One of the pleasures, I discover, of actively nurturing this blog is that people have begun sending me their experiences with the books of Rosemary Sutcliff. Keith Taylor is an Australian writer who “loves good historical fiction” and found Rosemary Sutcliff a “powerful inspiration”, along with Mary Renault and Cecilia Holland. But he “didn’t discover them until later; Rosemary Sutcliff came first, when I was still in high school”.
I can assure you, Rosemary Sutcliff began to be an influence on me when I was a kid – longer ago than I really care to contemplate – and her stories sharpened my appetite for historical fiction into an addiction, along with Geoffrey Trease and Roland Welch. Her stuff is superb. The first books of hers I encountered were The Silver Branch and The Eagle of the Ninth, both of which I read before The Lantern Bearers. I read the first two in my early years at high school, from the school library.
In fact I even read Sword at Sunset before The Lantern Bearers. But she wrote with belief and conviction and obvious authenticity, knowledge of her subjects and period, on everything from cavalry tactics to domestic household details, and every character, even minor ones like the chief nun of the convent where Guenhumara is left for safety, rings true. Once I’d finished it, there was no chance that I’d ever be able to depict Arthur – or Lucius Artorius, Count of Britain, descendant of Artorius Castus, as he is in my stories – as anything but a Romano-British cavalry leader fighting for the last traces of civilisation left in his island, and a man who can impress even an irreverent Irish bard without much love for the Roman Empire. Ms. Sutcliff’s Artos the Bear was, and is, too impressive for me to be able to resist imitating. Her novel about him is definitive, as everybody knows.
Her Caurasius, and his treacherous, unspeakable second-in-command, Allectus, are nearly as unforgettable. It’s been … I suppose fifty years … since I had The Silver Branch in my hands, and I still remember the scene in the banquet hall where Allectus, pallid as a mushroom, crushes the singed moth with cold abstract relish, unaware that he’s being watched, and that the youngster seeing it is getting an insight into his nature that he won’t forget.
You’re related to a remarkable writer.
Source: personal communication; used with permission