Ivanhoe, or how my son learned to love the classics

The way it never was
The way it never was
The other day we walked down to The Book Oasis (sidenote: how cool is it that we can walk to a local used bookstore?). We were bringing in some old books to trade for some new ones. On the shelf, we noticed one of the Illustrated Classics. It was Ivanhoe. It had pictures. We figured, “Why not?”

Grey loved it. It’s hard to figure out how much he’s actually GETTING from the books, but he begged to read it. He ate it up. Then, when we’d finished reading it together, we got the old Ivanhoe movie and watched it together. (This has been mostly a Daddy and Grey thing.) And again, he loved it. He talked about Ivanhoe and King Richard and Robin Hood.

So we got another one: Treasure Island. There was the treasure map, the Black Spot, Ben Gun, a skeleton used to line up the compass, buried gold, and of course Long John Silver with that parrot on his squinty-peg-legged-salty-taking self. In Treasure Island, boys are treated like men, in the way men wish they were treated.

Between them Ivanhoe and Treasure Island ARE the archtypes of Knights and Castles, and Pirates. They are the stories from whence all the inaccurate hoopla flows. What a delight! What a touchstone of boyhood to encounter these books and begin daydreaming in the way that boys have daydreamed for 150 years now of days that never were — but the world would’ve been a more interesting place if they had been.

Last night, Adam and Grey watched the old Disney version of Treasure Island. Do you see a trend? Illustrated Classics = Have an Old Disney Version appropriate for young people.

I don’t know about Grey, but Adam and I are hooked. Next up: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Or maybe the Three Musketeers (since we already HAVE that old movie).

I had this brief moment as I went on my Illustrated Classic buying orgy where I was like, “But these are abridged! What if I’m teaching him to read the easy version and he’ll never stretch himself to read the real version?”

Then I remembered that my son is 4. Somehow, he’ll survive the abridged version. In fact, no way he has the patience for the unabridged version. So let’s give him good stuff to daydream about. Let’s teach him to love literature. Let’s show him that the old that is strong does not wither, and that a story can be good and still not have action figures available for purchase at Toys R Us. And best of all, let’s get to reading some good stuff at night, so I never have to read another L’il Critter story to THAT child, at least!

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

11 thoughts on “Ivanhoe, or how my son learned to love the classics”

  1. Thomas has read several of these abridged versions of the classics. He, perhaps, didn’t find them challenging or engrossing enough to be excited about them, but he certainly got the gist of the Three Musketeers and Journey to the Center of the Earth (we have 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but I don’t recall him reading that one). The abridged versions aren’t as compelling as the real books, but, frankly, Journey to the Center of the Earth is, by modern standards, a little slow and the abridged version makes it much easier to swallow.

    Now that you mention it, though, I might read the Three Musketeers to Kasper, since he decided to be a musketeer on Halloween.


  2. Furthermore, the unabridged Ivanhoe has what we in the booknerd industry refer to as “skeevy race issues”. Seems like that could wait.

    You and I used to have the Robin Hood Illustrated book. Also one (and it may have been the same?) that had super old-fashioned language in it. It describes Robin as being so young he has his mother’s milk on his lips.


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