Ivanhoe was the biggest drip in all fiction. It was just as well that he had Robin Hood and his Merrie Men on hand to help him or he would never have come through. It is the least historical of all the works Sir Walter Scott published under the Waverley pseudonym and was so long that the complete version has never been published. The abridged versions are better anyway. All books about knights in armour are unnecessary after this effort—the mysterious Black Knight, the expression ‘Merrie England’ is coined in the first line, and all of the body of the Robin Hood legend as we know it is here. You might notice that in the mirror versions of the saving of Richard the Lionheart’s throne, Robin and his merry men get along without mentioning Ivanhoe. And all that stuff about ‘good king Richard’ is utter bullshit—he was anything but a champion of the poor.
It is really a very shabby book—the imagery of the duelling knights firing the imaginations of all young boys, but it is easily Scott’s worst work. The scene in which Richard reveals himself as the Black Knight, followed a few lines later when Locksley reveals himself as Robin Hood, is just plain ludicrous. And historically impossible—the outlaw of Sherwood Forest could never have been more than a few years old when Richard was alive—the connection between the two was Scott’s invention. And Robin Hood and his men use long bows a hundred years before they were invented.
But when it all comes to an end, Ivanhoe must choose between the two women, the dull blonde rich girl Rowena or the ravishing and spirited Jewess Rebecca who fought at his side most of the way. He chooses Rowena, and every schoolboy that ever existed screams ‘you idiot!’. Mind you, Scott was very ill at the time he wrote it. Amusingly, in the film made in 1952, the bland, dim Robert Taylor was perfectly cast as the bland, dim Ivanhoe and at the end he stands with Rowena and Rebecca to either flank, and makes his choice. Rowena is played by plain-jane Joan Fontaine and Rebecca, whom he knocks back, by Elizabeth Taylor at her peak of beauty and vigour. Sometimes, movies capture books with a perfection the writer could never have imagined.
So we cast Rosely as a forlorn Elizabeth Taylor when Lennie fled some undisclosed indiscretion, and lay low in Sydney—a little too low in fact, for in King’s Cross he met and mysteriously married a woman named Evie. Nothing of her background was ever known but most of it could easily be guessed at. She was a coarse woman who wore low-cut dresses, smoked in public, swore worse than Horrie and drank beer. I found her utterly entrancing for the first of those reasons alone.