Showing posts with label Lantern Bearers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lantern Bearers. Show all posts

5 February 2014

The Lantern Bearers audio

The Lantern Bearers has been available as a CD audio for a while.  The reader is Johanna Ward and you can listen to a short clip here (see Play Sample on the left of your screen):

Currently on Amazon UK the CDs can be picked up for as little as £10.40, plus £2.80 postage.  Unfortunately UK residents aren't able to downloand the audio version anywhere - as far as I can tell.  North American listeners are lucky to be able to do so, following the link above.

9 April 2012

Rosemary Sutcliff: an appreciation

This article was on the Historical Novel Society's webpages for some years, but due to a recent revamp of the website it has been removed.  It was originally published in Solander 8, December 2000, 2-6.

 Rosemary Sutcliff: an appreciation 

Rosemary Sutcliff was born in a blizzard on 14 December 1920. The place was East Clandon in Surrey and in her autobiography, Blue Remembered Hills (1983), she is rather rueful about having been born in Surrey, feeling that the West Country was really her home. Her father was in the Navy, though there were many doctors amongst her ancestors, plus a few farmers and Quaker merchants. Her mother’s brothers all went to live in India to spend their lives working on building railways.

As a child she had Still’s Disease, a form of juvenile arthritis. The effect of this led to many stays in hospital for painful remedial operations. As a very young girl, the arsenic in her medicine caused her to have hallucinations; she saw a panther, wolves and snakes despite not knowing what they were. However, years later, she was to meet them in Kipling’s books. Another effect of illness was that she spent much time sitting still looking, rather than moving around and investigating. This meant that she developed an acute eye for observation. Alan Garner (Wintle 1974, 224) comments that children’s authors often have two things in common – they were deprived of the usual primary schooling and they were ill and left to their own company, which was certainly true of Sutcliff.
Due to her father’s postings she moved frequently – living in Malta, Streatham (London), Chatham Dockyard, Sheerness Dockyard and North Devon.  She had an uneasy relationship with her mother, but admitted that “very few of the worthwhile things in this world are all easy”.  Her mother disciplined her rigorously, so that the child Sutcliff would take her spankings in proud silence, and later in life found it very difficult to cry, believing it shameful.

Her mother read to her very willingly, and never got tired of reciting stories.  Sutcliff was reared on a diet of Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne, Charles Dickens, Hans Anderson, Kenneth Grahame and Rudyard Kipling. She was read Norse, Celtic and Saxon legends, and also historical novels which her mother loved. Surprisingly, Sutcliff did not learn to read until the age of nine.
After the period of travelling, the small family finally settled down to live in the Devon area. For Sutcliff, these years alternated between hospital and school. One of the hospitals had a Guide pack; the only badge that Sutcliff won was the Artist’s Badge.  In the hospital library she found a book that proved to be the treasure of her childhood. Called Emily of New Moon, it was a Canadian novel that followed a girl’s adventures and her attempts to be a writer. When she left hospital, she left the book behind, and then much later tried to trace it, but did not recall the author. It was eventually found for her in the 1970s by a Canadian friend who was doing a piece on the work of L.M. Montgomery. The author of Anne of Green Gables had also written Emily of New Moon.
Sutcliff ended her formal education at fourteen, and went to Bideford Art School. She passed the City and Guilds examination, and was advised to make the painting of miniatures her profession. Now that she was considered an adult, any operations she had took place in nursing homes.  These she found very lonely, mostly having the companionship of aged ladies when she really needed friends of her own age. She was eighteen when the Second World War broke out. Her father went to command convoys, while she and her mother stayed in Devon. Sutcliff had a miniature displayed at the Royal Academy, and not surprisingly, the subject was a knight in 15th century armour. 
Around the middle of the War, Sutcliff “got the itch” to write. She felt cramped by the small canvas of miniature painting, and turned to writing to gain a larger vista. The first story she could remember writing was Wild Sunrise, a story about a British chieftain faced with the invasion of the Romans. In her autobiography she stated that she was happy that the story is now lost, as she felt that it was badly written, having too much of herself in it. She did regret the loss of her next story, which was set in the 18th century. It concerned a little girl sent to stay with her Great Aunt who befriends an embittered young man. Some of its themes re-emerged in The Eagle of the Ninth years later.

Not long after the end of the War, Sutcliff wrote a re-telling of Celtic and Saxon legends which she showed to an old friend.  He sent them to Oxford University Press (OUP). Although they rejected the manuscript, they requested that she write a version of the Robin Hood Story.

It was during this period that she met Rupert, who had been an RAF pilot. He was married, but showed clear interest in Sutcliff. They spent the summer together, but in the autumn he went to work in London. They corresponded throughout the winter, but when he visited in the spring, Sutcliff had a sense of foreboding. It turned out that Rupert had met another woman whom he eventually married when his divorce came through.

