The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman came up for me in The Classics Club Spin, and I must admit that my heart sank as I know that it’s one of the few books which I’ve given up on. On the plus side that was way back when I was about 12 years old and Christy at A Good Stopping Point commented that she had enjoyed it, so I lived in hope.

I read it on my Kindle because my copy of this book is already packed away in anticipation of a house move which is just not happening at the moment. I couldn’t remember anything about The Talisman as it is over 40 years since I first had a go at it but it wasn’t long before I knew why it was I had given up on it. At the beginning there is a really unappealing bit about cooked severed heads being served up to the people who had come to try to secure the freedom of the owners of the heads – nasty but I struggled on this time.

Scott’s writing style does take some getting used to, this one is written in a particularly archaic way and I could have been doing with less in the way of thee-ing and thou-ing. At around about the 20% mark I was just about losing the will to live. At 50% I was beginning to appreciate it a bit more, there are quite a few humorous moments to brighten the way. By the time I got to 70% I realised that I was really quite enjoying it! The experience was good for the soul, I think. Mind you, I don’t know why it’s War and Peace that people always think of as being a tough nut to crack, it’s an absolute promenade de gateau compared with The Talisman – in my humble opinion.

First published in 1825 this is a story which is set in the Third Crusade. Richard the Lionheart is very ill and it looks like he isn’t going to recover, but help comes in the shape of Sir Kenneth, a Scottish knight who after some conflict ended up striking up a friendship with a Saracen who uses a talisman to heal Richard. The Saracen is none other than Saladin of course.

Apparently there was a BBC mini-series of The Talisman in 1980 but I don’t recall ever seeing it. It’s the 1970s Ivanhoe series which I remember loving. And speaking of Ivanhoe, I’ll be reading that throughout January for Read Scotland 2014 challenge. You’re welcome to join in too – if you feel brave enough!

12 thoughts on “The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott

  1. Oh, wow!
    You did it. I think you are absolutely right that the style takes time to get used to, in any archaic book, actually. But I’m always glad when my brain finally adapts and things swim along much more easily. I remember having this problem the first time I read The Secret Garden as a ten-year-old, with all the native Yorkshire dialect. But I loved the story, so I bravely plowed through–not skipping the difficult bits–but translating them for myself.

    I can’t imagine why I offered that bit forth, but I think it was to encourage me through our upcoming read of Ivanhoe.

    I’m so glad that you ended up liking a book that at 1/4 through made you feel like death itself! Actually, I find that so incredibly inspiring!!

    • Judith,
      I vaguely remember having to carefully re-read the dialect in The Secret Garden too!
      I think that when you struggle with a book and win then it must surely be character building!

      • Katrina,
        Your reply to me, the character-building part, reminds me of something our friend Scott (doesn’t he have the proper name?) likes to say after a good wilderness outing, no matter the season. I think it definitely applies in this case.

        We come back to the car–tired, sweaty, and dirty–and he always says, “Isn’t it great to know that today you really went out and DID something!”

        That’s the way I feel after conquering a difficult book, but one that, in the end, I felt was worthwhile.


        • Judith,
          Yes at least you feel a sense of accomplishment when something has been a struggle, more so when you’re out hiking as I always feel quite virtuous burning calories, although I suppose it’s as important to tickle the grey cells too! Scott has a good name and probably a Scottish granny somewhere in the past.

  2. It just shows that perseverance can pay off – not all books are worth reading to the end, but I’m glad this one was.

    I did enjoy Ivanhoe a few years ago, but won’t be joining you in January in reading it again – 500 pages of small font in my copy is just too much to re-read when I have more than enough unread books. I’m sure you’ll like it – well, I hope you do. I thought it was very entertaining, very funny in parts too and much easier to read than I thought it would be.

    • Christy,
      I suspect that that bit at the beginning has been cut out of modern versions, sanitised for modern readers! As I recall it was a tale which had been told to Sir Kenneth.

  3. Congrats–to tackle a book you’ve once abandoned takes fortitude! I want to read Scott, but dread not being able to deal with the style. You inspire me.

    I enjoyed your review of this daunting book very much–well done.

  4. I admire your perseverance in reading Scott! I too loved that tv series of Ivanhoe when I was young. I also loved your promenade de gateau comment! Must remember that one! I’ve got lots of catching up to do, so you’ll likely find a few new comments on older posts!

    Sorry to see you aren’t having any luck with the house sale. Maybe early 2014?

    • Evee,
      We’ve had a few people want to buy our place but they haven’t been able to sell their own, it’ll happen sometime I suppose, we’re just getting really fed up with it all now.
      I think promenade de gateau is a Dumbarton Academy saying, often how an exam was described, I didn’t have too many of those sorts of exams!
      I’ve been hoping you’ve been busy enjoying yourself!

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