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Diamond of the Desert

Diamond of the Desert. Natural fountain amid solitary groups of palm trees and a bit of verdure, located in the region of the Dead Sea. At this oasis, Kenneth of the Couching Leopard and the Saracen Sheerkohf, the Lion of the Mountain, refresh themselves after confronting each other in an inconclusive duel in the desert that gives them a mutual respect for each other. Sir Kenneth is supposedly a poor Scottish knight, who as a mere adventurer has joined the crusaders in Palestine. Emir Sheerkohf (called Ilderim by the hermit of Engaddi) is supposedly a prince descended from the Seljook family of Kurdistan, the same family that produced the Saracen ruler Saladin. However, in this novel, several characters are not what they initially represent themselves to be. In the final two chapters, the Diamond of the Desert becomes the center of Saladin’s encampment.

Cave of Theodorick of Engaddi

Cave of Theodorick of Engaddi. Home of the hermit Theodorick, which is hidden among sharp eminences in a range of steep and barren hills near the Dead Sea. Theodorick (called Hamako by Sheerkohf) is a religious recluse who dresses in goatskins. In chapter 18, he reveals his true identity—Alberick Mortemar, of royal blood. He does constant penance for having corrupted a nun and causing her suicide. As the Scottish knight and Saracen spend a night in Theodorick’s cave, Theodorick leads Sir Kenneth through a secret door and up a staircase into a magnificent chapel while Sheerkohf sleeps.

Chapel of the Convent of Engaddi

Chapel of the Convent of Engaddi. Church hewn from solid rock to which Theodorick takes Sir Kenneth. The structure features six columns and their groined roofs, revealing the work of the ablest architects of the day. Brilliantly lit by silver lamps hanging from silver chains, the chapel is redolent with the scent of the richest perfumes. At its upper and eastern end stands an altar before a gold curtain of Persian silk. The curtain is mysteriously drawn aside to reveal a reliquary of silver and ebony. It is opened and displays a large piece of wood emblazoned with the words “Vera Crux” (true cross). Sir Kenneth hears a choir of female voices singing “Gloria Patri” and the sound of a small silver bell, then sees four beautiful boys serving as acolytes, followed by six Carmelite nuns and six apparent novices. As the procession moves three times around the chapel, one of the novices twice drops rosebuds at the feet of the kneeling Kenneth. The nun is, in truth, Lady Edith Plantagenet, kinswoman of King Richard I of England and Sir Kenneth’s courtly lover. She, along with Queen Berengaria, has come to the chapel on a pilgrimage on behalf of the king’s health.

Crusader camp

Crusader camp. Huge tent city in the wilderness, housing the massed armies of the Christian knights—the English, French, Austrians, and others. Due to constant dissension among the European princes, the Crusade is collapsing, and England’s king, Richard coeur de lion, the effective commander in chief of the crusaders, is confined to his pavilion, ill with a potentially fatal fever “peculiar to Asia.” Saladin sends a physician, Adonbec el Hakim, to minister to his noble adversary. Hakim administers an apparently magical elixir—the talisman of the title—which cures the King.

Saladin’s camp

Saladin’s camp. Saracen army encampment at the once lonely site, the Diamond of the Desert. The large pavilions are vividly colored and bear gilded ornaments and embroidered silken flags. Here, more identities are revealed. Emir Sheerkohf and Adonbec el Hakim, it seems, were but disguises for Saladin himself, King of Egypt...

(This entire section contains 700 words.)

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and Syria (the Saracens were originally nomadic tribesmen of Syria and nearby regions). Sir Kenneth, earlier disgraced and forced for a time to disguise himself as a Nubian slave, reclaims his honor by vanquishing King Richard’s archenemy, Conrade, Marquis of Montserrat. King Richard then announces that Kenneth is actually David Earl of Huntingdon, Prince Royal of Scotland. Thus, he is of high birth and may marry the Lady Edith. Somehow, these twists of plot seem more plausible in twelfth century Palestine than they might in a less exotic setting.


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Hayden, John O., ed. Scott: The Critical Heritage. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1970. Information on the initial critical reception of The Talisman. Provides reviews ranging from 1805 to an 1883 selection written on Scott by Mark Twain.

Hillhouse, James T. The Waverley Novels and Their Critics. New York: Octagon Books, 1970. Provides reviews of the novels from the time of publication, as well as critical interpretations of Scott in the fifty years following his death. Most criticism of The Talisman is in the first section.

Johnson, Edgar. Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1970. A detailed, thorough discussion of Scott’s biography. Provides a reading of The Talisman that focuses on Scott’s misrepresentation of history and historical figures.

Macintosh, W. Scott and Goethe: German Influence on the Writings of Sir Walter Scott. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1970. Analyzes the history represented in The Talisman, and finds Scott to be fairly accurate and authentic in representing Germany and German culture.

Pearson, Hesketh. Sir Walter Scott: His Life and Personality. New York: Harper & Row, 1954. Follows the life of Scott through his many novels. Finds The Talisman to be one of his weaker novels. Aligns characters of the novel with people Scott may have known. Includes an extended bibliography and index.


Critical Essays