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Archive for the ‘The Eagle of the Ninth Book’ Category

Portrait of historical novelist and children’s author Rosemary Sutcliff by Mark Gerson

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.

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The Eagle of the Ninth, original book jacket OUP

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.

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Cover of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
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”.

Cover of The Lantern Bearers

 

Cover of The Death of Grass

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Cover of Books for Keeps, March 2010

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…)

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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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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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The Times newspaper published in mid-2013 a list of the top 50 ‘books that all children should read’, which included Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth (at 27). Of course all such lists reflect the preferred reading of the selection panel and it is good, indeed essential, to know who was on the panel. In this case it was: Amanda Craig (then Times children’s books critic), Lucy Coats (author), Wendy Cooling (founder of Bookstart), Tom Gatti (Times Saturday Review editor), Katherine Langrish (blogger and author), Anthony McGowan (author), and  Nicholas Tucker (children’s literature specialist). Their list:

  1. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  2. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  3. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  4. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  5. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
  6. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
  7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  8. The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
  9. The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
  10. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner
  11. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  12. Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
  13. The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer
  14. Just William by Richmal Crompton
  15. Matilda by Roald Dahl
  16. The Midnight Folk by John Masefield
  17. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  18. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
  19. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
  20. Stories for Children by Oscar Wilde
  21. Hellbent by Anthony McGowan
  22. The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban
  23. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
  24. The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones
  25.  The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
  26. The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White
  27. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
  28. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
  29. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  30. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  31. The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
  32. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
  33. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
  34.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  35. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  36. One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson
  37. The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
  38. The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate by Margaret Mahy
  39. Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
  40. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
  41. Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin
  42. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
  43. The Snow-walker’s Son by Catherine Fisher
  44. Holes by Louis Sachar
  45. Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
  46. Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond
  47. Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver
  48. Vice Versa by F. Anstey
  49. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  50. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd

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