Three years ago Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth inspired one blogger to go exploring!
The Roman History Reading Group’s first read for 2010 is Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth, part of which is set in Calleva Atrebatum. As it’s quite near where my parents live, I set out one cold and frosty morning to have a look at what remains of Calleva Atrebatum today. The remains are near the village of Silchester, not far from Reading.
Calleva Atrebatum means something like “the Atrebates’ town in the woods” (not that different from Silchester!). The Atrebates were a Celtic tribe living in this area, with links to a tribe of the same name living in Gaul. Although the town itself has disappeared, its walls are still standing. It took me about 2 hours to walk the circuit of 2.8 km, but that was with lots of stops for photographs. The shape is roughly speaking a diamond with the top point at the North.
- North east wall
Find the whole article and all the photographs on his blog here.
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Posted in Autobiography & Biography, Capricorn Bracelet, Readers, Simon, Sun Horse, Moon Horse, Sutcliff Discovery of the Day, Sword at Sunset, Sword Song, The Capricorn Bracelet, The Eagle of the Ninth Book, The Lantern Bearers, The Light Beyond the Forest, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Shining Company, Warrior Scarlet on November 12, 2013 |
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Over at the Facebook page for Rosemary Sutcliff readers have been robust about the error of The Booktrust’s ways in excluding Rosemary Sutcliff from their attempt to list the 100 best children’s books of the last 100 years. I asked for help in compiling a broadside.
I’m not sure this will help, but the books I enjoyed when I was 11 still engage me at 63! I’ve never felt that Rosemary Sutcliff writes for children alone. There’s probably no more poignant tale than The Lantern Bearers. Also, she has a talent for dialogue in an historical context which is unsurpassed. Most children’s authors have nothing remotely like it. (Roy Marshall)
Rosemary Sutcliff’s books last in the mind and heart. I am 63 now and they stand out as Beacons from my childhood. I have reread many in mid and later life and they are even better. I am with Roy, The Lantern Bearers is my favourite – so evocative and of our own end times too. (Rob Patterson)
Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman books, starting with the Eagle of the Ninth (but I read all the others – The Mark of the Horse Lord was probably the one that really inspired me), were one of the influences that led me to study archaeology.
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Posted in Autobiography & Biography, Awards, Song for a Dark Queen, The Eagle of the Ninth, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Shining Company, Tristan and Iseult, tagged books, Carnegie Medal, children's books, children's literature on June 19, 2013 |
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The Carnegie Medal for 2013 is awarded today. The Medal is awarded every year in the UK to the writer of an outstanding book for children. (2013 shortlist here).
The eminent Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92) won the (former) Library Association Carnegie Medal in 1959 for her historical novel for children The Lantern Bearers (she wrote for children”aged 8 to 88″, she said). She was runner-up with Tristan and Iseult in 1972. (more…)
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A quotation from Rosemary Sutcliff at the goodreads site - unfortunately without a reference (does anyone know it?) – gave me pause for thought as I reflected upon the changed ending to the story of The Eagle of the Ninth for the film The Eagle. Perhaps that is a reason after all to celebrate that the film was not (in English) called The Eagle of the Ninth. But perhaps also I should not have been so sanguine about the changed ending when asked to comment by the press when the film came out a couple of years ago now. In any event, this is a thought-provoking note on which to re-energise this blog, now that I am six months into my stint with a new day-job! To regulars….apologies for the silence….and to commenters….apologies for some long delays in approving so that comments are published.
“I do not think that you can be changing the end of a song or a story like that, as though it were quite separate from the rest. I think the end of a story is part of it from the beginning.”
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James Dunlop has commented on another post:
My 1977 copy of The Eagle of the Ninth (by Rosemary Sutcliff) still has the entry from the Radio Times (with a photo of Anthony Higgins as Marcus … ) glued inside the front cover. I’ve also got a page torn out of the Radio Times lurking somewhere – I was nine at the time and it made a really big impression on me. I’m now an archaeologist who really doesn’t have much time for Romans, but when I re-read The Eagle of the Ninth last year, I still found Marcus a really lovely – and yet at the same time convincingly Roman – character.
