Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dear Walter Scott

I finished! I’m sorry Walter Scott, I really tried. I wanted to like this book; I was patient and gave it time to get better after a slow start. I kept hoping and hoping that the action would pick up, the characters become more meaningful — and more comprehensible — the romances would get more interesting, but it never happened for me. Well, Walter Scott, you obviously have done quite well enough without my approval; you’ve got so many books in print after nearly 200 years, and you have lots of readers, including, as a matter of fact, my father, who reads every book of yours he can find. You don’t really need me.

I wish, though, that you had toned down those accents a bit. Baron Bradwardine was so nearly impossible to follow. His high-flown diction and his Latin phrases mixed in everywhere drove me crazy. The problem is, I stopped trying to figure him out after a while. I could follow the action without understanding every word he said, and so it turned out not to be worth my while to decipher his language. Couldn’t he have talked just a bit more normally?

I found myself having a hard time caring about any of the characters too. They were all types, not real people. Edward was foolish, though not irremediably so; clearly he was going to have to learn a lesson, but, also clearly, he would prove himself capable of doing so. Rose was the perfect young heroine, beautiful, modest, capable but not overly smart. It was crystal clear to me after I encountered her what her fate would be. And the same for Flora and Fergus, the Scottish siblings — there wasn’t much doubt what would happen to them. Both of them fascinate Edward, tempt him, lure him into questionable things, but both of them would ultimately prove themselves too dangerous. There was no suspense! Nothing to keep my interest for very long. And I’m generally very bad at predicting the endings of books. When I can figure it out, you’re in trouble.

And here’s another thing I don’t get: you’re Scottish, right? Why portray Scotland and the Scottish people as unstable and dangerous, and the English as the bastions of safety and normality and order? Why exoticize the Scottish? They lure Edward into all kinds of danger and you portray his attraction to them as understandable but flawed and a weakness he needs to outgrow. Well, okay, let me revise this — you’re really portraying the Highlanders as exotic and dangerous. The Lowlanders are merely odd. So am I supposed to see the Lowlanders as roughly aligned with the English in their “normalcy” and the Highlanders as the dangerous other? I’m not sure I like this.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t read other books of yours. I’m curious about why you were so popular, and I don’t feel I understand it yet. What was it about Waverley that fascinated people so much? Those Highlanders are kind of romantic and thrilling, but, still, even there I thought you could do a better job describing them and their lives. Anyway, maybe I’ll try Ivanhoe next. I’m willing to give you one more shot.

1 comment:

Amateur Reader said...

"Waverley" is one of the most imitated novels of all time. I wonder if you're having trouble seeing through its followers. Some of the most original parts of the novel have become cliches in lesser hands.

I recommend "Old Mortality" as a 2nd try, not "Ivanhoe". "Old Mortality" has a tighter, deeper story.