Ivanhoe, which takes place in the twelfth-century, is a historical novel that follows the story of protagonist Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a Saxon of British descent, who has been disinherited by his father for supporting the Norman King Richard, of French descent. Though the novel does explore important themes like the conflict between heroic ideals and modern society, Ivanhoe is primarily an adventure story, as readers follow the main character through jousts, tournaments, and saving damsels in distress.
Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the titular character, is a knight and son of Cedric the Saxon. Ivanhoe, though of a more noble lineage than some of the other characters, represents a middling individual in the medieval class system who is not exceptionally outstanding in his abilities, as is expected of other quasi-historical fictional characters, such as the Greek heroes. Critic György Lukács points to middling main characters like Ivanhoe in Sir Walter Scott's other novels as one of the primary reasons Scott's historical novels depart from previous historical works, and better explore social and cultural history.