But at its heart, Ivanhoe is just a ripping good yarn. Scott wrote at an impressive pace, churning out two novels a year, plus other writings, seldom stopping to edit himself (careful readers will catch inconsistencies of detail). His characters are painted in broad, stereotypical brushstrokes, part of a style that he himself described as “the Big Bow-wow strain.” Yet this is why they stick in our mind: the blond Saxon princess pitted against the beautiful dark-haired Jewess for Ivanhoe’s affections; the true knight who faces the corrupted crusader; Robin Hood and his men, as merry as you could wish.
Scott’s very shortcomings become his triumph. He was a pen and ink man, churning out historical novels to support the upkeep of his own piece of history, the estate of Abbotsford. And whatever critics feel about the quality of some of his work, his efforts almost singlehandedly rehabilitated the reputation and pride of a Scotland still suffering from the consequences of the failed Jacobite rebellions. In light of his passion for and influence on the genre, it is perhaps ironic that few of his novels are read today.