Sutcliff had finished The Chronicles of Robin Hood and sent it to be typed up. It took eighteen months for the manuscript to be returned to her, during which time she had written The Queen Elizabeth Story and sent it on to OUP. This book was a subject choice of her own, and she found it a delight to write. It was accepted, and the two books were eventually published in the same year, 1950.

This is where Blue Remembered Hills finishes, but she stated that from 1950 onwards she kept a diary, and that she met Rupert again twenty years later. This infers that producing another volume of autobiography was perhaps on her mind. Her mother died during the 1960s, and Sutcliff and her father moved to Sussex. Despite being increasingly disabled, she travelled abroad and visited Greece. Her father died in the early 1980s.  

Thereafter, she lived near Arundel with a housekeeper and two small dogs (Talcroft 1995, 146). These dogs were Chihuahuas.  In 1984 when one of the dogs died, Sutcliff waited for a decent time before getting another one to be a companion to the surviving dog, Sebastian. She was waiting in the hope that the spirit of the dog that had died would perhaps be reborn into another dog that she might own in the future. This belief in reincarnation had been expressed elsewhere.  Sutcliff said that perhaps the reason authors are drawn to certain eras was that they had experienced them in a previous life, so that they were essentially writing about what was familiar (Fisher 1974, 89). When someone said to her that she would perhaps be a soldier in another life, in reference to Sutcliff's heroes often being warriors, she instantly replied “No thank you, I had enough of soldiering”. It was as if it was something she remembered (Thompson 1987, 14).

Sutcliff was writing the morning that she died on 23rd July 1992.  She had completed the second draft of a novel (published in 1997 as Sword Song), with two more works waiting to be published.

Margaret Meek wrote about the process by which Sutcliff started her novels (1962, 12).  The idea for a story might come from an external source, such as visiting a house and wondering what the previous occupants might have been like when it was new, or perhaps inspiration would come from something Sutcliff had read.  Sometimes the idea would come from the inside, completely out of the blue.
Sutcliff used large red notebooks to make her research notes in. An encyclopaedia would be the first port of call, which would in turn provide a reading list. This would be presented to the local library, and when those books arrived they could be mined for the bibliographies in the back, as well as the information in the main part of the works. All the sifted information would find its way into the red notebooks.  Then Sutcliff would start to create a picture of the daily life of the era her idea was set in. This was the most enjoyable part for her. Not much of the plot would find its way into the notebooks, as Sutcliff would make a draft outline of around two or three thousand words, and then she would start to write. Ordinarily, she would write from mid morning until nightfall.
Sutcliff tended to write the drafts of her novels in longhand (Moss, 1992), producing three drafts plus a fair copy.  She often wrote 1,800 words per day in a small clear script on a single folio sheet.  Her pen was “fattened” and cushioned so that her arthritic hand could guide it easily (Moss, 1992). The process of producing a whole book would take a couple of months’ research, followed by around eight months’ writing.
Sutcliff wrote over fifty books (see the list at the end of this article), some of which were translated into fifteen languages.  She also wrote plays for the radio and stage.
Finding a voice
The Queen Elizabeth Story, Sutcliff’s second book, was primarily aimed at little girls. She acknowledged that this and the next two or three books were a little too cosy and too sweet (Sutcliff 1992, 169). However, she was aware that it was her apprenticeship phase of writing. It was Sutcliff's fifth book, Simon, published in 1953, that really showed what she could do, and this was recognised by the critics (Talcroft, 1995, 3). The book is longer and more complex than her previous works.  Set during the English Civil War, it is the story of Roundhead Simon and how his childhood friendship with Cavalier Amias is wrecked by the war. According to Meek, it shows all the traits that became fully developed in later books (1962, 32). However, Simon is not handicapped in some way, or of a surly temperament, unlike many of the characters Sutcliff wrote about later.
The next year saw the publication of what is probably Sutcliff’s most famous book – The Eagle of the Ninth. The hero, Marcus Flavius Aquila, is invalided out of the Roman army and seeks to find out what happened to the ill-fated Ninth Legion. This is the first book to be set in the Roman period, and Marcus remained one of Sutcliff’s favourite characters, although she was aware that many people found him to be difficult and prickly.  However, she justified this by pointing out that he had undergone some awful experiences (Thompson, 1987, 13). This book also saw the first appearance of a device which provides continuity between several books: a heavy signet ring which was set with a flawed emerald bezel on which a dolphin was engraved. The ring also appears in The Silver Branch, Frontier Wolf, The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, Dawn Wind, The Shield Ring and Sword Song.  These linked books were written over a period of over 35 years.  

