Posts Tagged ‘Dark & Midddle Ages’

I came across this page on the internet about who’s who in Rosemary Sutcliff‘s historical novel and re-telling of the King Arthur legend Sword at Sunset. (Without any apparent context, it intrigued me!)


Ambrosius–Aurelius Ambrosius, mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth, here Artos’ uncle
Arian–Artos’ first horse; rides him through fiery walls


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The Folio Society’s beautiful version of Rosemary Sutcliff’s award-winning historical novel The Lantern Bearers is the latest of  their wonderful reproductions of Rosemary Sutcliff novels. Perhaps a fitting present for someone this Christmas – it can be ordered online?

Winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1957, The Lantern Bearers is, in some people’s eyes, the best and  most thoughtful of Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles. Penelope Lively’s, who knew Rosemary well, and spoke at the memorial service we organised for her way back in 1992, has written a special new introduction. She comments:

It is a work of her maturity, one in which she had already honed all her signature skills – her power of narrative, of pace, her way with characters, the rich evocations of a Britain that is gone but that she had recreated. It is full of the creamy surf of meadowsweet alongside crimson cloaks flying in the wind …

This edition is illustrated by the award-winning Russian artist, Roman Pisarev.

Source: The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff | The Folio Society.

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Historical and children’s fiction author Rosemary Sutcliff wrote a book for adults (as opposed to children) about King Arthur – Sword at Sunset – a best seller in the UK in 1963. She said twenty years later:

I had determined from the time that I was very young that there was a real person there, and that I would love to find and reconstruct that person. [...] Most of the actual research I did for the book (Sword at Sunset), apart from knowing the Arthurian story from the romance versions, was into Dark Age life and history as far as they were known. Then I worked into this setting the Arthur who seemed to me to carry weight, to be the most likely kind of person. It was very strange because I have never written a book which was so possessive. It was extraordinary–almost frightening. [...] I would take the book to bed with me at night, and work there until I dropped off to sleep about two o’clock in the morning, too tired to see any more. Then I would wake up about six o’clock, still thinking about it. It was addictive. It was almost like having the story fed through to me, at times. I do my writing usually in three drafts, and I would go from the first to the second draft, from the second to the third, and find bits of the book that I had no recollection of having written at all.

Source: From Raymond H. Thompson’s interview with Rosemary Sutcliff  in August 1986


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Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth and Warrior Scarlet have been listed by writer Philip Reeve as two of his favourite books, defined as ‘the books which mattered most to me while I was growing up … (which are) well worth tracking down’!.

…or I could have chosen Knight’s Fee, or The Lantern Bearers, or Sun-horse, Moon-horse, or Frontier Wolf… Rosemary Sutcliff is one of my favourite children’s authors, and I doubt she ever wrote a bad book, but these were the two I liked best when I was growing up.  (more…)

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I have just finished reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic children’s (and adult) historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth and absolutely loved it. One of the things that stood out to me in the book were the early religions that were worshipped in Britain in 117 A.D.

It seems there were many different gods worshipped by tribes and Romans. The lead character Marcus, a Roman centurion, worships the god Mythras of the Mythraic religion. Esca, his companion and a native Briton, prays to a god named Lugh. Both religions are now regarded as forms of paganism and both of these gods are described by Rosemary Sucliff as sun gods.

I’ve started to research both of these gods and their religions and would be interested in any information available.

I have discovered so far that Lugh is an ancient deity from Irish Celtic Paganism. He is the god of the harvest and is depicted as a great warrior from the distant past. He is also known as Lamfhada or ‘of the long arm’ in Gaelic because of his magic spear and sling. He is also known as Lugas in Pan celtic mythology  in other parts of europe and as Lleu Llaw Gyffes in Welsh. It is interesting that Rosemary Sutcliff chose Lugh as the deity worshiped by Esca, a Briton. It suggests that she believed celtic paganism was practiced throughout Britain and travelled from Ireland, which was known as Hibernia in Roman times.

Votive inscription to Lugus. Lugo, Galicia


Marcus the centurion’s god is Mythras, of the Mythraic histories. I visited an ancient Mythraic temple underneath the church of St Clamente in Rome, back in September.

Mythraic temples were always secret places and usually underground, beneath other buildings. Mythras was commonly worshipped by the Roman Military in the first to the fourth centuries, so Rosemary Sutcliff was absolutely accurate in choosing Mythras as the deity worshipped by Marcus. Not much is known about the Mythraic mysteries as it was a secret religion, however it is believed that it was first formed in Rome.

Mithras born from the rock (petra genetrix), Marble, 180-192 CE. From the area of S. Stefano Rotondo, Rome.


I woud love to know more on both of these ancient religions and their possible similarities, so please post any links and information you have on the subject.

Here are some links to information on the Mythraic Mysteries and of the celtic god lugh.



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Blogger Zornhau reads children’s writer and historical novelist Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic retelling of Beowulf to his son Kurtzhau.

The two of us together live through the dragon fight, the flight of Beowulf’s thanes, all except Wiglaf who tips the balance in his lord’s favor. Now Beowulf lies dying, poisoned by dragon venom.

Kurtzhau and I both hold each other, sharing a blast of emotions from our ancestors’ cold Dark Ages.

Abruptly, Kurtzhau slips off the bed and rummages with his plastic figures.

“Oh well,” I think. “He’s done pretty well for a—”

He bounces back to join me and thrusts a Playmobil barbarian at me. “This guy can be Wiglaf from now on. Now read the end!”

Afterwards, he’s outraged that the story is so short, and we talk about how lucky we are to have the story at all, and about bards and praise singers, and the irony that the two episodes of Beowulf’s life to come down to us are the ones that emphatically did not happen.

“What happened to Wiglaf?”

I shrug. “Was there a theory he lead a Germanic tribe to Britain? Sorry – I can’t remember and we’ve no Internet access here. But if there were any poems about him, they’re lost.”

Kurtzhau considers. “Somebody ought to write a sequel.

Source: Zornhau’s blog

More about Beowulf on this site

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Joanna R. Smith, who  describes herself as a pianist,  novelist and Anglophile, records in her blog that she recently finished reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s Dawn Wind, set in Britain in the Sixth Century AD, which she found to be  “gorgeous historical fiction” . She really loves Rosemary’s

storytelling and characters and her talent of letting you hear and see and feel the things in her books. Her prose is quiet and lyrical and compelling, as shown by the opening paragraph:

The moon drifted clear of a long bank of cloud, and the cool slippery light hung for a moment on the crest of the high ground, and then spilled down the gentle bush-grown slope to the river. Between the darkness under the banks the water which had been leaden gray woke into moving ripple-patterns, and a crinkled skin of silver light marked where the paved ford carried across the road from Corinium to Aquae Sulis. Somewhere among the matted islands of rushes and water crowfoot, a moorhen cucked and was still. On the high ground in the loop of the river nothing moved at all, save the little wind that ran shivering through the hawthorn bushes.

Lovely, lovely stuff. The kind of writing I aspire to!

Source: Just a Lyric in a Children’s Rhyme: A long bank of cloud

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