Rosemary Sutcliff’s unique gift for character and description in The Lantern Bearers

The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff won the Carnegie Medal in 1959. An American reviewer has said

I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff in my early teens, and she quickly became one of my favorite authors. I can still vividly recapture the magic of reading her books. It was a real pleasure to return to The Lantern Bearers, which I first read when I was about thirteen, and find the magic still intact…

The Lantern Bearers is a wonderful book. Sutcliff possesses a unique gift for character and description, evoking a sense of place and person so intense that the reader can almost see her characters and the world in which they move. She has a matchless ability to establish historical context without a surfeit of the “let’s learn a history lesson now” exposition that mars many historical novels for young people. Her books are never less than meticulously researched, but her recreation of the past is so effortless that one has no sense of academic exercise, but rather of a world as close and immediate as everyday.

…  The Arthurian theme was one of Sutcliff’s favorites: she produced several young adult books on the subject, as well as a beautiful adult novel, Sword at Sunset, to my mind one of the best ever written in this genre. But the Sutcliff‘s Arthur is rooted as much in history as in myth–not just the tragic king of Le Morte d’Arthur or the heroic/magical figure of traditional Arthurian fantasy, but a man who might actually have existed, heir both to the memory of Rome and to the last great flowering of Celtic power in Britain.
…  her enduring popularity … is richly merited: she is, quite simply, one of the best.

Copyright © 1997 Victoria Strauss

3 thoughts on “Rosemary Sutcliff’s unique gift for character and description in The Lantern Bearers

  1. As you can no doubt guess, I fully agree. When I get around to reviewing “The Lantern Bearers,” I shall have to make sure I can do justice to her achievement with that story. Also, just so you know, I am nearing the end of my reread of “The Eagle of the Ninth,” and shall afterwards post my review of it. It’s such a rare joy to love a book even more on the third time reading it than on the first and second!


  2. This weekend I will have to put down my old dog too – There is a gripping scene in Dawn Wind where the dog is killed and I am thinking of that now


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