I am not persuaded that this commentator correctly characterises Esca’s relationship with Marcus in Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth. Rosemary’s view of the slave-master relationship is not a ‘romantic’ one. Nor did the film The Eagle ‘fail’, although it was not as successful in the eyes of all the critics and with audiences as was intended by the makers! But there is ‘a lot of … provocation’ to be gained from the comments as well as the book!
I love ancient Roman history but Sutcliff writes so clearly and articulately that I don’t think a young reader, without knowledge of this period, is at a real disadvantage, except maybe in terms of their interest. Americans are predominantly interested in American history, of course, and there is a long and very rich tradition of children’s American historical fiction. A lot of it focuses on the slave experience, but Eagle takes the opposite view. Here, perhaps, is where the book might run into trouble with a non-British readership: Esca, Marcus’ slave, is written quite romantically, as a devoted indentured servant who would follow his owner to the ends of the earth. This is very out of sync with most modern literature (for obvious reasons) and really dates the book. It is a unique challenge for young readers to imagine this story from Esca’s perspective, and I think a really valuable exercise. The somewhat-recent film version starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell is decidedly not child-friendly but at the same time works to rectify these elements.
I truly believe that this element of the book should not stop modern readers from enjoying this text. Maybe it’s a bit optimistic of me, but I really do think that there’s a lot of enjoyment and provocation to be gained from this book and I hope that the failure of the film (well… I liked it… no one else did) doesn’t dissuade you from enjoying it. ★ ★ ★ ★ /5