Tag Archives: Richard the Lionheart

The Whole Thing Freaks Out (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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This is not Coldsore Hall, but it will have to do.

You will have noticed that there is no picture here. Ms. Crepuscular’s computer doesn’t work either. It must be related to mine.

Anyhow, introducing Chapter CCCLXVII–no, I have no idea what happened to Chapter CCCLXVI–of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, Violet Crepuscular seems to be as confused as I am.

“What a mess those literary critics made of my front yard!” she writes. “I was all day picking up the stones and brickbats. But if they think they can stop me from producing the rest of my epic romance–well, fap! to them. Literature marches on!”

The chapter opens with Sir Robin Banks, the aristocratic thief, back on his feet in the middle of his hideout in an unused wing of Coldsore Hall. How did he get out of the cedar chest, after he’d locked himself in? “I am not going to write Chapter CCCLXVI all over again,” Ms. Crepuscular declares. “Suffice it to say there was a side missing from the chest. The fifth Earl Coldsore, Lord Pratt, acquired this chest from a shady antiques dealer in Cyprus when he went on the Third Crusade and brought it back to Scurveyshire with him when Richard the Lionheart kicked him out of the army for persistent cowardice. Lord Pratt carried the massive chest all the way across medieval Europe–only to discover, upon his return after an incredibly hazardous Channel crossing, that he had somehow lost one of the chest’s four sides. As a consequence, his health deteriorated. His last act was to stow the chest away in that room that no one ever used.”

Reader Thelma Potstock of Double Trouble, New Jersey, wants to know what Sir Robin has been eating, all this time he’s been hiding out in Coldsore Hall. This is a detail which had never crossed Ms. Crepuscular’s mind.

“The room is stocked with provisions left over from the Third Crusade,” she explains.

That will have to do for now. There is some doubt as to whether this installment of the saga can be successfully posted.


‘Ivanhoe’ Revisited

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Every time you read a literary classic, it’s different.

I’ve just finished re-reading Ivanhoe, which I hadn’t visited in, I guess, ten years. Maybe more. And it was different. Almost like reading it for the first time.

At first I was a little put off by Sir Walter Scott’s language. Ivanhoe came out in 1830, just two years before Scott died; and I wondered why he’d written it in such a wordy, effusive, 18th-century style. What was he thinking?

By and by, it became clear.

Written by a modern writer according to modern story-telling and stylistic conventions, Ivanhoe would be… raw. Sir Walter approached the story with the delicacy of a man tiptoeing through a shop stocked with bottles of nitroglycerin.

Because this story is not a pretty story. Underneath the flowery language, it’s about hate, savagery, totally irresponsible leadership, lawlessness, anti-Semitism, and personal depravity. I mean, once upon a time, Scott could’ve been thrown into jail for writing such a story. No wonder he tiptoed.

Scott shows us medieval England–not really such a nice place to visit, and heaven help you if you live there. The Church is everywhere–and everywhere corrupt and ineffectual. Christianity is on everybody’s lips, with crime and violence in everybody’s hands. Even the good guys are dangerous: King Richard the Lionheart, traveling incognito to amuse himself, at his nation’s expense, is so unstable that Robin Hood soon realizes that even friendship with this king could be hazardous to your health. Cedric the Saxon, like a modern-day “progressive,” is pathologically consumed by ancient historical grudges. And then there are the villains.

You could rack your brain all day for a week and still not come up with anything too evil for Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert to do. And he’s one of the nice Templars. His friends are murderers and thieves.

Henry II did try very hard to put England on a sound footing as a nation, reforming the law code, straightening out an arbitrary and capricious government; but his two sons that followed him, Richard and then John, almost succeeded in tearing it all down. Their shortcomings are clearly seen in Ivanhoe.

Judged only by his writings, Sir Walter Scott believed in the power of goodness. Usually in his stories, good things are achieved by characters’ courage, selflessness, and other virtues. In Ivanhoe, most of the good things that happen are the work of God Himself.

Note: Scott explains in a footnote that he was forced to bring Athelstane back from the dead because his printer was “disconsolate” over the dull glutton’s demise. When I read this in high school, I thought it was just about the most ridiculous thing I’d ever read. But now I’m old and experienced enough to appreciate how Scott handled this near-impossible task–turning it into a comic scene that made me laugh out loud. Like, the poor guy has come back from the dead and still nobody listens to him!

 


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