Evans-Gunther points out that a virtual family tree of the Aquila family can be compiled because the connections are so well illustrated (1993, 7). The line runs clearly from Marcus Aquila in Eagle of the Ninth  (129AD) to Owain in Dawn Wind (6th century), with the ring appearing in the other books though not obviously connected to Aquila’s descendants. Sutcliff stated that she had a  “ ... terrific thing about continuity” (Fisher 1974, 186), so it is likely to be a very deliberate strategy. As well as the Dolphin ring, she set The Knight’s Fee (11th century) and Warrior Scarlet (Prehistoric) in the same hills, and used a flint axe in both stories to indicate the historical ties to that land (Fisher 1974, 186). 
Continuity is very much a Kipling tradition; he acknowledges the settling of England by many peoples, and the way they eventually learn together to create a new nationality (1962, 52). Also, Kipling emphasises the rite of passage from youth to adulthood.  Sutcliff was happy to admit her debt to Kipling, and wrote an appreciation of him in 1960.
Throughout her childhood, Sutcliff was steeped in the myths and legends read to her by her mother. Later, she visited a local bookshop to read Fraser’s The Golden Bough, a huge work that contained the ideas and background to sacred kingship and primitive religion that were to surface in her novels in various forms.

Barbara Talcroft’s important study of Sutcliff’s works with reference to this aspect picks out three major elements in her writing: Goddess, Sacrificial King and Maimed King. The relationship that a king has with the Goddess provides him with his legitimacy as a rule. The Goddess can take many forms and represent various aspects of life. For example, she can be a maiden, a consort, or a hag, and these can be linked with the phases of the moon: the crescent moon being the goddess of birth and growth, the full moon the goddess of love and war, and the waning moon being associated with the hag of divination and death (Talcroft 1995, 25).

The sacrificial king has an obligation to sacrifice himself for the good of his people and the land. The maimed king is a danger to his people as he might cause the kingdom to become a wasteland.

A novel that contains all three of these in good measure is Sword at Sunset, published in 1963. This novel is about King Arthur, or Artos as Sutcliff called him. The goddess appears in Ygerna (Artos’ half sister with whom he unwittingly commits incest), Guenhumara (whom he marries) and the Virgin Mary (who is symbolised by a moon daisy which is worn by Artos and his Companions as they go into battle).

The maimed king is Artos who fathers a child with his half sister. He sees this as a great sin and becomes impotent. Though he does father a daughter eventually, both his children are maimed in different ways. The daughter is sickly and dies in circumstances that cause a further rift with Guenhumara (so that he is effectively in discord with the goddess and the land). His son, Medraut, is maimed in character, being twisted by hate instilled by Ygerna, and seeks to undermine and destroy Artos.

Artos is also the sacrificial king, dedicating himself to his people and land, and eventually dying for them.  However, the most obvious example of sacrificial kingship in the book is Artos’ uncle, the High King Ambrosius. In the book’s prequel, The Lantern Bearers (1959), the young Ambrosius rejects marriage saying that “ ... To lead Britain is enough for one man, with a whole heart and no ties”, which is his first sacrifice. In Sword at Sunset he falls ill with cancer, and chooses to die hunting, trying to kill a royal stag – both Ambrosius and the stag are portrayed as sacrificial kings.

Looking at Talcroft’s analysis (1995, 126), it is clear that the kingship themes became most developed in the early 1960s, culminating in Sword at Sunset in 1963, and The Mark of the Horse Lord in 1965. After this time, the themes are still present in one form or another, but not so marked.

Sutcliff always became deeply involved in her books, but Sword at Sunset engaged her more heavily than any other book she wrote (Thompson, 1987, 13). It took some eighteen months to write, and absorbed her completely. She would write from 6am one morning until 2am the following morning, finding the process completely addictive. Usually writing in the third person, Sutcliff found she had trouble with this book, and only became satisfied with it when she wrote in the first person. It was the first time she had done this, but it seemed the best and only way. After finishing the book, it took her several weeks to get back into her own skin, after thinking herself so completely into the character of Artos. 

Sword at Sunset is deservedly one of the most admired historical novels about King Arthur (Thompson 1985, 47).  Though some traditional aspects of the legend are retained, Sutcliff discards those that she deems to be rather late additions, so that, for example, Bedwyr takes the part later played by Lancelot. Along with The Lantern Bearers, it is among some the first attempts at an historical setting for King Arthur. Rather than a just a Celtic setting, Sutcliff also fully acknowledges the strong role that those who had adopted Roman culture (and would have called themselves Roman) would have played in the fifth century. This is still a relatively unusual viewpoint, and it has barely been explored in historical fiction for this period since Sutcliff (Nastali 1999, 19). Combining as it does primitive mythological elements, allied with solid archaeological research, Sword at Sunset is a deeply satisfying book.
Dark and light
The theme of dark and light occurs in many of Sutcliff’s novels. The subjects revolve around invaders of one kind or another (the Roman advance in Britain in The Eagle of the Ninth or the Saxon invasion of Britain in Dawn Wind).  Individuals can embody the light or dark as Artos and Medraut are light and dark in Sword at Sunset, or have both aspects such as the greatly conflicted Aquila in The Lantern Bearers. It is possible that this theme emerges so strongly due to Sutcliff's experiences of living through the Second World War. The outcome of the war, taken for granted now, was uncertain then, and the threat of invasion greatly feared. It must have seemed that that Britain was once again under the threat of having its light extinguished.
Sutcliff is considered mainly a children’s author.  However, many of her books have a wider appeal, addressing as they do complex and elemental themes in an intricately woven and foreign background. Sutcliff thought that her books were for children of all ages from nine to ninety (Thompson 1987, 13).

