Archive for the ‘The Lantern Bearers’ Category

One Alan Myers once compiled an ‘A to Z of the many writers of the past who had a significant connection’ with the North-East of England. It seems now to have disappeared from the web . He writes of Rosemary Sutcliff:

“One of the most distinguished children’s writers of our times, Rosemary Sutcliff wrote over thirty books , some of them now considered classics. She sets several of her best-known works in Roman and Dark Age Britain, giving her the opportunity to write about divided loyalties, a recurring theme. The Capricorn Bracelet comprises six linked short stories spanning the years AD 61 to AD 383, and Hadrian’s Wall features in the narrative.

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is perhaps her finest work and exemplifies the psychological dilemmas that Rosemary Sutcliff brought to her novels. It is a quest story involving a journey north to the land of the Picts to recover the lost standard of the Roman Ninth Legion. A good part of the book is set in the North East around Hadrian’s Wall (a powerful symbol) and a map is provided. The book has been televised, and its sequels are The Silver Branch (1957) and The Lantern Bearers (1959), which won the Carnegie medal. Sutcliff returned to the Romano-British frontier in The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965) and Frontier Wolf (1980).

Northern Britain in the sixth century AD is the setting of The Shining Company (1990), a retelling of The Goddodin (v. Aneirin) a tragedy of epic proportions. The story, however, is seen from the point of view of the shield-bearers, not the lords eulogised in The Goddodin, and treats themes of loyalty, courage and indeed political fantasy.”

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Extract from a blog post by Amanda McCrina:
UK Hardback Cover Rosemary Sutcliff The Lantern Bearers in 1959

I feel like I should rename this as ‘Books that will make you cry if you, in fact, cry for books.’ I don’t, typically. The following books particularly moved me—if I did cry for books these would be the ones that did it—but I think I only truly cried at the first. (Some spoilers follow, naturally.)

1) The Lantern Bearers, Rosemary Sutcliff.
Unsurprising to most of you who know me and my reading preferences. This is my favorite of her books, it’s very nearly my all-time-favourite book, and yes I have cried while reading it. Through most of the ending chapters, but especially at this part:

Aquila was staring into the fire, his arm across his knees. What was there to say to Flavia, after their last meeting, and the years between? And then he knew. He put up his hand and freed the shoulder-buckle of his leather tunic, and pulled it back; he dragged up the loose woollen sleeve beneath, to bare his shoulder, and leaned toward Mull in the firelight. ‘Look.’

Mull strained up higher on his sound arm, and looked. ‘It is a dolphin,’ he said.

‘A friend did it for me when I was a boy.’ He let his sleeve fall and began to refasten the buckle. ‘Ask her if she remembers the terrace steps under the damson tree at home. Ask her if she remember the talk that we had there once, about Odysseus coming home. Say to her–as though it were I who spoke through you, “Look. I’ve a dolphin on my shoulder. I’m your long-lost brother.”’

2) The Shining Company, Rosemary Sutcliff.
Not even among my top five of her books, probably, but undeniably a tear-jerker.

Source:  Top 10 Tuesday: Books to make you cry » Amanda McCrina — Historical fiction and fantasy; incl. The Lantern Bearers, Oxford University Press, pg. 292

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Before my mother stopped her (to keep all her papers in one place), Rosemary Sutcliff happily responded ad hoc to speculative letters asking for research notes and other papers connected with her historical novels and children’s books. So this collection at the University of Southern Mississippi includes notes in her trademark red notebooks. Interestingly the reference refers not only to The Lantern Bearers, but to notes for books called The Red Dragon and The Amber Dolphin, as well as notes on several other topics. There never were published books with those titles. The collection also contains a manuscript and two typescripts for the radio play The New Laird. The programme was taped on April 4, 1966, and broadcast from Edinburgh on May 17, 1966 as part of the Stories from Scottish History series. (I note that the library has not bothered with making accurate and up-to-date their brief paragraphs on her life … )

Source: USM de Grummond Collection- Rosemary Sutcliff papers

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The Lantern Bearers by historical novelist and children’s writer Rosemary Sutcliff, first published in 1959, won the prestigious  Carnegie Medal that year. An American reviewer wrote some twenty years later …

I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff in my early teens, and she quickly became one of my favorite authors. I can still vividly recapture the magic of reading her books. It was a real pleasure to return to The Lantern Bearers, which I first read when I was about thirteen, and find the magic still intact. … The Lantern Bearers is a wonderful book. Sutcliff possesses a unique gift for character and description, evoking a sense of place and person so intense that the reader can almost see her characters and the world in which they move. She has a matchless ability to establish historical context without a surfeit of the “let’s learn a history lesson now” exposition that mars many historical novels for young people. Her books are never less than meticulously researched, but her recreation of the past is so effortless that one has no sense of academic exercise, but rather of a world as close and immediate as everyday.

