The chivalrous Saracen: Sir Walter Scott’s portrayal of Saladin in The Talisman



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Kansas State University. Dept. of History


In this paper, I analyze Walter Scott’s portrayal of Saladin in his novel The Talisman, to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of the Scott’s work and to more accurately understand his influence on public perceptions of the Crusades. I will argue that Scott used Saladin as a model for his vision of chivalry. Saladin is a complex character in The Talisman and has flaws, but fulfilled Scott’s primary requirements of a refined and chivalrous warrior. Also, attention to the epic’s depiction of Saladin reveals that his image of the Muslim leader is directly rooted in the works of a number of Scott’s European predecessors and contemporaries. Furthermore, growing interest in the Crusades and Saladin in the nineteenth-century played a significant role in Scott’s decision to utilize this topic in The Talisman. Finally, I contend that while Scott knew his portrayal of Saladin was fictional, he believed that the depiction was an entirely plausible one that was grounded in historical fact. All of these factors collectively reveal that Scott was motivated by a desire to create a historically believable character, but one with which he could take certain artistic liberties. Analysis of Scott’s novel The Talisman and his depiction of Saladin offers us an intimate look into an important example of Western literature that helped mold a lasting image for popular audiences of medieval Muslims and their role in the Crusades.



Walter Scott, The Talisman, Saladin, Crusades, Chivalry, Muslims