That Sutcliff is still an influential and well-respected historical novelist is evident. Recently, Helen Hollick has made a deliberate nod toward Sutcliff and her last book Sword Song where the hero has many ship-borne adventures. In Harold the King, about the last Saxon king of England, Hollick named the lead ship in the Saxon fleet patrolling the English coast Dolphin as tribute to the linking emerald Dolphin that appeared in so many of Sutcliff’s novels.

In her 1960 monograph, Sutcliff laments that Kipling has gone out of style (Talcroft 1995, 2). The same may now perhaps be said of Sutcliff. Harrison, reviewing Hollick’s Arthurian novel The Shadow of the King comments that Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset is: “... obviously now dated in many ways.”  (Harrison 1998, 4). This is in particular reference to Sutcliff’s “telling” rather than “showing” style of writing, and Harrison herself finds the stories enthralling (Harrison pers comm). Although the “telling” style of writing does not detract in any way from the skill and beauty of Sutcliff’s prose, modern readers are often more used to the story being shown to them.

In the case of the Arthurian period novels there are now new theories, and stories that reflect them. Sutcliff’s Roman books for children are still in print, but other categories have not fared so well. In particular, her adult books are mostly out of print, with Sword at Sunset currently only in print in the US by Tor Publishers.
Rosemary Sutcliff was primarily a storyteller. She said that she belonged to the minstrelsy, and chose to present her stories in the way that seemed right to her. In doing this, in her own poetic and rich prose, she has given us books that are already considered as classics and will be read for many years to come.
Thanks to: Belinda Copson for commenting on the bibliography; Sarah Cuthbertson for the loan of the Walck book on Rosemary Sutcliff; Towse Harrison for some useful perspectives; Helen Hollick for information on Harold the King. Any errors or omissions are my own.
Awards given to Rosemary Sutcliff
Carnegie Award, Library Association for The Lantern Bearers 1959
Boston-Globe Horn Book Award, Tristan and Iseult 1972
Hans Christian Andersen Award, Highly Commended 1974
Order of the British Empire 1975
Other Award, Song for a Dark Queen 1978
Phoenix Children's Book Award, The Mark of the Horse Lord 1985
Commander of the British Empire 1992
Bibliography and References
1992 “Obituary – Rosemary Sutcliff”, The Times 25 July
Eccleshare J. 1992, “Obituary - Rosemary Sutcliff”, Independent 27 July

