Rosemary Sutcliff, who sadly died in 1992, would surely have supported World Book Day, which is today March 5th; and World Book Night. In the UK, a survey purports to reveal teenagers’ favourite children’s books and favourite characters now and in the past. Unless it is a proofing error, clearly the poll is seriously flawed because Rosemary does not feature! SO, to mark World Book Day maybe you regular readers of this blog, indeed whoever you are if you find your way here, would like to put matters right and ‘comment’ here at this post about why you love Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing, your favourite Rosemary Sutcliff book, and your favourite character of hers, and why?
3 thoughts on “Rosemary Sutcliff and World Book Day”
P.S. On a happier note, she was featured in one of my education textbooks (Literature for Today’s Young Adults) as one of the best authors of young adult fiction; they say she “knew about the cries of men and the screams of stricken horses and the smell of blood and filth, and she cared about people who make history.”
It’s terrible that she wasn’t featured in World Book Day… as a teenager, her books affected me more than any other author except C.S. Lewis.
I love her characters, mostly. She created such real characters – I can picture inviting one of them over for tea and exactly the sort of things they might say. They stay with readers long after the book is done.
– Favorite Book: A tie between “The Eagle of the Ninth” and “The Mark of the Horse Lord.”
– Favorite Character: Marcus, followed closely by Phaedrus.
Summarize why I love Sutcliff’s writing? Ah, that is hard. To figure out the nuances of why her writing style seems to affect me more than almost any other. Hm. I have used the phrase “textured grace” to describe it before, though that is more a poetic phrase that only scrapes the surface.
She is able to paint beautiful pictures in my mind without over-reaching into “purple” prose. Her settings and characters feel real, down-to-earth, even when they become mysterious (as in the Little Dark People and the distant Scottish hills they live in), magnificently epic (Ambrosius, particularly in Sword at Sunset), deeply dramatic (Aquila’s meeting of his sister at Hengest’s camp in The Lantern Bearers, or the end scenes of the same book), or rousingly adventurous (as in the chase scenes of Eagle of the Ninth or the intrigue of The Silver Branch).
But other authors of the highest caliber have managed that kind of beautiful balance as well. I haven’t found the words yet to communicate what is truly so unique about Sutcliff’s writing in comparison to the other greats of English literature. She writes strong male characters with solid moral centers, in a believable and complex fashion — that’s part of it. Many excellent writers fail at at least one aspect of that (usually with the solid moral sense or the complexity). But others manage such characters too. About Sutcliff, I can only attest to the affect she has on me. Beginning a book of hers, whether a new one or an old one, is something like returning to a dear friend after a journey. Reading a new book of Sutcliff’s is like catching up on your friend’s life, while rereading her is like reminiscing about good old times.
I guess that says one more specific thing about her: she’s invested in her stories. Some authors, even great ones, feel slightly distant from their stories. Not her — she’s telling them directly to you, the reader, and she wants you to listen. I like that.
My favorite book of hers is The Lantern Bearers, and the character that moved me the most is Aquila. It was amazing how clearly she saw how Aquila saw himself and how others saw him. To see him struggle for so much of his life against himself, against the bitterness that he held and the hardness he built up in himself, and to finally find peace so late in his life…well, it’s just beautiful. His relationship with Ness is also fascinating, since they both have to learn, gradually, to forgive and love each other. It’s not quite a romance, I don’t think (and part of me wishes it was), but I do think it becomes love. I don’t know if I’ve read another novel so tender and mature at the same time.
That this all comes in the midst of great adventure and intrigue helps too!