Ian Spacek built a model of Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth, showing heroes Marcus and Esca traveling through the wild and passing by the old ruin of a Roman outpost.
Archive for the ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’ Category
My attention was drawn on Twitter to a review in just three words of Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth:
Courageous. Resolute. Gripping.
This set me wondering how other readers and followers here, as well as on Twitter and Facebook, would review The Eagle of the Ninth in just three words.Twelve responses so far…more in the comments below would be very welcome please!
Author Tony Bradman has today written a lovely piece at The Guardian Books pages about being inspired by Rosemary Sutcliff: “… thanks, Rosemary – you really were an inspiration to that 11-year-old boy”.
I remember being gripped by the story of a young Roman called Marcus and his quest to find the Eagle standard of a legion that marched north and disappeared in The Eagle of the Ninth. From then on I was a fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books.
In 1965 I was 11 and in my last year at Junior school. I was living with my mum and older sister in a rented flat in south London – my parents had separated when I was five and got divorced a couple of years later, which was unusual at the time. My dad was working abroad and I hadn’t seen him for several years. He had become a mythical figure, someone I longed for and resented because of his absence.
Then he came back, and soon Saturday mornings were taken up by dad’s weekly “access visits”. By then I was obsessed with history. At school we’d studied the Romans and the Saxons, and I was fascinated by it all. So I made my dad take me to the British Museum as often as possible. My parents were of the world war two generation – dad had been a sailor on HMS Belfast – so he took me to the Imperial War Museum too. Mum told me stories about her time in the Women’s Royal Navy, and about her dad, who had died before I was born – he’d been sent to Australia as a child, then joined the Australian Army in the first world war and fought at Gallipoli.
Then one Saturday, probably on the way home from the British Museum, dad and I stopped at a WH Smith’s so I could spend my pocket money. I bought a Puffin book, attracted by the cover picture of Roman soldiers and the title: The Eagle of the Ninth. I remember being gripped by the story of a young Roman called Marcus, and his quest to find the Eagle standard of a legion that marched north of Hadrian’s wall and never returned. From then on I was a fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books.
I can give you lots of reasons why I think she’s a great writer. She’s a terrific storyteller, and could certainly teach Hollywood a thing or two about pace, suspense and cliffhangers. Her central characters are usually underdogs, children or young people with colossal problems to overcome – she herself suffered in childhood from Stills disease, a form of arthritis that left her permanently disabled. And then of course she writes so well, bringing her characters and the past brilliantly to life.
But it was only a few years ago that I realised why I’d been so drawn to The Eagle of the Ninth – the story is really about Marcus looking for his father, a centurion in the lost legion. Marcus wants to know what happened to his dad, and in some way to reclaim him. The shadow of not knowing hangs over Marcus, and I see now that I must have identified with another boy who missed his dad and resented his absence.
It was also then that I realised I had always wanted to write historical fiction. I’d written lots of other stuff, of course – poetry and picture books and Dilly the Dinosaur stories – but then I wrote a short novel about Spartacus, and loved the whole process. I haven’t looked back since – I even wrote a novel called Viking Boy, in which a boy goes looking for his missing father. Now I’ve written Anzac Boys, a story based on what my mum told me about her dad and his experiences at Gallipoli.
So thanks, Rosemary – you really were an inspiration to that 11-year-old boy.
Sally Hawkins, who writes for the Sunday Times, was asked to choose a ‘special book’ that changed her life, and explain why it means so much to her.
When I was eight, my taste suddenly moved on from What Katy Did at School and Swallows and Amazons to history. History with boys in it. The Eagle of the Ninth wasn’t the first historical novel I read, but it is one I found myself caught up in all over again, when the film version appeared in 2011. Fifty years on, I found its you-were-there depiction of Roman Britain and gripping plot as beguiling as ever.
I now realise I can trace my academic choices back to this tale of a young man searching for a lost legion — and missing father. Rosemary Sutcliff based it on authentic sources, and this intrigued me. The novel fired my interest in history; it was lurking behind my teenage passion for the First World War poets; and, from there, it was just a short step to my signing up for postgraduate degrees in medieval literature.
Re-reading Sutcliff, I realise just how un-condescending to younger readers her style and vocabulary are: what they don’t understand will just have to be looked up in a dictionary or on the internet. But the story is so compellingly told, they won’t be put off. More important, the book taught the younger me about friendship, courage and integrity. Sutcliff’s heroes are models of how to be good people, but never priggish or unbelievable. I bet George R R Martin read this book before embarking on his Game of Thrones series. The Wall for him is as potent a symbol of the divide between civilisation and darkness as it is for Sutcliff’s young Roman officer.
- via Helen Hawkins: The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff | The Sunday Times (behind paywall)
- More about The Eagle of the Ninth and The Eagle (of the Ninth) film on this site
David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks was nominated for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Holly Sykes, the heroine, appears in some form in each of its six segments, which begin in 1984 and stretch to 2034. The sixth and final portion imagines a near future in which an ‘Endarkment’ has reset the world into barbaric times.
In an interview for an online magazine about books, arts, and culture—The Millions— David Mitchell was asked whether any specific sources inspired his vision of how the world might look in twenty years time. He spoke first of a “really good book published in the 1950s called The Death of Grass where a killer virus doesn’t kill us, humans…but gets the crops we eat”. The second source of inspiration was Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth series, which is “the book that Holly is reading to the kids in the last section”.
Rosemary Sutcliff … was an English, wheelchair-bound classicist in the 1950s who wrote about the Romans leaving Britain and the collapse of Roman civilization. The series focuses on the power vacuums a collapse of that magnitude leaves, and how the innocents always end up having to pay more then the soldiers. Those books are colossal. They are fantastic. In the third book of the trilogy, The Lantern Bearers, the best of the three, there is a scene where the Roman ships leave the shores of Britain for the last time, and they know it’s the last time. What are they leaving behind? What’s going to happen to these people? That’s what was at the forefront of my mind—really how our world will look to my daughter as she grows—as I was writing that last section.
Brian Alderson founded the Children’s Books History Society; he was once Children’s Books Editor for The Times newspaper. Writing in Books for Keeps in 2010, he recalled an anecdote once told to librarians by Rosemary Sutcliff in the 1950s: ‘That’s not a sand-castle,’ said the busy child on the beach, ‘I’m building a temple to Mithras.’
In all probability the temple-builder’s enthusiasm for the work came from hearing its famed serialisation on ‘Children’s Hour’ but (perhaps unlike television serials) the wireless version sent listeners straight back to the book to get the author’s full-dress narrative to go with the spoken one.
They were keen readers, those librarians – our first critics, long before the academic brigades were mustered – and for them, at that time, the landing of The Eagle of the Ninth had something of the force of a revelation. True, it did not come from an entirely unknown author. (more…)
In earlier times The Carnegie Medal used to have “commended” and “highly commended” books each year, as well as a winner—I do not think it does now.
Rosemary Sutcliff was awarded the medal in 1959 for The Lantern Bearers. But she was several times commended too. In:
1954 for The Eagle of the Ninth
1956 for The Shield Ring
1957 for The Silver Branch
And highly commended in:
1971 for Tristan and Iseult