Garside-Neville S. and Hunter-Mann K. 1985, “Rosemary Sutcliff “ Dragon Society Newsletter Vol 2, No 1
Garside-Neville S. 1992,  “Rosemary Sutcliff”, Dragon Society Newsletter Autumn/Winter Vol 4, No3/4, 3-5
Harrison T. 1998, “The Shadow of the King” The Historical Novels Review December 1998, 4
Hollick H. 1997, The Shadow of the King, Heinemann
Hollick H. 2000, Harold the King, Heinemann
Lively P. 1992, “Obituary - Rosemary Sutcliff” Independent 31 July
Meek M. 1962, Rosemary Sutcliff, Walck Inc
Moss E. 1992, “Chronicler of Occupied Britannia” The Guardian 27 July1992
Nastali D. 1999, “Arthur Without fantasy: Dark Age Britain in Recent Historical Fiction” Arthuriana 9.1 5-22
Sutcliff R. 1983, Blue Remembered Hills: a recollection Bodley Head
Sutcliff R. 1992, Blue Remembered Hills: a recollection Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Talcroft B.L. 1995, Death of the Corn King: King and Goddess in Rosemary Sutcliff's Historical Fiction for Young Adults The Scarecrow Press
Thompson R.H. 1985, The Return From Avalon: a Study of the Arthurian Legend in Modern Fiction Greenwood Press
Thompson R.H. 1987, “Interview with Rosemary Sutcliff”, Avalon to Camelot Volume II, No 3, 11-14  [web version acessed 9/4/12 at:]
Wintle J. and Fisher E. 1974, The Pied Pipers: Interviews with the Influential Creators of Children's Literature Paddington Press
A bibliography of Rosemary Sutcliff's works
1950                The Chronicles of Robin Hood
1950                The Queen Elizabeth Story
1951                The Armourer’s House
1952                Brother Dusty-Feet
1953                Simon  
1954                The Eagle of the Ninth
1955                The Outcast
1956                The Shield Ring
1956                Lady in Waiting (adult)
1957                The Silver Branch
1958                Warrior Scarlet
1959                The Lantern Bearers
1959                The Bridge Builders (originally a short story in Another Six)
1959                The Rider of the White Horse (adult)
1960                Houses and History (non-fiction)
1960                Rudyard Kipling (non fiction)
1960                Knight’s Fee
1961                Dawn Wind
1961                Beowulf (reprinted in 1966 as Dragon Slayer)
1963                Sword at Sunset (adult)
1963                The Hounds of Ulster
1964                The Fugitives (in Miscellany One, edited by Edward Blishen)
1965                The Mark of the Horse Lord
1965                Heroes and History (non-fiction)
1965                A Saxon Settler (non-fiction)
1966                The New Laird (radio play script)
1967                The High Deeds of Finn McCool
1967                The Chief’s Daughter
1967                The Man Who Died at Sea (in The House of the Nightmare and other Eerie   Stories, edited by Kathleen Lines)
1968                A Circlet of Oak Leaves
1969                The Flowers of Adonis (adult)
1970                The Witch’s Brat
1970                The Making of an Outlaw (in Thrilling Stories from the Past for Boys edited by Eric Duthie)
1970                Swallows in the Spring (in Galaxy edited by Gabrielle Maunder)
1971                The Truce of the Games
1972                Tristan and Iseult
1972    Heather, Oak and Olive (three stories including The Chief’s Daughter, A Circle of Oak Leaves, A Crown of Wild Olives)
1973                The Capricorn Bracelet
1974                The Changeling
1975                We Lived in Drumfyvie (written with Margaret Lyford-Pike)
1975                Ghost Story (a screenplay with Stephen Weeks)
1976                Blood Feud
1977                Shifting Sands
1977                Sun Horse, Moon Horse
1978                Song for a Dark Queen
1978                Is Anyone There? (a book on the Samaritans, editor with Monica Dickens)
1979                The Light Beyond the Forest: The Quest for the Holy Grail
1980                Frontier Wolf
1981                The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
1981                The Road to Camlann: The Death of King Arthur
1981                Eagle’s Egg
1983                Blue Remembered Hills: a recollection (non-fiction)
1983                Bonnie Dundee
1986                Roundabout Horse
1986                Flame Coloured Taffeta
1986                Mary Bedell (play)
1987                Blood and Sand (adult)
1987                A Little Dog Like You
1989                Merch Y Pennaeth (translated by Gwenan Jones)
1989                Little Hound Found
1990                The Shining Company
1992                The Eagle of the Ninth: Play (with Mary Rensten)
1993                Black Ships Before Troy: The story of the Iliad (illustrated by Alan Lee)
1993                Chess Dream in the Garden
1993                The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup
1995                The Wanderings of Odysseus (illustrated by Alan Lee)
1997                Sword Song

Sandra Garside-Neville is a reviewer for the Historical Novel Review, though she was given a sabbatical (!) to research and write this article.  She's a professional librarian and a freelance archaeologist.  The photograph of Rosemay Sutcliff on the front cover of Solander is from her private collection.

14 October 2005

UK Paperback cover: The Lantern Bearers

The Lantern Bearers, Oxford University Press, Paperback, 1972

5 September 2005

Dutch cover: The Lantern Bearers

Dutch The Lantern Bearers, supplied by Robert Vermaat: awaiting details.

Spot the deliberate mistake. Lorica segmentata went out of use probably around the 3rd century; the story is set in the 5th century.

11 June 2005

The Dark Age Novels of Rosemary Sutcliff by Charles W Evans-Gunther - Part II

All of Rosemary Sutcliff's novels are worth reading; they are not only good stories but believable. One of the signs of a good novelist is that when you read their works you think you are reading about real people and real happenings. Also, you become drawn into the story and feel for the characters. This is very true of Miss Sutcliff's works. She was especially good at creating a reality from so few facts - you almost get the impression that she knows more about the subject than the experts. Interestingly, she had Roman army units at Exeter in The Eagle of the Ninth when archaeologists said there were not any. However, since the 1950s considerable evidence has been found at Exeter to prove otherwise. It is known that Rosemary Sutcliff did the necessary painstaking research to get herself into the feel of the period, but there still seems to be something almost uncanny about her work, almost as if she had lived in the time she was writing about. She did hint on a number of occasions that she may have some belief in reincarnation, but certainly she felt more at home in the pre-medieval period. It is without doubt that her best books are about this far-away time.

