5 February 2014
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.
2 February 2014
This blog looks at a website called TVtropes, which also includes some novel authors, including Rosemary Sutcliff.
Here's what the contributors say about tropes and the website:
Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.
Here's an example of an entry for Sutcliff:
- Author Catchphrase: Lots, including the coinages "woodshore" (the edge of the woods) and "house-place" (pointless alliteration).
- The North "went up in flames" about once per book
- "It is in my heart that" this is a long way to say "I think"
- Leaf-buds are like green flame or smoke, fire is like a flower, white flowers are like curds, and sea-foam is like cream
- "stirabout": because "stew" is cliche
- "wave-lift": also known as a hill, usually the Downs of southern England
- A Celtic woman invariably "carried herself like a queen". She may also wear braids "as thick as a swordsman's wrist" and her love interest may be able to "warm my hands at you". If she's really into him it's probably a case of "whistle and I'll come to you my lad" (a line stolen from Robert Burns' poem.)
- The green plover is always calling. Always.
Is that a green plover on this blog's background?! Did we choose it unconsciously as a being a good design for a blog about Sutcliff? Further entries for Sutcliff can be found on TVtropes here.
31 January 2014
Sarah found this on her travels in the Web: Two Worlds Meeting: Cultural Interaction and Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth by Jessica Cobb is a thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for an MPhil in 2012. It is online in PDF format and can be downloaded from here. Happy reading!
24 January 2014
July 25, 1992
IN THE decade following the second world war a generation of writers and illustrators came to the fore who brought new lustre to the making of children's books. Rosemary Sutcliff is among the greatest of these, despite, or perhaps because of, her concentration on a fairly narrow field of historical writing. Novels such as Simon, set in the Civil War, the Elizabethan Brother Dusty-Feet and the Bronze Age Warrior Scarlet were the result of meticulous research and designed to appeal to children and adults alike. She was particularly at home in the period when the Romans were leaving Britain to the depradations of the Saxons and the Vikings, the Sea Wolves, as she called them.
Rosemary Sutcliff was born into a naval family (her father, George Ernest Sutcliff, rose to become Commodore of Convoys during the war) but the itinerant childhood which this entailed was further complicated by early illness. At the age of two and a half she contracted Still's disease, and the unstoppable progress of this painful and debilitating form of juvenile arthritis necessarily dominated her growth to maturity. Over the years she travelled with her parents from dockyard town to dockyard town and, although she attended schools intermittently, much of her education took place at home or during spells in hospital.
These early years were recalled by her in her typically frank but witty memoir Blue Remembered Hills (1983) where she notes that ``the only subject I was any good at was art" which resulted in her going, at the age of 14, to the Bideford School of Art, where she took a full three-year course with considerable success. Her parents, however, dissuaded her from attempting large-scale painting, and after she had gained her diploma she began to develop a career as a miniature painter and was a lifelong member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters.
Rosemary Sutcliff's mother whose presence was recognised by her daughter as being profoundly influential had also encouraged her to a love of reading, not least through her own devotion to story-telling and reading aloud. Kipling was a particular favourite and, during the war years, Rosemary Sutcliff began to turn her attention to writing as an even more tractable occupation than miniature painting. She experimented with a Kipling-esque epic called ``Wild Sunrise" which she later said, with a sigh of relief, ``sank without trace". Nevertheless, she persevered with further ideas for stories set in the past and eventually, at the request of the children's department of Oxford University Press, she prepared a manuscript of The Chronicles of Robin Hood which was published, alongside her first story, The Queen Elizabeth Story, in 1950.
There is little in these early works that was to suggest the breakthrough that came in 1953 with Simon, with its Civil War setting, and in 1954 with Eagle of the Ninth, a tale of the Romans in Britain, which was directly inspired by Puck of Pook's Hill. In these two books her gift for imagining herself back into an historical period came to maturity and revealed her ability to give graphic life to a past age and to recognise the constant dilemmas posed by the need to make responsible decisions. Families divide but conscience must be followed; loyalties exact hard penalties.
Eagle of the Ninth brought Rosemary Sutcliff nation-wide fame partly through a highly successful serialisation on BBC Radio's Children's Hour (She once heard a child making a sand-castle say ``I'm building a temple to Mithras"). More importantly though, it led her to a sequence of powerful novels in which she refined her skill at integrating the story of an individual into an intensely imagined historical setting. Several of these novels are linked through subtly suggested family connections, and the use of a ``dolphin ring" (eg The Silver Branch, 1957; The Lantern Bearers, 1959; and Dawn Wind, 1961) and these culminated in her Arthurian novel, published for adults, Sword at Sunset (1963).
