14th June 2018

For the 2018 Borders Book Festival, we asked our volunteers for their opinion: With an oeuvre spanning a variety of genres, topics and styles, it is difficult to pinpoint which are Scott's best works. Which are yours?

What better way to determine a strong selection of contenders for the title of 'Best Work by Scott' than asking our group of over 100 volunteers to vote on their personal favourites. Interestingly, the top three - as well as our honourable mention - span different genres and styles. Each has its own distinct characteristics that make it a favourite, so perhaps you will find yours on the list or discover something to add to your summer reading list.

The contents of Scott's desk at which he wrote several of his major works.

3. The Lay of the Last Minstrel

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land!


A story within a story, The Lay of the Last Minstrel tells of an ageing minstrel who receives hospitality at Newark Castle in Selkirkshire. As a thank you to his hostess, the minstrel recites a tale of her ancestors, of forbidden love and ancient sorcery set against the stunning scenery and history of the Scottish Borders.

The Lay of the Last Minstrel brought Scott instant fame and offers a glimpse at his writing's long-lasting effect on Scottish tourism - his mention of a moon-lit Melrose Abbey brought an immediate influx of visitors to the small Borders town.


Our volunteers say:

'Being local to the area and the Common Ridings being so important to me, The Lay of the Last Minstrel skillfully evokes the stories of the reivers and the borderland, and exemplifies Scott's accomplishments as poet.'


2. The Journal of Sir Walter Scott

The blockheads talk of me being like Shakespeare - not fit to tie his brogues.


You won't get a better insight into Scott's personal life than from his diary, written between 1825 and 1832. Starting just before the financial disaster of 1826, it gives an honest account of how Scott dealt with the troubles of his final years and the impact on his ailing health and struggle with depression. In addition, it offers an incredible insight into his close friendships with people from various backgrounds, from his servant and best friend Tom Purdie to outings with the nobility of the area.


Our volunteers say:

'Scott's journal is special to me because of the honesty about how he dealt with the troubles of the final years of his life - it gives an incredible insight into the man himself.'


1. Ivanhoe

For he that does good, having the unlimited power to do evil, deserves praise not only for the good which he performs, but for the evil which he forbears.


Ivanhoe was Scott’s first novel that dealt with a purely English subject, namely the conflict between the Normans and the Saxons during the reign of Richard I.

The novel's hero, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, is the son of a Saxon nobleman and in love with his father’s ward Rowena. His hopes of marrying her are dashed when his father reveals he has other plans, disinheriting Ivanhoe and sending him away. The novel’s hero joins the Third Crusade, fighting alongside Richard the Lionheart before returning to England, in an attempt to restore his position and be reunited with Rowena.

You might recognise the conflict between Richard I and Prince John, and the involvement of a certain Robin of Locksley from a different, well-known tale, namely that of Robin Hood, which was greatly influenced by Scott’s Ivanhoe.

Having been turned into films and even comic books, Ivanhoe's popularity endures to this day. It is one of Scott's most accessible works, making it a perfect novel to start out with if you want to learn more about Scott's writing.


Our volunteers say:

'Ivanhoe was ahead of its time in that it touches on subjects that are still relevant today - anti-semitism, immigration, and the subjugation of women to name just a few.'


Honourable Mention: The Heart of Midlothian

Revenge is the sweetest morsel to the mouth, that ever was cooked in hell.


Set during the time of the Porteous Riots, The Heart of Midlothian follows the journey of a young woman, Jeanie Deans, who embarks on a perilous walk from Scotland to London to beg the Queen for her sister Effie’s life. Effie has been accused of infanticide and sentenced to death, after her newborn child has gone missing.

With themes of family loyalty and the struggle of deeply held faith The Heart of Midlothian features some of Scott's best characters, especially with Jeanie, who proves an incredibly strong female protagonist that you cannot help but root for.


Our volunteers say:

'I loved the Heart of Midlothian, especially for its lower class perspective and examination of different types of justice and morality in a hostile environment.'