The first of Rosemary Sutcliff's Dark Age novels is The Lantern Bearers, the tale of Aquila, son of Flavian, how he survives the Saxon slavery, escapes and joins Ambrosius Aurelianus to defend Britannia against the growing threat of Anglo-Saxon domination. Originally, Aquila is a Roman soldier, but when the last of the legions leave (no actual date is given) he deserts and stays with his family. Unfortunately, his father and most of the servants are killed in a Saxon pirate raid, his sister Flavia is kidnapped and he is left to die. However, a separate band of pirates takes Aquila as a slave and return to their homeland. The young man grows up with the Saxons, learns their language and finds out that they are people just like his own kind.

When in back in Britannia, Aquila makes his way west and north to join Ambrosius Aurelianus. In the mountains of Arfon, he meets for the first time a young boy called Artorius - Artos the Bear - Arthur:

"He headed for the winding cleft in the hillside ... More than half way up ... he found a small boy and a hound puppy very intent on a hole under a brown tumble of last year's fern. He would have passed by without speaking and left them to it, but the small boy sat up and grinned at him, thrusting back a shock of hair the warm silvery-mouse colour of a hayfield in June, and the puppy thumped his tail; there was something irresistibly friendly about both of them that he stopped, without meaning to ..."

Aquila eventually marries Ness, has a boy child, and names him after his father - Flavian. Through his stay with the Saxons, his real name was forgotten and he became known as Dolphin because of the tattoo he had on his arm. When Flavian is born, Aquila's friends call the boy Minnow, son of Dolphin. The battles with the Saxons increase and the novel ends with impending war and the young Arthur grown in strength is now ready to lead a band of companions into battle.

In the first chapter of Sword At Sunset we are introduced to another object that has a similar significance to the Aquila family's dolphin ring:

" ... I saw that set in the pommel was a great square amethyst. It was so dark in colour as to be almost of the Imperial Purple ... clear on the pale surface-sheen of the gem, I saw an Imperial eagle, intaglio cut, grasping in its claws a double M; and spelled out backward around the edge, turning the sword to catch the light on the letters, the single word 'Imperator' ... It is Maximus' Seal.

I remember I stood for a long time looking at the Great seal ... oddly moved by the link across the years with my great-grandsire, the proud Spanish general who married a princess of Arfon ..."

We are told that Arthur was the bastard son of Utha, Ambrosius' brother, and grandson of Constantine son of Magnus Maximus. This is a very interesting point worthy of discussion, and I would suggest it has its origins in the controversial ideas of Welsh scholar Arthur Wade-Evans.

In this version of the story of Arthur, Miss Sutcliff depicts Arthur as a cavalry leader under the command of Ambrosisus Aurelianus. He is depicted as a human being - not a superman or medieval king - a caring man, a clever man, but with flaws which eventually lead to problems. Rosemary Sutcliff obviously used many sources - including Geoffrey of Monmouth - and though far from the traditional romantic version of the tale, it does contain some elements of these later stories.

Amongst the characters in Sword At Sunset are some traditional Welsh ones such as Cai, Bedwyr and Gwalchmai - and, of course, Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) but using Geoffrey of Monmouth's version of her name, Guenhumara. In this novel, Bedwyr takes the part of Lancelot in the famous love triangle which develops. Sword At Sunset tells the story of Arthur in his own words - from the buying of horses in France, to the terrible winter in Scotland, his wars, his loves, his friendships and his failures. It continues the tale begun in The Lantern Bearers leading to the death of Ambrosius in a hunting accident, the victory at Badon, Arthur being proclaimed Caesar, the break-up of the companions by Medraut (Arthur's son) and the end at Camlan. This is a marvellous story, well written by Rosemary Sutcliffe, and though it includes many of the traditional elements in Arthur's life, it also includes something of Miss Sutcliff's own ideas - such as Gwalchmai as a healer, the Little Dark People, and the continuation of the story of the Aquila family (Aquila dies at Badon, Flavian is Arthur's shield-bearer, and Flavian's son, called Minnow by Arthur, becomes a soldier like his forefathers).

Dawn Wind, the third of the Dark Age books, continues with the Aquila family and Rosemary's juvenile novels. It concerns Owain, who is trying to find a place in the ruins of his world. The Anglo-Saxons have come to dominate the land that is to become England, and the Britons have recently been defeated in a great battle. Owain and a hound, whom he calls simply Dog, have survived. Miss Sutcliff is very good when talking about dogs and horses, and both play important parts in this novel. In the early part of the story, Owain is living with an old famer and his wife and one Sunday attends Mass at which the priest lays out the situation:

"Brethren, the Light goes out and the Dark flows in. It is for us to keep some lamps burning until the time we can give it back to the light the world once more ..."