Other stories stand to one side of this sequence, either through being set in a different period, such as The Shield Ring (1956) an heroic tale of Vikings defending their Lake District redoubt against the Normans, or through the psychological force of the story, as in what many regard as her masterpiece The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965). This book like several of its predecessors gained a further dimension through the strong and closely integrated illustrations of Charles Keeping.
Rosemary Sutcliff was from the first insistent upon the importance of research into facts and into past modes of thought as a foundation for her historical novels and this gave rise to her writing some evocative books of historical description, such as Houses and History (1960) and some versions of myth, such as Beowulf (1961). She also wrote several other novels for adults and a group of short, individually-published tales for young readers. Almost all this extensive output was distinguished by a vigour of writing and a detailed apprehension of the landscape of the past which showed her triumphant success in overcoming the crippling physical disabilities that had been with her since childhood. The perseverance, balance, and sanguine humour exhibited by many of her heroes were hers as well. She was an inspiring and most companionable spirit.
She did not believe in shielding children from sad or dreadful happenings but felt a responsibility to point out a path, a right way of doing things and a hope for the future, the triumph of civilisation against barbarism. Children, she believed, were capable of understanding intuitively rather than literally and would come back eventually to what they did not understand the first time.
The extent and depth of her research can be judged from the bibliography for The Lantern Bearers which lists 30 books with Sir Arthur Bryant and Sir Mortimer Wheeler rubbing shoulders with Gildas and Nennius and books on Jutland, Celtic Christianity and monasticism. Denied by her arthritic condition most domestic pleasures she worked constantly from mid-morning until nightfall on her writing, sometimes completing three books a year.
Rosemary Sutcliff's achievements did not go unrecognised. She gained a number of awards for her children's books, including, in 1960, the Library Association's Carnegie Medal for The Lantern Bearers. She was appointed OBE in 1975 and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
17 January 2014
November 4, 1992
The Secretary of State for National Heritage was represented by Mr Vaughan Rees at a memorial service for Miss Rosemary Sutcliff held yesterday at St James's, Piccadilly. The Rev Ulla Monberg officiated.
The Rev Peter Trafford and Mrs Sarah Palmer read the lessons, Ms Jill Black and Mr Anthony Lawton, godson and chairman, Sussex Dolphin, read from Miss Sutcliff's works and Mr John Bell from the works of Kipling. Mr Murray Pollinger, principal, Murray Pollinger, and Mrs Penelope Lively gave addresses.
10 January 2014
This anniversary edition* of Rosemary Sutcliff's 'Arthurian' adult novel proves it was her 'odd one out'
3 January 2014
The Bedlam Theatre in Edinburgh is going to be showing a stage adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset between 25th February - 1st March 2014. The blog editors (who both currently reside in the north east of England, so Edinburgh isn't that far away!) are hoping to go, and hopefully an article about the adaptation will appear here in due course.
Meanwhile, a little more information about the production. The production will be ran by students of the University of Edinburgh Theatre Company, and auditions for parts took place in early December 2013.
30 May 2012
29 May 2012
In 1983 Rosemary Sutcliff was on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. People choose their eight favourite pieces of music and are interviewed, in this case by Roy Plomley. Search the database here and find the recording, which is downloaded in MP3 format
18 May 2012
Sarah Cuthberston, who keeps a keen eye on online historical fiction publisher's catalogues, has come across the exciting news that Sword at Sunset, Sutcliff's version of the King Arthur legend, is to be republished in hardback by Atlantic Books at the end of this year. A PDF of the catalogue can be found here, scroll down to page 37.
9 April 2012
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.
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.
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.
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.
Garside-Neville S. and Hunter-Mann K. 1985, “Rosemary Sutcliff “ Dragon Society Newsletter Vol 2, No 1
Sutcliff R. 1992, Blue Remembered Hills: a recollection Farrar, Straus and Giroux
1989 Little Hound Found
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.
8 June 2011
"... I was first sent the draft script, which I blue pencilled savagely. Several incorrect details still got into the film (spot the fourth century brooch) but the final product was a great deal more accurate that it might have been ... Some things I could not change - neither of the [lead] actors were confident riders, so the insurance company insisted on them using stirrups, despite my comments that it was hard to fall out of a Roman saddle ..."
At least Sutcliff's name was spelled correctly, even if Lindsay Allason-Jones first name wasn't (Lyndsey?!). And yes, I did clock the forth century brooch - think it was in the scene in Uncle Aquila's villa, if memory serves ...
