Knight time

Ivanhoe by Walter Scott (1819),
illustrated by Norman Nodel.
Classics Illustrated Replica No 29,
CCS Books, 2018 (1958).

I first read Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe in one of the cheap hardcover UK editions in the early 60s – possibly from Blackie & Sons, Thomas Nelson or Dean & Sons – but not since, and though I retained some memories of the key figures and the final outcome both the sequence and the writing itself remained hazy.

So it was with some curiosity that I picked up this graphic novel version. First published in 1958, I don’t remember ever reading this offering from the Classics Illustrated stable even though this was a series which formed a lot of my pre-teen reading; however not all issues were truly classic then – for example, the comics adaptation I read of Frank Buck’s Bring ‘Em Back Alive was brought out not long after his death in 1950.

This being a reissue the colours are a lot brighter and fresher than I remember, perhaps the result of it being printed on better quality paper. If, as a result, Merrie England comes across as more technicolor than we thought, on the plus side it makes following the story a distraction-free experience.

In the closing years of the 12th century, when King Richard is on crusade and his brother John is regent, the Templar knight Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert is en route to a grand tournament. Seeking shelter for the night at the court of Cedric, a Saxon noble, Sir Brian sneakily plots to ransom another guest, the Jewish merchant Isaac of York. Catching wind of this, an anonymous pilgrim warns Isaac and the grateful merchant subsequently offers him armour and a steed as thanks.

Already within half a dozen pages we are introduced to key personages – the Templar, Isaac, Cedric and the pilgrim who, it will be presently revealed, is Cedric’s disinherited son Wilfred of Ivanhoe newly returned from the latest failed crusade to the Holy Land. In time we will become acquainted with Isaac’s daughter Rebecca (skilled in the healing arts), Cedric’s ward Rowena (beloved of Wilfred), a mysterious Black Knight (a certain monarch in disguise) and Locksley (who turns out to be a famous forest outlaw with a band of merry men).

Against them will be various villainous types – lechers, traitors, mercenaries, cruel clerics, or any combination of these. The artist, Norman Nodel, generally insinuates that these are baddies by depicting them with fierce eyes and full, usually dark, facial growth, if not quite twirling their moustachios then virtually on the point of doing so. Step forward Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, Maurice de Bracy and the Grand Master of the Templars to join the aforementioned Sir Brian.

It’s quite obvious that this 48-page adaptation of Scott’s three-volume novel has excised a lot of the descriptions, speeches and even characters of the original, retaining only the bare bones of the plot and speedily wrapping matters up in the final two panels; but its purpose is not to substitute for but to provide an introduction to the 1820 classic. Thus Nodel’s visual presentation is workmanlike: some variety in the strip is occasionally offered when the three-tier square format panels make way for landscape or portrait panels, while the action ‘shots’ take precedence over the sometime rudimentary close-ups.

St Mary’s Priory, Abergavenny © C A Lovegrove

Norman Nodel, born Nochem Yesgaya in 1922, was a US war artist and maker of military maps, and that artistic precision seems to have transferred seamlessly to comic strips. As far as I can work out his Ivanhoe replaced an earlier 68-page Classics Illustrated version from 1941 by another uncredited artist, brought about by a commercial need to significantly reduce the title’s pagination. Nodel visually realises the bare bones of Scott’s story, and does it efficiently: hints of Romanesque architecture, anonymous woodland for concealing outlaws, the occasional panel blocked with a single colour, all as background scenery for the drama acted out in the foreground.

And that drama? Well, of course there’s lots of it: Norman aggression and oppression (Richard the Lionheart excepted), Saxon resistance and native virtue, female modesty and bravery, Jewish skill and honour, all sieved and condensed for easy consumption through the modern mass media equivalent of a medieval tapestry.

All that remains now is for the reader to savour the richness of Scott’s original writing.

In Bookforager’s Picture Prompt Book Bingo 2023 Ivanhoe lands on the castle icon, following pistol and tree. CCS Books are indie publishers Classic Comic Store, based in Newbury, Berkshire

21 thoughts on “Knight time

    1. I suspect we were both encouraged to read those sorts of classics when we were young. My mother’s siblings, my aunt and uncle, I was told were called Renee (not from Irene, Maureen or Doreen but from Rowena) and Ivan after the characters in this novel. For me Rebecca is the real star of the show however – and as I remember Liz Taylor captured her strength and allure perfectly in the 1952 film.


      1. I haven’t seen that film, but wrote my fictional movie ‘Roland’ with Charlton Heston in El Cid and in The Warlord in the back of my mind – and my memories of how those movies were received. Moviemakers have to please audiences – which results in one kind of distortion to history; and they try to be accurate, when even historians disagree on what actually happened, based on a very spotty historical written record.

        And then there is whatever distortion authors like Sir Walter create out of whole cloth and then try to anchor to real tent stakes.

        I’m not sure that I was ‘encouraged’ so much as that the books, for me, were available and in English. They would have had to be very boring for me not to read them. Children don’t have the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy – everything in the world is still fantasy to them – so the world of the reading child is a magical adventure.

