part of my childhood. From about the time I was eight to the time I was thirteen I was incredibly interested in all Romantic stories—King Arthur, Robin Hood, the middle ages, knights in shining armor, dragons, epic adventures, etc. I think a lot of kids go through this kind of phase. I certainly wasn’t the only one in my family to be very into King Arthur and Robin Hood. But for me, a lot of this interest began with the story of Ivanhoe.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t read Ivanhoe when I was eight. My parents used to buy me books from the “Great Illustrated Classic” series, classics that were abridged for younger readers like myself. That’s how I first read Ivanhoe, and I didn’t need Scott’s heavy handed English in order to be affected by the book. Rather, his characters and the romance of adventure lured me into his story.
For those of you who haven’t read the book, Ivanhoe follows several main characters. It takes place during in England during a time of high tension between the Saxons and the Normans. Ivanhoe is one of many young men who goes to fight in the Crusades, leaving behind Rowena, the Saxon noblewoman he loves. For my senior thesis in college I wrote about Rowena as the medieval heroine archetype, but she was definitely not my favorite character. The female character I wanted to be was Rebecca, the Jewish woman Ivanhoe saves from being burned at the stake. The book also features a plethora of bad guys, like Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert and Count Front-de-Boeuf. But even more exciting for an impressionable young reader, Ivanhoe includes the figure Robin Hood and King Richard the Lion Heart. Needless to say that any book featuring Robin Hood is sure to include romance and adventure.
Ivanhoe was one of my first literary exposures to the romantic and adventurous world of the Middle Ages. It had the love story between Rowena and Ivanhoe, the adventure of Robin Hood, the heroic courage of Rebecca, and anything else a developing imagination could want in a book. It was iconic literature for my Robin Hood/King Arthur phase, a phase I never fully came out of. It’s the reason I like reading about epic adventures and grand (and sometimes unresolved) love stories. Ivanhoe is a mix of many of the exciting things about the Middle Ages, as well as a few of the not-so-good things. But overall, it is a fanciful tale perfect for expanding the imagination of a young reader.