…  The Arthurian theme was one of Sutcliff’s favorites: she produced several young adult books on the subject, as well as a beautiful adult novel, Sword at Sunset, to my mind one of the best ever written in this genre. But the Sutcliff’s Arthur is rooted as much in history as in myth-not just the tragic king of Le Morte d’Arthur or the heroic/magical figure of traditional Arthurian fantasy, but a man who might actually have existed, heir both to the memory of Rome and to the last great flowering of Celtic power in Britain.
…  her enduring popularity … is richly merited: she is, quite simply, one of the best.

Copyright © 1997 Victoria Strauss

(First posted, April 29th, 2009)

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The Guardian newspaper has presented the aggregate information on physical book sales in Britain in 2011.

Three already elderly Stieg Larsson thrillers topped last year’s all-year bestsellers table, followed by Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals (the Christmas No 1) and Guinness World Records, with One Day and The Help just outside the top 10. Glance at 2011’s chart, and you could be forgiven for wondering if 12 months have really passed.

For this was a year when old books saw off new ones, and paperbacks sent hardbacks packing. The same seven titles merely change places, with Larsson’s musty trio and David Nicholls’s and Kathryn Stockett’s two-year-old novels all given renewed sales muscle by movie versions.

Interestingly – to me – the combined sales (some 23,500 books) of the two versions of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s 1950s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth, whilst way down in the full charts, put her in the top twenty (by volume) of the historical and mythological fiction category. On top of that about her publisher Oxford University Press sold about 6,700 copies of The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles (which also includes The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers). Highest seller by volume in historical fiction was Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen, with nearly 200,000! And in there  in the top ten is Rosemary Sutcliff fan Ben Kane. Congratulations!

In children’s fiction, which embraces The Wimpy Kids books as well as J K Rowling, Enid Blyton and Alex Scarrow, (to highlight some very different genres of children’s book), such a volume of sales only allows Rosemary to creep in to the top hundred in about 90th place for The Eagle of the Ninth (although I have not looked to see if there are any duplicate versions of the same title in those above or below her ‘position’).

Historical Fiction Top Twenty

Title Author Volume Binding
The Red Queen Philippa Gregory 193,263 Paperback
My Last Duchess Daisy Goodwin 108,176 Paperback
Death of Kings Bernard Cornwell 64,876 Hardback
The Confession of Katherine Howard Suzannah Dunn 63,259 Paperback
Empire of Silver Conn Iggulden 62,737 Paperback
the Lady of the Rivers Philippa Gregory 51,994 Hardback
The Road to Rome: Forgotten Legion Chronicles Ben Kane 50,137 Paperback
The White Queen Philippa Gregory 46,840 Paperback
The Captive Queen Alison Weir 42,783 Paperback
Heresy S. J. Parris 42,029 Paperback
Insurrection Robyn Young 38,654 Paperback
Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel 35,516 Paperback
Conqueror Conn Iggulden 33,909 Hardback
Rome: The Emperor’s Spy M. C. Scott 26,650 Paperback
Revelation:Shardlake C. J. Sansom 25,711 Paperback
Praetorian Simon Scarrow 24,282 Hardback
Secrets of the Tudor Court Darcey Bonnette 24,020 Paperback
The Sisters Brothers Patrick deWitt 23,740 Paperback
The Eagle of the Ninth Rosemary Sutcliff 23,397 Paperback

Source: Bestselling books of 2011 – Commentary | Books | The Guardian

Click here for spreadsheet of full Guardian-Nielsen data, if you want to play …


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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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Rosemary Sutcliff‘s book, the award winning The Lantern Bearers set blogger and reviewer Sam Hawken writing about her again:

I’ve written about the Roman Britain Trilogy before, reviewing both The Eagle of the Ninth and The Silver Branch. If you go back and read those reviews, you’ll see that I have nothing but praise for the writing of Rosemary Sutcliff even when her plotting let me down. I can’t think of any other writer whose work I’ve read recently who has similar power to evoke sense of place. I’ve never been to the regions Sutcliff writes about, but I can feel like I’ve been there because of her ability to engage with colors and smells and sounds to create a living tapestry of the senses.

Writing in the ’50s, she had the insight of someone from the Roman Britain period and that’s why, whatever my issues with The Silver Branch, the second in the trilogy, I think Sutcliff was a truly great author.You’ll be pleased to know that The Lantern Bearers is a much more assured piece of work than The Silver Branch. I tend to think that Sutcliff wasn’t totally in love with her story the second time around and that showed. This time, however, she’s clearly attached to the period and the characters.

I loved The Eagle of the Ninth because it was a rip-roaring adventure tale with all the trappings of fine literature. The Lantern Bearers is a much more sophisticated offering and Sutcliff’s gifts are in full flower.The action picks up some 150 years after the conclusion of The Silver Branch and the time of the Roman occupation of Britain has come to an end. Young cavalryman Aquila is ordered, along with the rest of the Eagles, to return to Italy to bolster the Roman defenses against another barbarian incursion. Aquila, born and bred in the Down Country of Britain, is less than thrilled with this turn of events and, in an act of defiance, goes “wilfull missing” when it’s time to ship off. He is of Britain, he says, and will not go.

via Sam Hawken » The Lantern Bearers.

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