Showing posts with label The Shining Company. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Shining Company. Show all posts

23 June 2007

Sutcliff reviewed: The Shining Company (June 1990)

Violent land of our fathers -
Times, The (London, England)
June 9, 1990
Author: Brian Alderson
Estimated printed pages: 2

THE SHINING COMPANY, By Rosemary Sutcliff, The Bodley Head, Pounds 7.95

Y GODODDIN is not a species of baby-talk, but a tale of bloody strife, said to have been written around the end of the 7th century by the Welsh bard Aneirin. It tells how the High Chief of the Gododdin, Mynyddog Mwynfawr, called a hosting of the Celtic tribes at Edinburgh. There, for the space of a year, he trained a war-band of 300 princes and then unleashed them on the invading Saxons at the Battle of Catterick. Everything went wrong, and only one hero returned from the fray. But his exploits and those of his companions were celebrated by Aneirin in ``the Great Song that others will sing for a thousand years".

This Great Song is at the heart of Rosemary Sutcliff's Shining Company, thus bringing Aneirin longer life than he expected. For as he gave elegiac voice to the deeds of hero after hero, so she has taken the names from his telling and has sought to imagine them back int historical reality. Speaking through the persona of Prosper, the son of a Welsh chieftain, and eventually shieldbearer to the knight who returned, she begins by establishing a sense of the closed tribal world of the time after the Romans, and then introduces unbardic perceptions of form and motive. Personal relationships and the countryside of the Dark Ages become vital ingredients in the renewed story, and as the episodes pile up the ride to Edinburgh, the welding of disparate forces into a single fighting group so the reader is made ready for the great setpiece of the battle and the long dying fall of its tragic aftermath.

Such a theme is natural to Sutcliff's art. She is moved by simple concepts of loyalty and integrity that may be as foreign to today's children's literature as they were to the no-baby-talk Gododdin. But by admitting their possibility, while not shirking the real facts of ferocious woundings and pragmatic betrayals, she still persuades us that a bardic reading of the past is sustainable alongside an awareness of its squalor and its indifferent, but unpolluted, landscapes.

Section: Features
(c) Times Newspapers Limited 1990, 2003
Record Number: 1007894754

OpenURL Article Bookmark (right click, and copy the link location):

21 March 2007

Sutcliff reviewed: The Shining Company (July 1990)

Reliving a glorious past -
Children's Books
Sunday Times, The (London, England)
July 15, 1990
Author: Susan Hill
Estimated printed pages: 5

Rosemary Sutcliff has never tried to ingratiate herself with young readers by making her prose bland and easily digestible. The complexities ofher style are not gratuitous, but reflect the depth and complexity of her subject-matter. Those without an innate historical sense or taste need to be encouraged to read her, because they discover that she not only makes bare facts ``come alive" but attempts to make sense of them, and to illuminate legend, in human terms. She is also an extraordinarily rich, exciting and poetic writer. To those of my generation who thrilled to The Eagle of the Ninth, it is a pleasure to read her latest book, The Shining Company (Bodley Head Pounds 7.99), and find her still at the height of her powers.

The inspiration for it comes from an early northern British epic poem such sources are often the triggers for her fiction about 300 young, keen warriors belonging to the tribe of King Mynyddog in 600 AD who were brought together and trained for a year, as a fighting brotherhood, before being sent out against the invading Saxons. The hero is Prosper, son of Gerontius, a shieldbearer to one of them, and the story concerns him, his close friends and confederates, and his bond-slave. It is a remote time, and values and customs are completely alien to those of our own, particularly the concept of fealty and loyalty to a king, an individual lord, a blood brother. Rosemary Sutcliff gets under the skin of adventurous young men in trying to reveal what made them follow a leader and give their lives gladly in his service. It is as inspiring, and tragic, as any similar war story involving a ``shining company" of golden boys, and this intricate, compellingly imagined and beautifully told story makes period and people sympathetic and comprehensibl in our own time.

23 June 2005

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

The final Dark Age book is The Shining Company and is, as far as I can see, completely divorced from the previous books. Rosemary Sutcliff has returned to the first person for this book, with Prosper telling his own story. It begins with Prosper, the son of a Welsh lord, being given an Irish slave - Conn - and we swiftly meet Luned, who makes up the youthful threesome. Their lives were soon to change when Prosper becomes second shield bearer to Prince Gorthyn ap Urfai of Rhyfunnog who is riding out to join Mynyddog's warband at Din Eidin. Rhyfunnog was a district of North Wales in Gwynedd Is Conwy, and in an area that is now called Clwyd.

They join the year-long preparation for a battle against the Angles of Bernicia. As the months pass by Conn, who is with Prosper, becomes interested in smithying and eventually is freed to become a smith. There we come across one of Miss Sutcliff's trademarks - an object that links up parts of the story. At the beginning of the novel Conn becomes fascinated by the stories told by Phanes of Syracuse, a merchant, and his Archangel Dagger, which has been brought from Constantinople. This, and Phanes, appear later in the story and have a profound effect on both Prosper and Conn. After the preparations, comes the campaign. Though the Britons cause the Angles great losses, the enemy eventually triumphs. The wounded Gorthyn is saved by Prosper and returns to Din Eidin. The novel ends with Gorthyn and Prosper making their way with the Archangel Dagger to Constantinople, and Conn returning to Luned in North Wales.

Rosemary Sutcliff's novels are well worth reading, even though they are in the main juvenile publications. Like all novelists, she puts her own peculiar stamp on them. In the Dark Age novels and the Roman series, we see some of her trademarks - in the passage of a youth to adulthood, her love of dogs and horses, healers and strange objects that lend continuity. Though she follows some of the traditional events, characters and so on, she always adds greater reality to the story.

Taking into account the information that was available in the period of writing of the earlier books, I feel that Rosemary Sutcliff's representation of the Dark Age may be near to the mark. You may not agree with how she put the character in a particular position; for example - Arthur being Ambrosius Aurelianus's nephew - but the over all feel seems right. Also, the way she depicts the everyday life of the various people is hard to fault. I do feel that her way of showing the growth of change from Roman, Romano-British to modern British is correct. Few people can claim purity of bood - no English person is pure English, and the same is true for Welsh, Irish or Scottish people. There are certain people in the British Isles that can trace their ancestors back to Normans who came over with the Conqueror, but they are not Norman now. The Light of the earlier novels did not go out - it changed into a different sort of illumination.


Fisher, Margery, 1986, Bright Face of Danger

Thompson, Raymond H, 1987, 'An Interview with Rosemary Sutcliff' Avalon to Camelot Volume II, No 3 (See a version of this at: The Camelot Project, Rochester University )

Townsend, John Rowe, 1971, A Sense of Story: Essay on Contemporary Writers for Children

Wintle, Justin & Fisher, Emma, 1974, The Pied Pipers


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