Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth and the North-East of England

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The Eagle of the Ninth (now a 2010 film) is ‘perhaps’ Rosemary Sutcliff’s ‘finest book of historical fiction’ claims Alan Myers, and she is ‘one of the most distinguished children’s writers of our times’. The Eagle of the Ninth ‘exemplifies the psychological dilemmas that Rosemary Sutcliff brought to her novels’.

…  some of (Rosemary Sutcliff’s books)  are 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)  … 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.

Alan Myers compiled an ‘A to Z of the many writers of the past who had a significant connection’ with the North-East of England which had, I thought, disappeared from the web . It has not – Alan Myers’ original here!

3 comments

  1. Hello Anthony
    I found this site thanks to your posts on Amazon.co.uk, and was delighted to find a site dedicated to Rosemary Sutcliffe. I shall be eagerly following your posts in future.

    Rosemary Sutcliffe was one of my favourite authors as a child, and The Eagle of the Ninth continues to be one of my favourite HF novels. (I reviewed it on Amazon.co.uk too:
    In fact, it was partly responsible for starting me out on the path to writing my own Roman novels. Eight years after I started writing, I have 2 published, and another coming out in 4 months. The title of the second novel, The Silver Eagle, is partly a homage to Eagle of the Ninth.
    Best wishes
    Ben Kane

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    1. And I shall look up your novels,…I am of course delighted that Rosemary Sutcliff was partly responsible for you starting on the path of writing, as she would have been. And had you written to her, she would have replied , by spidery hand, as she did to every single letter she received. (All pre email and blogs….). Just one gentle nudge, it is Sutcliff without an E: it may just be the spell checker; but anyway you would be in good company, see some of the posts on the blog. Search Sutcliffe WITH an E!
      Best wishes to you too, Anthony

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