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Published:October 15th, 2006 10:56 EST
Robin Hood Is Still Alive

Robin Hood Is Still Alive

By Krzys Wasilewski

Arrows scar the cloudless sky. On the ground, the shrieks of the severely wounded men mix with the sound of broken swords and the screeching of frightened birds. One mortal duel follows another. Suddenly, a beautiful maiden is kidnapped by dirty, remorseless thugs, only to be rescued by a brave knight in a shining armor. Although Sir Walter Scott wrote Ivanhoe in 1819, the book still flares up the hearts of readers around the world.

When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a knight. So did most of my friends. As soon as classes were over and stinky spinach eaten (or, when mum wasn`t looking, hidden in a nearby plant) we would go outdoors and pretend that the sole oak in the neighborhood was Sherwood Forest. Of course everyone wanted to be Robin Hood, Little John, or -- as a last resort -- Sheriff of Nottingham; but only the chosen few could receive this honor. Within years some of us have grown up from this childish dream. The majority, however, still feel the pangs of excitement whenever The Adventures of Robin Hood is repeated on TV.

Men`s nature remains the same, regardless the period. Sir Walter Scott knew it perfectly. When Ivanhoe was published, it became a worldwide best-seller in a matter of months. Considering that in the early 1800s the telegraph, let alone the telephone or the Internet, was as an impossible dream as space travel, the speed with which the book was translated and distributed was quite an achievement. Scott became the first icon of mass culture, an event unprecedented at that time, and now only comparable to the status of JK Rowling. On the other hand, Ivanhoe, Locksley, and King Richard won the fame overshadowing our Harry Potter.

In short, the book takes the reader back to thirteen-century England when French was the official language, and frogs together with snails reigned on the tables of the gentry. Maybe the native Saxons wouldn`t mind the sophisticated cuisine (the famous British pudding was introduced centuries later), but these irritating Normans, they could stand no more. Unfortunately, the good king, Richard the Lion Heart, was held captive in Austria and his brother, Prince John...well, everyone knows the story. Sufficient to say that in 44 chapters, Scott brilliantly managed to create a cornucopia of adventure, drama and comedy, producing one of the most fascinating books in literary history. Where else could Robin Hood and his Merry Men, King Richard, the Templars, and Ivanhoe -- the book`s eponymous hero -- meet in one place? Not to mention two beautiful women in love with one man.

When Sir Walter Scott was working on Ivanhoe, England was again in trouble. And again, it were the French. This time, the villain was played by Napoleon Bonaparte, for the English wider known as the Little Emperor, or the Butcher of Europe -- to name only few epithets from The Times of London. Robin Hood and his Merry Men might have been too little for the million-strong, armed to the teeth French army, but as Duke Wellington proved at Waterloo, England`s sons did not forget how to use the sword. By the time the book was finished, however, Bonaparte had got used to the life of an outcast on the island of Elba, and British Empire ruled the waves. " Ivanhoe was not forgotten though. During the two world wars, the book which praised chivalry and national unity was widely distributed among soldiers on all fronts.

Although Ivanhoe does not aspire to be anything more than an adventure story, it surprises with the number of serious problems it addresses. The problems which remain unsolved in the 21st century, we should add. Antisemitism, aversion to foreigners, or bigotry have not vanished since the Middle Ages. What is more, as the recent tide of Islamophobia shows, some have even swollen up. While King Richard struggles for the English crown, in the background we can hear the cries of scores of victims in Palestine and elsewhere where the Crusades reaped their bloody harvest. Sounds familiar?

Can a book written 200 years ago be still interesting? The answer is an unequivocal Yes. " Some may remind themselves how it was when, as kids, their were climbing trees with bows and arrows on their backs. Some may simply rest and relax in a cushioned chair while Ivanhoe and co will do all the dirty job. Still others may find it wise to read the book before including such words as caliphate " and crusade " in their official speeches.

A good reason to dust your copy of Ivanhoe is the anniversary of the battle at Hastings, where on October 14, 1066 the Norman King, William the Conqueror, defeated the Saxons and began Norman hegemony over the British Islands.

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