Monday, October 31, 2016

More than a Romance: Ivanhoe

by Sir Walter Scott

Mater Amabilis recommends Ivanhoe as a "classic" read in Level 3, Year 1 (sixth grade). I had only waded a few pages into the author's introduction when I decided it wasn't a good fit for First Son, being much too convoluted. Last summer, though, I glanced through the book itself and realized the text itself is more accessible than the introduction. So I assigned it for the first term of Level 3, Year 2 (seventh grade), and decided to read it along with First Son rather than the summer before.

In the past, I've interspersed the assigned Classics with First Son's other independent reading, but he reads his schoolbooks so slowly, I felt like he was stuck reading the same book for ages. This year, I decided to try something different which I think it working well for us. He still has independent reading, for which I usually assign a book though sometimes I let him choose. He reads from that book 4-5 days a week for about 15 minutes each day. It's not much, but it means he's reading something that, while not challenging his reading level, is more substantial than the reading material he chooses. (Ugh.)

In addition, I assign Classics. I started the year with Ivanhoe. (I thought since it was a Year 1 book, it would be less difficult than the Year 2 suggestions, but I can tell already it was more difficult in reading level and content than The Scarlet Pimpernel which he's just begun. I think I will switch the order for the next child.) At first, we tried three chapters two days a week but the reading is dense and First Son was struggling. I soon switched it to two chapters three days a week. That was better, but it seemed to still regularly take him 45 minutes to an hour to finish his Ivanhoe reading. I think partly this was just his struggle to maintain his attention level, but there's no doubt this is a challenging read.

Another change I made was meant to increase our conversations about the book compared to what we discussed during last year's Classics (which was basically nothing). I asked First Son to write two questions in a notebook for me and we talked about those when we had his individual lessons. After a few weeks, I specified I wanted his questions to be ones I could not answer with yes or no. These questions were sometimes quick and easy and sometimes introduced more serious discussions about fidelity to the faith and treatment of those of other races and religions. Ivanhoe offers plenty of opportunities to discuss how people of faith should behave.
"If thou readest the Scripture," said the Jewess, "and the lives of the saints, only to justify thine own license and profligacy, thy crime is like that of him who extracts poison from the most healthful and necessary herbs."
There are instances of damsels carried off against their will for nefarious purposes, just as a warning, in addition to battles with their share of gore.
The air was filled with groans and clashing of arms; the floors were slippery with the blood of despairing and expiring wretches.
Though many of the religious of the book display sins small and large, the book itself is one of virtue and heroic courage. Those who have behaved ill are clearly shown as such.
But the moment had now arrived when earth and all his treasures were gliding from before his eyes, and when the savage baron's heart, though hard as a nether millstone, became appalled as he gazed forward into the waste darkness of futurity.
One of my favorite quotes of the entire book is from an endnote by "Laurence Templeton" (actually a nom de plume of Sir Walter Scott). It is a reference for the scene where the Knight Templar barges into a burning room to rescue the Jewish maiden from the flames (by kidnapping her against her will, for a second time).
Incident from Grand Cyrus. The Author has some idea that this passage is imitated from the appearance of Philidaspes, before the divine Mandane, when the city of Babylon is on fire, and he proposes to carry her from the flames. But the theft, if there be one, would be rather too severely punished by the penance of searching for the original passage through the interminable volumes of the Grand Cyrus.
Ah, if only he had Google Books!

I highly recommend Ivanhoe for Level 3 students. I suggest, however, being willing to read along with the student and to be prepared to discuss issues of race, religion, and morality. You may also want to try to find a copy that doesn't have "A Romance" on the cover as that was a major problem for First Son. Because he's twelve.

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