Responding to an earlier post quoting Margaret Meek on in her eponymous monograph about historical novelist and doyen of children’s literature Rosemary Sutcliff, reader and regular commenter Anne (much more knowledgeable than me about the details of Rosemary’s work. and commentary upon it) posted:
It seems appropriate to add this piece from another critical essay, this one by May Hill Arbuthnot and Zena Sutherland:
The theme of all (Sutcliff’s) stories, as Margaret Meek points out, is “the light and the dark. The light is what is valued, what is to be saved beyond one’s own lifetime. The dark is the threatening destruction that works against it.” In The Lantern Bearers… the blackness of despair is concentrated in the heart of Aquila, a Roman officer….
No briefing of these stories can give any conception of their scope and power, and when young people read them they live with nobility… Nevertheless, these are difficult books, not because of vocabulary problems, but because of the complexities of the plots in which many peoples are fighting for dominance.
Fortunately, Dawn Wind …, one of the finest of the books, is also the least complex. Chronologically it follows The Lantern Bearers, but it is complete in itself and will undoubtedly send some readers to the trilogy. For the fourteen-year-old hero Owain, the light of the world seems to have been extinguished. He finds himself the sole survivor of a bloody battle between the Saxons and the Britons in which his people, the Britons, were completely destroyed. In the gutted remains of the city from which he had come, the only life the boy finds is a pitiable waif of a girl, lost and half-starved. At first Owain and Regina are bound together in mutual misery, but eventually they are united in respect and affection. So when Regina is sick and dying, Owain carries her to a Saxon settlement, even though he knows what will happen to him. The Saxons care for the girl but sell Owain into slavery…. After eleven years, he is freed and sets out at once to find his people and Regina, who has never doubted he would come for her.
So life is not snuffed out by the night. A dawn wind blows and two people start all over again with those basic qualities that have always made for survival…. Rosemary Sutcliff gives children and youth historical fiction that builds courage and faith that life will go on and is well worth the struggle.
Source: May Hill Arbuthnot and Zena Sutherland, “Historical Fiction: ‘The Lantern Bearers’ and ‘Dawn Wind’,” in their “Children and Books”, pub. Scott, Foresman and Company, 1972, pp. 508-9
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