(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ivanhoe is easily the best-known Scott novel, probably because it became a celebrated Hollywood epic in 1952. This celebrity reflects Scott’s success in creating a heroic image that remains current. Yet the novel is rich in illuminating detail and is beautifully constructed; and, although research has found it inaccurate, it established the genre of fantasy romance.

The novel portrays the return of the Saxon Wilfred Ivanhoe from the Holy Land to his alienated ancestral estate. It is the early thirteenth century, with King Richard I (or Richard the LionHearted) held captive in Austria. In his absence, his brother John has taken the throne; he uses bribery and extortion to secure his position and intends to suppress the Saxon minority by force.

The first major event is a tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, attended by all the principal nobility. John plans to showcase his power, a propaganda move. Yet events go against him. On the first day, his champions fall in man-to-man combat to a masked warrior, the Disinherited Knight, who awards his winnings to the Saxon lady Rowena. On the second day, in group combat, the Disinherited Knight wins again, though aided by another unknown, The Black Sluggard. Furthermore, a Saxon yeoman archer beats the Prince’s Norman marksmen. At the end of the tournament, Ivanhoe collapses from concealed wounds and is taken for treatment to a rich Jewish merchant, Isaac of York, and his beautiful daughter...

(The entire section is 533 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Night is drawing near when Prior Aymer of Jorvaux and the haughty Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert overtake a swineherd and a fool by the roadside and ask directions to Rotherwood, the dwelling of Cedric the Saxon. The answers of these serfs so confuse the Templar and the prior that they would have gone far afield were it not for a pilgrim from the Holy Land whom they encounter shortly afterward. The pilgrim is also traveling to Rotherwood, and he brings them safely to Cedric’s hall, where they claim lodging for the night. It is the custom of those rude days to afford hospitality to all travelers, so Cedric gives a grudging welcome to the Norman lords.

There is a feast at Rotherwood that night. On the dais beside Cedric the Saxon sits his ward, the lovely Lady Rowena, descendant of the ancient Saxon princes. It is the old man’s ambition to wed her to Athelstane of Coningsburgh, who comes from the line of King Alfred. Because his son, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, fell in love with Lady Rowena, Cedric banished him, and the young knight went with King Richard to Palestine. None in the banquet hall that night suspects that the pilgrim is Ivanhoe himself.

Another traveler who claims shelter at Rotherwood that night is an aged Jew, Isaac of York. Hearing some orders the Templar mutters to his servants at the feast’s end, Ivanhoe warns the Jew that Bois-Guilbert has designs on his moneybag or his person. Without taking leave of their host the next morning, the disguised pilgrim and Isaac of York leave Rotherwood together and continue on to the nearby town of Ashby de la Zouche.

Many other travelers are on their way to the town, for a great tournament is to be held there. Prince John, the regent of England in King Richard’s absence, is to preside. The winner of the tournament will be allowed to name the Queen of Love and Beauty and receive the prize of the passage of arms from her hands.

Ivanhoe attends the tournament with the word Disinherited written on his shield. Entering the lists, he strikes the shield of Bois-Guilbert with the point of his lance and challenges the knight to mortal combat. In the first passage, both knights splinter their lances, but neither is unhorsed. At the second passage, Ivanhoe’s lance strikes Bois-Guilbert’s helmet and upsets him. Then, one by one, Ivanhoe vanquishes five knights who agreed to take on all comers. When the heralds declare the Disinherited Knight victor of the tourney, Ivanhoe names Lady Rowena the Queen of Love and Beauty.

In the tournament on the following day, Ivanhoe is pressed hard by three antagonists, but he receives unexpected help from a knight in black, whom the spectators call the Black Sluggard because of his previous inactivity. Because of his earlier triumphs during the day, Ivanhoe is again named champion of the tournament. To receive the gift from Lady Rowena, Ivanhoe removes his helmet, and when he does, he is recognized. He receives the chaplet, his prize, kisses the hand of Lady Rowena, and then faints from loss of blood. Isaac of York and...

(The entire section is 1247 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Ivanhoe is an excellent example of the historical novel, as developed by Scott and defined in his numerous prefaces and introductions...

(The entire section is 134 words.)