(SPOILERS INCLUDED IF YOU HAVEN'T READ IVANHOE)
Dollygirl and I are partway through Ivanhoe, to the part where the castle is being besieged by...basically everybody who's not in the castle. When the Black Knight was mentioned, she calmly stated, "That's King Richard in disguise." Well, I know Dollygirl is very astute in these matters--she'd already nailed Robin Hood and Friar Tuck, but I was surprised she'd just figured that one out. "Oh, I read it in the Betsy-Tacy book you gave me for my birthday," she said. Oh yes...Betsy has to read Ivanhoe too.
Well, that's not such a big leap anyway, and it doesn't spoil the story at all to know who the Black Knight really is. And it's still going to take us at least a couple of weeks to finish the novel. But if you have finished it already (or your kids have) and you want something fun to end the school year, pick up a copy of Edward Eager's Knight's Castle, published in 1956. Edward Eager, if you don't know already, was a big fan of E. Nesbit, and this is a very Nesbit sort of book: about wishes and magic gone slightly askew. Some children playing "Ivanhoe" with a toy castle (they've just been to see the MGM movie) wake up at night to find that their props have come to life, and that they're now in the story as well. Except that the story seems to be rewriting itself, and it's up to the children, especially the main character Roger, to fix what's gone wrong.
The book contains lots of cheesy "varlet" dialogue (what some people call Howard Pyle-esque). It also includes a Saxon-Norman baseball game, an Ivanhoe who's obsessed with science fiction novels, a can of peas, and the U.S. Marines. There's a more serious sub-plot about the children's father who is in the hospital, and if there's anything I'm a little iffy about, it's his "magic cure" that depends on Roger's wish (granted only if the quest is successful). It raises the ante of the plot, and I'm not saying the wish isn't well-earned, but, like those movies where children "wish" their separated parents back together, it's not perhaps very sensitive toward those whose real-life wishes don't come true.
Anyway, that complaint aside, it's very funny and has held up surprisingly well. You really do have to have read Ivanhoe or at least seen a film version to enjoy it, and be warned that there are some Ivanhoe spoilers too--how the book ended and so on. So keep it for an end-of-Scott treat.
(Oh, one warning for those who do not allow books with witches etc.: the two girls in the story call themselves witches and sorceresses, but only as a means of explaining themselves to the Ivanhoe characters.)
There's another review of the book here.