I'm not quite sure whether or not The Robe counts as a classic, as it is no longer as popular as it once was; but it was a big hit when it was published in 1942 and had a movie made of it in 1953, so I suppose I can get away with stashing it in my Classics file. At any rate, the cloth-bound copy residing on my shelf certainly looks like a classic.
My feelings about The Robe are mixed, somewhat as though the "real" story was good, but Lloyd C. Douglas "messed it up" when transferring it into writing; as though the characters and events were real, but Douglas added things that muddied the waters. Naturally the entire novel is his intellectual property and there was no "real" story for him to ruin, but it is a credit to his writing that his characters are so real to me that they seem to exist separately from the author himself. On the other hand, of course, there is the disappointing fact that I wish I could separate them.
The line upon which my like and dislike are divided is that between the writing and the theme. Since I have already detailed what I disliked about the latter in my Goodreads review (which has spoilers) and on Squeaky Clean Reviews (which I strove to keep spoiler-free), and because I do not feel like going back through the shallow theology, I will simply stick with a discussion of Douglas' writing and the characteristics that made it stand out.
The characters were my first love of the novel, beginning right about at page three when Marcellus Gallio showed up and quadrupling on whatever page Demetrius appeared. Douglas did an excellent job of cementing the characters of both these main characters upon their arrival. We first see Marcellus through his sister Lucia's eyes as he relates to her an amusing (for him) anecdote about a banquet he attended the night before, and immediately the reader gets a picture of a carefree Roman Tribune; with this former-Marcellus as a comparison, the Marcellus who, after putting Jesus to death and winning His robe chapters later, is a broken man who cries out at intervals, "Were you there?" stands out in wonderful contrast.
Marcellus' Corinthian slave, Demetrius, is another sort of character entirely. He was bought by the Gallio family years ago to be Marcellus' manservant when the Romans brought him as a captive to Rome, and though the Gallio's good treatment of him has made him loyal to them, he privately longs for freedom and resents the army that made him a slave. He is taciturn and rigidly formal, as Douglas shows in Demetrius' first scene, with feelings displayed far more in action than words. His loyalty to Marcellus and his desire for freedom come to a wonderfully-written head after the crucifixion of Christ, when Demetrius is given the chance to escape and must decide between that and staying with a half-crazed master.
The history was very well presented, and I was especially interested by Douglas' portrayal of life in Palestine from a Roman's perspective. His depiction of Caligula was, perhaps, a little overdone, since it is thought that he was a fairly good emperor during his first two years, but it was refreshing to see how much research Douglas did on facets of Roman culture during that time.
Then there was the writing itself, the style of which was quite interesting. I particularly enjoyed Douglas' use of interesting verbs for dialogue tags; while he did not scorn "said," which such a lovely verb, he also speckled his conversations with words like "drawled." As the middle section of the novel is mostly made up of conversation, Douglas did well to employ other verbs so as not to beat the Said to death; these sorts of words (when not overdone, and also when used in conjunction with characters who would indeed speak like that) make dialogue pop.
(For a full review of The Robe with all its pros and cons, check either Goodreads or Squeaky Clean Reviews.)