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Hailed by Victor Hugo as 'the real epic of our age,' Ivanhoe was an immensely popular bestseller when first published in 1819. The book inspired literary imitations as well as paintings, dramatizations, and even operas. Now Sir Walter Scott's sweeping romance of medieval England has prompted a lavish new television production.
In the twelfth century, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe returns home to England from the Third Crusade to claim his inheritance and the love of the lady Rowena. The heroic adventures of this noble Saxon knight involve him in the struggle between Richard the Lion-Hearted and his malignant brother John: a conflict that brings Ivanhoe into alliance with the mysterious outlaw Robin Hood and his legendary fight for the forces of good.
'Scott's characters, like Shakespeare's and Jane Austen's, have the seed of life in them,' observed Virginia Woolf. 'The emotions in which Scott excels are not those of human beings pitted against other human beings, but of man pitted against Nature, of man in relation to fate. His romance is the romance of hunted men hiding in woods at night; of brigs standing out to sea; of waves breaking in the moonlight; of solitary sands and distant horsemen; of violence and suspense.' For Henry James, 'Scott was a born storyteller. . . . Since Shakespeare, no writer has created so immense a gallery of portraits.'