Something like Tolkien’s Leaf Mould

This spring Diane, Jennifer Halverson and I re-read one of my top ten favorite books: Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

A funny thing happened in this reading that I was not expecting.

As a child, I feasted on the 1982 made-for-t.v. Ivanhoe movie featuring Anthony Andrews, James Mason, Olivia Hussey, and John Rhys-Davies. When I say feasted, I mean it. The movie is, of course, a thin version of the book. But, it is beautiful. Most of the acting was compelling (Except Lysette Anthony; what were they thinking? Thank goodness they limited her lines to the bare minimum). And that movie poured fuel on the fire of my moral imagination.

For years I watched the movie with monthly regularity. It wasn’t until I was in seventh or eighth grade that I realized that it was a book! Pleasantly surprised, I grabbed it off of the shelf and made the feast richer.

While I was re-reading this spring, I was also reading The Bark of the Bog Owl aloud to my children. At one point in Bark, there was a scene that seemed to be right out of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. I asked Jonathan Rogers about the scene. He laughed and explained that any similarity between Aidan’s capture in Bark and Han, Chewie, and Luke’s capture by the Ewoks in Star Wars was entirely accidental. He went on to say this:

Tolkien talks about the leaf-mould of the mind–those stories and ideas that go into your head and decompose into rich soil from which new stories grow. We don’t always know what has influenced us. A reviewer once pointed out the obvious influence of Huck Finn on The Secret of the Swamp King. I say obvious, but it wasn’t at all obvious to me until this writer pointed it out. And then it was obvious…it seems strange, but Twain was so much a part of my landscape that I didn’t consciously think of him as an influence. But of course he was. (And so might have been the Ewoks). – Jonathan Rogers in a Facebook conversation

That conversation with Rogers helped me to realize something about my own influences. As I lingered in Ivanhoe during April, I realize that my profound love of Robin Hood has nothing to do with a single Robin Hood story I have read. I have spent ten years trying to find Robin Hood stories that resonate with my inexplicable love of him. And then, reading Ivanhoe, it clicked. I have always loved Robin because of his good will toward Rebecca and his noble action against the Normans. I love how he sided with the Black Knight and was both fiercely independent and also deeply loyal to England. In fact, Wikipedia mentions that Ivanhoe helped shape people’s association with Robin Hood. His jovial and patriotic pride come from Scott, not from Green, Pyle, or their predecessors.

I love Rebecca. She is my favorite character. By a mile. I understand now why my best college friend, a Jewess, felt so familiar to me. She reminded me of my favorite Rebecca in her principles and her Jewish ideas.

I am so glad I grew up with such a treasury of noble characters in my imagination. Now I just wonder why I have not read one other thing from Scott? Yeah… I am going to need to rectify that this year. 

By the way, Ivanhoe is one of my top ten favorite books. I splurged on an Easton Press copy for my library and I love this very economical audio version from Audible. (Despite its $1.99 price, the narration is enchanting.)


  1. Kelly says:

    Thank you! In the back of my mind, I feel like I have heard that there is some anti-Catholic material in Scott’s books. Did you find that to be true?

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      You know Kelly, it is possible. I have only read Ivanhoe. Scott is vicious with portrayal of the knights. His depiction of Friar Tuck is pretty unorthodox as well. I would not be surprised to learn that he has an anti-Catholic bias. That said, Ivanhoe and the other heroes are Catholic. And their virtue is extolled. So, I think that in the case of Ivanhoe, it is just a story set in a Catholic/Christian world where you get a sample of everything.

      1. Kelly says:

        Thank you for your reply, Sara! I appreciate your thoughts.

        I also wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog – the content as well as design. I guess I never scrolled far enough to see that you had comments enabled or I would have commented many times before!

        Pax Domini!

        1. Sara Masarik says:

          No, thank you Kelly for reading and commenting! I praise God for how He is allowing social media to be a witness and gift to us. I am so grateful for the opportunity to get to know other beautiful souls!

    2. Sara Masarik says:

      No, thank you Kelly for reading and commenting! I praise God for how He is allowing social media to be a witness and gift to us. I am so grateful for the opportunity to get to know other beautiful souls!

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