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Archive for the ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’ Category


Rosemary Sutcliff, historical novelist

Rosemary Sutcliff was the subject of a fascinating, insightful article (‘Of  The Minstrel Kind’) in the children’s literature magazine Books for Keeps. First published only in print form, it has for some time been reproduced online.

Margaret Meak was paying tribute to a seventy-year-old Rosemary.

I met Rosemary Sutcliff for the first time thirty years ago in a London hospital where she was recovering from an operation. (more…)

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When the BBC adapted and broadcast Rosemary Sutcliff‘s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth in 1977, the BBC Radio Times wrote about her approach to children, writing, the Romans and her hero Marcus—’part of me was in love with him’.

Her passion for the Romans stemmed from her childhood. Her mother read aloud to her from books like Rudyard Kipling‘s Puck Of Pook’s Hill.  His three Roman tales entranced her.

I didn’t read myself till the last possible minute, about nine. I was brought up on Arthur Weigall’s Wanderings In Roman Britain and Wanderings In Anglo-Saxon Britain. He mentions this eagle dug up at Silchester and I’ve been fascinated by it since I was five.

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This is news to me, although it is probably originally in her memoir Blue Remembered Hills: the name Esca for the slave in Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth comes from Victorian novelist Whyte-Melville’s The Gladiators. Rosemary’s mother used to read her this aloud.

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  • Source: Talcroft, B. L. (1995). Death of the corn king: King and goddess in Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical fiction for young adults. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press.

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Julia Eccleshare, expert on children’s and young adult’s fiction and literature (and Book Doctor at The Guardian), recently wrote a piece for theguardian.com with recommendations for historical fiction for children and teenagers which is not about the world wars. Of Rosemary Sutcliff she said:

In her many novels, Rosemary Sutcliff charted the making of Britain from the simple living of the upland shepherds of the Bronze Age in Warrior Scarlet to Elizabethan England in The Queen Elizabeth Story. She concentrated particularly on Roman Britain reflecting the many attitudes and experiences around the coming together of different cultures as the Romans and the indigenous population learned to live together and to blend their two very different ways of life.

In a loose series of titles which includes The Eagle of the Ninth and Dawn Wind Rosemary Sutcliff writes of Romano-British occupation and skirmish but she also details the home life of both sides describing the cooking, weaving and celebrations of the British tribes and the more advanced home comforts of the Roman invaders such as the installation of central heating in their villas.

Other authors she recommended were: Geoffrey TreaseLeon Garfield, Jill Paton Walsh, Berlie Doherty, Sally Nicholls, Adele Geras, John Rowe Townsend, and Melvin Burgess .

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Cover of Sun Horse, Moon Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff | UK Hardback edition

Rosemary Sutcliff imagined the story behind the magical White Horse of Uffington for her 1977 children’s book (historical fiction) Sun Horse, Moon Horse. It involved the Epidi (meaning “Horse People”), a tribe that had also appeared in her earlier 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth. In the author’s note to the original publication she wrote:

If any of you who have read it have also followed the adventures of Marcus and Esca in The Eagle of the Ninth, and think that Lubrin’s people are not very like the Epidi who they found when they went north to rescue the eagle of the lost legion, I can only say that when I wrote that story, I had not read (T. C. Letherbridge’s bokk) Witches. And if I had, I would have made them a slightly different people. Though, of course, they might have changed quite a lot in more than two hundred years.

Earlier she explained the origins of her story, in a book by T. C. Letherbridge and an unusually old White Horse:

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L’Aigle de la Neuvième Légion is the French film version of The Eagle film derived from Rosemary Sutcliff’s best-selling historical fiction book L’Aigle de la Neuvième Légion (The Eagle of the Ninth). Posts about the film on this blog here.
L'Aigle de la Neuvième Légion on TV en France aujourd’hui!

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In 2009, Lindsey Davis—writer of classical thrillers, creator of private investigator and poet Falco—listed in The Guardian newspaper her top ten books from her “shelves and shelves” of Roman material. She included Rosemary Sutcliff in “ten that are scholarly but user-friendly …  all books I have enjoyed, all influenced my love of ancient Rome and most of them are in regular use for my work”.

Of The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff, she wrote:

Somewhere about the year 117 AD, the Ninth Legion, which was stationed at Eboracum, where York now stands, marched north to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again. Hooked? If not, there’s no hope for you. A wonderful novel, for children of all ages.

With excerpts from her remarks, her other nine choices were:  (more…)

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