Walter Scott


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The Talisman (Tales of the Crusaders)

First Edition, First Impression:

Tales of the Crusaders. By the Author of "Waverley", "Quentin Durward", &c. In Four Volumes. Vol. I (II-IV). Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Co. Edinburgh; And Hurst, Robinson and Co., London, 1825.

Composition | Synopsis | Reception | Links


The theme of the Crusades attracted Scott at different times throughout his writing career. In 1817 he discussed it in his "Essay on Chivalry", in which he suggested that the real history of the Crusades was founded on the spirit of chivalry, and that this spirit led to the creation of the earliest chivalric orders, namely the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (Hospitallers), the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ, and the Order of the Temple of Solomon (Templars), all originally devoted to the service of pilgrims to the Holy Land. Towards the end of his career, Scott returned to the subject for The Talisman, published along with The Betrothed as Tales of the Crusaders on June 22, 1825.
Coloured lithograph by Alfred Concanen, advertizing The Talisman Waltz by M.W. Balfe, 1874? (Corson P.7398)

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This novel focuses on the Third Crusade which had been triggered by the conquest in 1187 of almost the whole of Palestine, including Jerusalem, by Salah-ed-Din Yusef ibn Ayub or Saladin. The plot revolves around the Crusaders' camp in the Holy Land which is being torn apart by tensions between rival leaders. The most influential, Richard the Lionheart, is ill, which accentuates the divisions among the Christian forces. On a mission far from the camp, the poor Scottish crusader Sir Kenneth, or the Knight of the Leopard, comes across a Saracen emir with whom, after inconclusive combat, he strikes up a friendship. The emir is none other than Saladin himself. He manages to gain access to the Christian camp by disguising himself as a physician sent to Richard the Lionheart, whom he quickly cures with the aid of the talisman of the novel's title. Sir Kenneth is entrusted to guard the banner of England during the night but he is lured from his post by Queen Berengaria, Richard's wife, who has an urgent message for him from Edith Plantagenet with whom Sir Kenneth is enamoured. During his absence the English flag is torn down and his faithful hound wounded. Sir Kenneth is dishonoured and only escapes execution thanks to the emir who agrees to take him as his slave. Saladin treats Kenneth kindly before the knight returns to the camp disguised as a mute attendant to King Richard, whom he saves from assassination. Richard sees through Sir Kenneth's disguise but awards him the chance to find the man who wounded his hound and tore down the banner. As the forces march past the re-erected standard the hound leaps upon Richard's rival, Conrade of Montserrat, and brings him down from his horse. A trial by combat is arranged between Conrade and Sir Kenneth which the Scottish knight wins. Afterwards Sir Kenneth is revealed to be Prince David of Scotland. His royal status thus entitles him to pursue his union with Edith Plantagenet.

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Saladin Slays the Grand Master, illustration by Godfrey C. Hindley, 1894 (Corson P.4836)


Charles Mills (1788-1826), who had written a History of the Crusades, took offence at Scott's assertion in his introduction to The Talisman that an Edith Plantagenet had existed. He defied the novelist to produce evidence to support his statement and accused Scott of deliberately misleading his readers. Indeed The Talisman gave rise to much debate amongst the critics as to the use that can be justifiably made of historical facts in fiction. The Quarterly Review commended The Talisman for surpassing grandeur and effect and praised the construction of the story. The Edinburgh Magazine praised characterization, diction and costume but criticism the overuse of Oriental themes. The Examiner asserted that Richard was by far the best character, but that the novel in general was too melodramatic. Criticism from the London Magazine focused upon Scott's descriptions of clothes and furniture which it felt rendered the novel tedious. Richard and Saladin were praised by most readers. More significantly however, The Talisman is perhaps the first novel is English to portray Muslims in a positive light.

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Last updated: 19-Dec-2011
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