Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History
by Ibn Warraq
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8 / Part 9 / Part 10 / Part 11
Sir Walter ends Chapter Two with a subtle dig at “mullahs and priests”, and religion in general, all held responsible for bringing unnatural divisiveness among men of otherwise goodwill, “Slander not him [Muhammad, the Prophet] whom thou knowest not; the rather that we venerate the founder of thy religion, while we condemn the doctrine which priests have spun from it. I will myself guide thee to the cavern of the hermit, which, methinks, without my help, thou wouldst find it a hard matter to reach. And, on the way, let us leave to mollahs, and to monks, to dispute about the divinity of our faith, and speak on themes which belong to youthful warriors,””-upon battles, upon beautiful women, upon sharp swords, and upon bright armor.”
Saladin appears, as Riley-Smith put it, in a bewildering number of disguises, a trait perhaps derived from Harun al-Rashid’s habit of roaming the streets of Baghdad disguised in the Arabian Nights. Certainly, “the banner of Death, with this impressive inscription, “SALADIN, KING OF KINGS, SALADIN, VICTOR OF VICTORS; SALADIN MUST DIE” which, in Scott’s novel, was displayed among the banners above Saladin’s tent, was lifted and adapted from The Sixth Voyage of Sinbad. 
Robert Irwin, in a fascinating, all too brief, essay, takes Edward Said to task for totally misunderstanding The Talisman: “[Said] fastens on the passage in which Saladin Sir Kenneth meets Saladin (in disguise). Kenneth praises Saladin as an individual, yet finds it curious that his race and religion boast descent from Iblis (the Devil). Said (Orientalism, 1978, p.101) remarks on the airy condescension of damning a whole people “˜generally” while mitigating the offence with a cool “˜I don’t mean you in particular–. Said suggests that the accusation of descent from Iblis was something that Scott took from Beckford or perhaps Byron. In fact the descent of the Kurdish people from Iblis was part of medieval Arab folklore about the Kurds (and historically Saladin was of course a Kurd). More generally, what is missing from Said’s somewhat cursory and jaundiced reading of The Talisman is any appreciation of just how favourable Scott’s portraits of Saladin and his Saracen physician are. Courageous, intelligent and magnanimous, they really come out better than Kenneth, Richard or any of the other protagonists in the story. While one might wish that Sir Kenneth, not long in the Holy Land, would unequivocally express opinions such as that the Arabs are the equal if not the superior of Scotsmen, that Islam is a jolly good religion and the crusades are really just disguised imperialism, in the context of a novel set in the late twelfth century such remarks would strike most readers as anachronistic. Said’s reading of Scott’s novel is oddly naÃ¯ve (though hardly more so than his reading of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda).”
The Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition, tells us that there were many popular attempts to derive the name “Kurd” from the Arabic root karrada; “the Kurds would thus be the children of young slaves and the demon Djasad (“driven out” by Solomon).” 
 Robert Irwin. Saladin and the Third Crusade in ed, Michael Bentley. Companion to Historiography, London: Routledge, 1997 p.141.
 Encyclopedia of Islam, s.v. “˜Kurds, Kurdistan”.
To be continued.