        I also named our youngest Rebecca. Hmmm. Had never made this possible connection before, and the one to the eponymous Du Maurier story I also loved reading isn’t the kind of reason for naming a child, is it?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. In a sense all history is distortion, except that some are more distorted than others! But sometimes historical fiction can reflect or evoke a period, events or personages more faithfully than revisionist histories that, in attempting to be more radical, end up being pseudohistories through cherry picking facts and offering fanciful speculations.

          This might interest you: “Rebecca continued to feature in the Top 100 names for the next sixty-six years” after 1940 in the US. Apparently the most popular years for the name were the mid seventies, when Rebecca peaked at number 10. I’m guessing this pattern was reflected in much of the world where English was spoken so maybe not surprising for your Rebecca? In Wales it remains a common name, perhaps dating from its being a rallying cry during the Rebecca Riots in the 19th century in protest at high taxation in farming.


          1. Biblical names will remain attractive to many parents, but I just discovered St. Rebecca, a relatively recent canonization of a Maronite nun in Lebanon, is a patron of the sick – I didn’t know at the time I would need her.

            It’s always interesting how some names become dated, and others remain perennials: my grandmother was Ethel, and I don’t think I’ve ever met someone named Ethel after her generation. Google says: ‘In 2021 there were only 27 baby girls named Ethel.’

            Few young women are named Hepsibah any more. I don’t know any. In Mexico, you only got named Hermenegilda if you were born on her saints’ day, as it remains popular to pick one of the saints whose day it is to honor by naming your child after them, and, when I was growing up, you got far more good wishes on your name-day (which everyone with a church calendar could know) than on your birth-day.

            Far afield, but fascinating – and one of an author’s biggest choices: what do I name my characters?

            As for mine? I liked the sound, and we used husband’s mother’s name – Ann – for a common middle name.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. The naming of characters is a fascinating area and one I wouldn’t want to get into right now because we’d be here for ever and anon! Hermenegild is a name new to me though, and a useful one to set by for if ever I wanted to write a pastiche medieval Teutonic epic. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

  1. You’ve helped me unpick a memory, Chris. I remember reading something with Robin Hood in it as Robin of Loxley that also involved Richard the Lionheart but it isn’t my treasured book of Robin Hood stories. Now I remember that it was part of an abridged pocket version of Ivanhoe, one of a series available from a book carousel in our local Asda in the early 80s. I had Around the World in 80 Days, The Last of the Mohicans and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in the same series. I didn’t know that there had also been a graphic novel version of the story, too. It sounds like the ideal refresher ahead of Scott’s classic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah, I see you were a fan of numbers in the eighties, Jan – Eighty Days, Twenty Thousand Leagues, and … the last Mohican! One Hundred and One Dalmatians next? 😀

      Yes, Hollywood cemented the ficitional Robert of Locksley identification with the medieval outlaw but I believe it was Scott who was originally responsible, and also for making him a contemporary of Richard the Lionheart and his brother John when the medieval legends located him a century or even more later.

      But the Yorkshire locales in Ivanhoe are traditional, even if we now associate Robin with Nottinghamshire and Sherwood; in fact in Shirley Charlotte Brontë mentions folklore and legendary sites connected with his death in West Yorkshire, not too far from where Charlotte and her sisters went to school and where she later taught, as I explore in this post:

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I was an avid fan of books as well as comics when I were nobbut a lad, Karen, so I sympathise with you both! Anyway, it’s only a matter of time before I return to Scott’s original and, who knows, a few of his other works. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Poor you with your toilet paper pages 🙁 As kids we were often offered cheap editions of classics because they were, well, cheap, but at least the more sturdy hardbacks my parents gave me (I think they must’ve been the Deans’ classics, in their red livery) are collectibles because now regarded as vintage. But most of my mid to late 20th-century paperbacks are now falling apart, as your Ivanhoe must now be…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I gave most of the cheap paperback classics away. Now, if I want to re–read a classic I buy a nicer edition. Back then I was studying literature so I needed a lot of books.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a weakness for the Anthony Andrews movie (although I like him in Scarlet Pimpernel even more). Have you ever read Edward Eager? He was a big fan of Nesbit and Knight’s Castle is one of my favorites of his books (which is inspired by his characters seeing a movie) – looks like several UK libraries have it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I missed out on the Anthony Andrews version – my screen intro was Roger Moore as Ivanhoe in the 1958 TV series, with a really cheesy theme tune as I remember!

      I’ve only read the best-known children’s book by Eager, Half Magic, which I reviewed here: But I’m always on the lookout for more by him. 🙂


    1. Possibly, Gert, but possibly not; all the manifestations I’ve been acquainted with – film, TV series, comic – haven’t really meshed with what I vaguely remember of the novel nor I suspect with what I would get with a reread now that I have more life experiences … and also hoary with age!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ivanhoe is one of the classics that for some reason has completely passed me by to the point that I knew nothing about it at all, not even the link to the Robin Hood story, so thanks for bringing this one to my attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No problem, Lily – Ivanhoe is at best just a vague name to many these days though it was once very familiar due to its origins; I think it was probably the most popular novel Scott wrote that wasn’t set in Scotland!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Another Reading Challenge? Why not? – What I Think About When I Think About Reading

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