The world seems to be crumbling around the Britons and literally when Owain enters Wroxeter hoping to find it still occupied. Ruins are everywhere, and the only living soul he finds is Regina, a young girl who has survived on her wits. Together, they leave the ruins in hope of finding a better life. However, Regina falls ill and Owain sells himself into Saxon thralldom to save her. Now a slave of the hated enemy, the view point is swiftly rotated to show what life for these Germanic people is like and we learn that they are not so much different. Owain settles in and becomes a part of Saxon society. One excellent character in the story is old Uncle Widreth, who tells the children stories and philosophises:

""When you are my age'" the old man was saying, "When you are my age, you'll have learned how little all things matter. Life is fierce with the young and maybe more gentle with the old. Only, while one is young, there is always the hope that one day something will happen; that one day a little wind will rise ...""

And it is the dawn wind that changes Owain's life and brings his freedom - freedom eventually to meet up again with Regina and the hope of returning to those old friends made in the hills of Wales.

With the re-union of Owain and Regina, the Dark Age series concerning the Aquila family ends. However, the dolphin ring is passed from father to son until the male line comes to an end. According to The Shield Ring, a female member of the Aquila family becomes part of a Norse family and after her the ring passed from father to son, but is not longer purely British. It is certain that Miss Sutcliff wanted to show that the British of later time were not simply Celtic or Saxon or Norse, but a mixture of these and more. From Clustunium in Etruria to Calleva in Britannia, and from the hill to Wales to the crags of Cumbria, the Aquila family changed from Roman to British.


4 June 2005

The Dark Age Novels of Rosemary Sutcliff by Charles W Evans-Gunther - Part I

This article by Charles W Evans-Gunther was first published in Dragon Vol 4, No. 5, Winter 1993, pages 4-10. It is reproduced here by kind permission of the author

When I began to work on this article, I thought it would means reading four books. However, I ended up going through eight novels. I found that they were linked, and it seemed correct to read them in a particular sequence. Interestingly, the first is The Eagle of the Ninth and the last The Shield Ring. Chronologically, the books run:

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) - 129 AD
The Silver Branch (1957) - 284 AD
Frontier Wolf (1980) - 343 AD
The Lantern Bearers (1959) - 410+ AD
Sword At Sunset (1963) - 5th century
Dawn Wind (1961) - mid-late 6th century
The Shield Ring (1956) - 11th century

All of the above are linked. The Shining Company (1990) set in the late 6th or early 7th century, is not connected with the others. All will become clear.

" ... Rome is hollow at the heart and one day she will come crashing down. A hundred years ago, it must have seemed that all this was forever; a hundred years hence - only the gods will know ... If I can make this one province strong - strong enough to stand alone when Rome goes down, then something may have been saved from the darkness. If not, the Dubris light and Limanis light and Rutupiae light will go out. The lights will go out everywhere. "

Taken from a scene in The Silver Branch where cousins Justin and Flavius meet Emperor Carausius, the above statement lays the basis for most of the books to come. Throughout these novels, there is a strong sense of light being smothered by an on-coming darkness. Again and again the analogy is used.

In the first of the series, The Eagle of the Ninth, we are introduced to Marcus Flavius Aquila and told that he had been initiated into the raven level of Mithraism, and this gives one 'clue' to the reference of light and darkness. The religion of Mithras, once rivalling Christianity for top place in the hit parade of religions in the Roman Empire, was dualist, derived from the much earlier Persian Zoroastianism. Here we have a constant war between Good - the Light - and Evil - the Darkness. Also, the analogy related to the more actual extinguishing of the light of Roman civilisation. The Roman Empire was becoming surrounded on all sides by 'barbarians' and it would be, in the eyes of the 'civilised' Romans (citziens of the Empire), the end if these savages took over. Rosemary Sutcliff shows the fears, but then turns the camera around and gives you the 'barbarians'' point of view. Often, the hero of the story begins with great hatred of his enemy, but grows to understand the reality of the situation.

This must have been what the Late Romans and Romano-Britons felt where they saw the destruction brought about by the Anglo-Saxon raids. To them, the light of Roman civlisation was going out, and their whole way of life, and thinking, was changing. However the Anglo-Saxons in Britain, Franks, Visigoths and other Germanic tribes in Europe, would not extinguish the light, but transform it into a different light - a different civilisation. There can be little doubt that there were raids on Roman Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, Picts and Scots, without settlement, but when these tribes eventually set up home, it became a different picture. They did not bring the darkness with them - their gods were gods of light and darkness - but they certainly did not consider themselves the bringers of darkness. Possibly they saw the Romans as the evil dominators, but it may not have been a fight of good against evil, rather a struggle for land. However, there is no need to go so deeply into this, Miss Sutcliff's novels have another link - the dolphin ring.

More than anything in these seven books, the characters are bonded together by actual relationship - all being part of the Aquila family. We are introduced to the family in The Eagle of the Ninth, and meet it throughout all the novels, though in Sword At Sunset they take a minor part to the dominant figure of Arthur, and in The Shield Ring the character is only a very distant relative.