Oh, and I remember there was that bit with the dream where the ghost legionaries turned round and had skulls instead of faces. That stayed with me for YEARS!! I was freaked out by skeletons for decades afterwards (though I’ve grown out of that little foible now, thank goodness!)
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Manda Scott is the author of the Boudica: Dreaming
novels and the Rome
series. The third book in that series, The Eagle of the Twelfth
, was published recently. The History Girls (she is one such) are ‘a group of best-selling, award-winning writers of historical fiction’ with an intriguing blog
of the same name. Today they post an interview with Manda Scott, who was questioned first about a title which “inevitably recalls Rosemary Sutcliff’
s seminal The Eagle of the Ninth”.
“What”, she was asked,”would you say was so unique and inspiring about it – and do you think the current literary love affair with Rome is to some extent part of her legacy?” She replied:
The Roman era, particularly the early empire, is one of those historical time periods, rather like the Tudors, that seems to be perennial in its attraction and I’ve never worked out why. Other periods have strong characters, and surviving dynasties. Other periods had empires that attempted to conquer the world. Other periods have the dichotomy between order (the Empire) and wildness (the unconquered natives of the provinces) and the constant friction between them, but the first century is one of the most deeply and extensively mined periods in fictional history and I have to think that Rosemary Sutcliff has played an overwhelming role in that. Every time I stand on a stage at a book festival or a reading and say that I was inspired by her work, heads nod throughout the audience. When I say the same about Mary Renault or Dorothy Dunnett (the Alexander trilogy and ‘King Hereafter’ respectively) there’s a buzz, but not the same wave of memory and affection.
I’m not sure if it’s simply people of our age, who grew up with The Eagle of the Ninth as our introduction to historical fiction, or whether she genuinely spans the generations, but there’s no doubt that she’s had a huge impact.
Defining exactly why she’s had that impact, is harder than knowing that it exists. Partly, she was the only one: nobody else brought the legions to life as she did, nobody else asked the questions of our identity before the Roman occupation. (She never answered them, at least not for me: trying to find out what the Seal People were doing when the Romans weren’t looking has occupied a large part of my spiritual and writing life and the Boudica series is a direct result of that). She had the capacity to engage men and women, girls and boys across the genders, which was one part of her charm: nobody has ever suggested to me that she lost readers because they knew she was a woman: her writing was too strong for that. And she was an imperialist at heart, a girl brought up in the dying days of the Empire by a father who was a Naval Officer, her writing fuses that same effortless superiority and innate sexism that propelled Enid Blyton to such massive success: there’s a level at which it resonates with the part of us that wants security; now as much as then. Her world was ordered. Her Romans were benevolent, if strict. Her natives were noble savages, but they respected their Roman over-lords.
I don’t think that was how it was, but it’s a very safe kind of fiction (and just because I think it’s factually inaccurate doesn’t stop me from regarding her as a master of her art and the progenitor of everything I’ve done.)So either Sutcliff made Rome the attraction that it is, or it’s a hangover from our Imperial past, when the Victorians rediscovered Rome and used it as a fictitious model for their own dreams of empire: the entire ‘white man’s burden and the Pax Britannia’ are modelled on Augustus’ concepts of the Roman Empire – Either way, there’s nowhere near the same kind of interest in the US, for instance, or other European nations. Our love of Rome is uniquely British and, in the same way that it’s possible to divide all those around us into natural Roundheads or natural Cavaliers, so are we all natural Romans or natural Britons. It’s part of our native psyche.
Actually, although I agree with some of her analysis, I am not sure I concur entirely with this take on Rosemary Sutcliff. I would certainly have wished to hear Rosemary’s own response. For example: she would, I believe, have resisted being labelled and (pace, Marshall McLuhan) libelled “innately sexist” whilst being determinedly not a feminist. She would have rejected the assertion that what “propelled her to success” was what she had in common with Enid Blyton (whose work she was not a fan of!). She did not consider the “natives” of Britain “nobel savages”.
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