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Reading the Classics : High Adventure in Merry Ol’ England

“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.”

Ah! This month’s Reading the Classics has been a breath of fresh air! Not that last month was too stuffy (though it was a bit stuffy). But this month, once again, I return to a previously read, beloved classic from my days of youth. I really needed to get away from the feeling that I was being assigned work by a pretentious English professor so this time I chose something that I knew I loved…Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. And though, as with last month, I will not be checking another classic off my To-Be-Read-List; I am experiencing one of my favorite novels in its new MP3 format. LPL also has a nifty illustrated edition if you’re into visuals. I AM into visuals! But with a book like Ivanhoe, my visuals tend toward things such as putting on my chainmail hauberk, strapping a sword on to my hip and admiring myself in the mirror. If I’m in a particularly natty mood, I’ll also put a crown on my head (yes I have a crown at home…as if owning chainmail isn’t bad enough!) and pretend that I am warming the throne for King Richard Cœur de Lion’s return home from the Crusades! Though as a monarch I’d never be as cruel as the nasty usurper, Prince John!

Phew! I was actually afraid that this blog post might force me to admit something embarrassing… like the fact that reading Ivanhoe puts me in the mood to return to my Dungeons & Dragons playing days. I fear THAT would have put me beyond the pale!

I did revisit this book with the goal of getting something new from it. I planned to see it with wise adult eyes. I hoped to glean something from the work itself rather than from the story…something, perhaps in the realm of appreciation for Scott and his writing style or for the novel’s place in history as a prototype for the Historical Novel.  And, Yes. I did feel some of that. Having become an avid reader of historical fiction, I see that Sir Walter’s most famous novel is in fact the quintessential work in the genre…the Ur of Historical Fiction. But I was pleasantly surprised that a reread of Ivanhoe also took me back a bit! I had the same giddy feelings that I had in my early teens when reading this for the first time. I remember the elation of discovering Scott’s lyrical depiction of Chivalry and High Adventure…and then quickly digging deeply into as many renderings of The Adventures of Robin Hood and His Merry Men as I could find, the works of Malory, T.H. White and any other Arthurian tales I could lay my hands on. Wow! This has really struck a chord in me! I think next month’s classic might be in a similar vein…Some Homeric Epic Poetry perhaps?

“Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.” Not so fast! We’ll have to wait a month for that…

- Dan Winsky, Acquisitions

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