The Aquila family originated in Etruria, Italy, and came to Britannia with the father of Marcus Flavius Aquila. He had been in the 9th Hispana Legion which was defeated in the north and disappeared. Marcus finds out the truth and we are introduced for the first time to the concrete link. Marcus, disguised as a healer, is amongst the Epidii tribe in northern Britain when he is showed an object by their chieftain:

"Marcus took it from him and bent to examine it. It was a heavy signet-ring; and on the flawed emerald which formed the bezel was engraved the dolphin badge of his own family ... suddenly across twelve years or more, he was looking up at a dark, laughing man who seemed to tower over him. There were pigeons wheeling around the man's bent head, and when he put up his hand to rub his forehead, the sunlight that surrounded the pigeon's wings with fire caught the flawed emerald of the signet-ring he wore."

It is eventually returned to Marcus by Liathan of the Epidii.

The ring appears for the first time in The Eagle of the Ninth, but it continues ... In The Silver Branch we meet descendants of Marcus - Marcelus Flavius Aquila - and his cousin Tiberius Lucius Justinianus. Flavius shows Justin the ring:

"It was a heavy and very battered signet ring. The flawed emerald which formed the bezel was darkly cool ..."

Alexios Flavius Aquila, in Frontier Wolf is sent to Scotland, and as he approaches Castellum:

"He found that he had dropped his gaze from the distant fort, and was staring down at his bridle hand: at the flawed emerald ring with its intaglio-cut dolphin on his signet finger. An old and battered ring that had come down to him through a long proud line of soldiers ..."

In The Lantern Bearers, the ring belongs to the father of the main characters. Aquila's father, Flavian:

" ... was fondling [the dog] Margarita's ears, drawing them again and again through his fingers, and the freckled sunlight under the leaves made small, shifting sparks of green fire in the flawed emerald of his great signet ring with its engraved dolphin."

Flavian is killed in a Saxon raid, and the ring is taken by a pirate whose son later marries Flavia, Aquila's sisters, who had been kidnapped by the Saxons. The ring was given to her as a wedding gift and then later in the story given by Flavia to Aquila.

Rosemary Sutcliff wrote an adult novel about Arthur - Sword At Sunset - but kept some of the characters from her juvenile novels. Aquila, who married Ness and had a child whome he called Flavian, is seen with Arthur in Arfon:

"Save for his horses, the only thing of value that he possessed was the flawed engraved signet ring engraved with its dolphin badge, which had come from his father and would one day go to his son ..."

Aquila is killed in the Battle of Badon and the ring is passed by Arthur to Flavian. A few generations go by and in Dawn Wind we find Owain wounded, but alive, on a battlefield. Searching through the dead, he finds his father and his brother Ossian. As he is about to leave the scene:

" ... something on his father's hand gave off a spark of greenish light under the moon. He bent forward with a gasp. The great ring with its dolphin device cut in the flawed emerald of the bezel was one of the first things he could remember. It had been his father's and his father's before him, away back to the days when the Legions first marched through Britain."

The ring finally appears, strangely enough, in The Shield Ring, a book about Norse people holding out against the dominance of the Normas, published in the 1956 before most of the other books mentioned above. In this, Bjorn is given by his foster-father Haethcyn

" ... a small thing that caught the green fire from the lantern ... It was a ring: a massive gold ring of ancient workmanship, much scarred and battered with a bezel of dark green translucent stone, on which was engraved a device of some sort ..."

- a dolphin. Haethcyn tells him it was made:

"... by the people of Romeburg."

that it was Bjorn's father's and:

" ... his father's before him, and his father's before that. It came out of Wales with that British foremother of yours that I once told you of, and was old even then, and had come down to her - for she was the last of an ancient line - from the high far-off days from the people of the Legions whence her line was sprung. So the story has passed down with the ring from father to son; ..."

It would seem that Miss Sutcliff had thought well ahead from Marcus Flavius Aquila, especially since The Eagle of the Ninth was published in 1954 and The Shield Ring, with Bjorn, over a thousand years later, being published in 1956. This was before The Silver Branch, the next in the Roman series of stories. In many ways, this shows the kind of writer Rosemary Sutcliff was, and that she devoted a lot of herself to the creation of a background beyond the next book she was writing. I don't know how much of this she did, but going from one book to the other indicates very good continuity. Certain characters can be linked very easily, while others are a bit harder, and yet the connections are so well produced that a virtual family tree can be constructed from Marcus Flavius Aquila to Owain in Dawn Wind. Without any doubt, The Lantern Bearers and Sword At Sunset are inseperably linked. In the interview by Raymond H Thompson for Avalon to Camelot, Rosemary Sutcliff states:

"The Lantern Bearers is offfically a children's book, but I would claim that my books are for children of all ages, from nine to ninety. Sword at Sunset is officially an adult book. But the two are really part of the same story. The Lantern Bearers finishes exactly three days before Sword At Sunset starts ..."


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