2 April 2011
Charlotte Higgins of the Guardian re-considers the lure of Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth:
1 April 2011
One tends to approach the film version of a favourite novel with some trepidation, especially if it’s a formative novel of one’s childhood, as greatly loved today as it was when first read. Have the film-makers changed it? Have they ruined it?
With The Eagle, the film based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 children’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth, the answer to the first question is ‘yes, and how!’
Whilst the main characters and the perilous quest for the lost Eagle standard of the Ninth Legion are still there, the film has no Cradoc, no Cottia, no Cub and the roles of Uncle Aquila and Guern the Hunter are cut short or changed. If you accept that cinema demands a different kind of storytelling from the novel and that it has time limitations, you’ll agree that it can’t embrace every nuance of character in a novel, or indeed every character; nor can it include every subplot, no matter how integral these are to the shaping of character and hence to the audience’s emotional investment in the story.
So have they ruined it?
I can’t help thinking that in The Eagle, the film-makers have slashed and burned with such abandon that the film bears only the most superficial resemblance to the novel. If I hadn’t read The Eagle of the Ninth I’d consider The Eagle a pretty good adventure film, more involving, more engaging than last year’s cartoonish Centurion, also based on the legend of the lost Ninth Legion. The film is well-paced, immediate and exciting in its chase and battle scenes (no freeze-frame or CGI silliness here); it has a strong sense of place and period – never mind the inaccuracies: most of the audience won’t care about those. And, no matter how little I like them, the changes in the story do have their own internal logic.
But I can’t un-read the novel. And without, I hope, my affection for it making me feel I own it (‘how dare they change what I love’), I think the film-makers have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
The problem lies mainly with the central characters, Marcus and Esca. They lack the depth Sutcliff gives them in the novel and they don’t change as a result of the conflicts and ordeals they undergo (as epitomised in that horrible, trite ending). So it’s hard to take the heroes to our hearts – frankly, I don’t much care what happens to film-Marcus and film-Esca, I’m just enjoying the pursuits and the fights. Which, I suppose, is how the movie moguls de nos jours perceive themselves to be giving their target audience (young males 15-30?) what they want. I’d like to think they’d want more.
One of Sutcliff’s major themes in the novel is the bond of friendship and loyalty. The film keeps the master/slave relationship between Marcus and Esca throughout the quest, even reversing it during the most dangerous phase. So there’s no room for Marcus to free Esca before they set out and to declare, stirringly, ‘Esca, I should never have asked you to come with me into this hazard when you were not free to refuse…No one should ask a slave to go with him on such a hunting trail; but – he might ask a friend.’
Another important theme is that of the tension between conqueror and conquered. I'm sad that in the film there’s no Cradoc and no Cottia and therefore no indication, except on the most brutal level, of the clash of culture and outlook between Roman and Briton, much less how it might begin to be resolved. In the film, Marcus, if he thinks about them at all, appears to see Britons as unreconstructed savages from beginning to end. In the novel, his encounters with conquered Cradoc and semi-Romanised Cottia and her family, as well as his growing friendship with the enslaved Esca, all contribute to changing his attitude to Rome’s subjects, so that at the end of the novel he decides not to return to his native Italy but to settle in Britain of the ‘pale and changeful northern skies and the green plover calling’. Even if there was no time in the film for Cradoc and Cottia, surely the novel’s symbolism of Cub’s release or the wonderfully visual metaphor Esca makes from the contrast between the straight lines of the pattern on Marcus’s dagger sheath and the formless swirls on a British war shield could have taken their place? Surely there should have been room for at least one of these in a film nearly two hours long.
In sum, The Eagle, though good of its type, is a less interesting film than it might have been. But if it encourages people to read The Eagle of the Ninth and revives interest in Rosemary Sutcliff’s other absorbing, inspiring novels, then it will have done its work.
27 March 2011
Thoughtful review by Philip French from The Observer, 27th March:
First published in 1954, The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff's novel for older children, is now regarded as a classic. Her title refers to the standard carried by the Ninth Legion of the Roman army that disappeared in the north of Britain in the second century AD, and it's the story of how the young Marcus Aquila later sets out to discover what happened to its leader, his father Flavius Aquila, and the 500 men he led ...
See the rest at:
26 March 2011
The 3 star review from the UK's Guardian newspaper:
'Kevin Macdonald has made a decent, forthright, if finally uninspired sword'n'sandal drama, based on Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 children's novel The Eagle of the Ninth ... '
Find the rest of the review at: