Rosemary Sutliff speaks about her approach to Arthurian Legend (1986)

Rosemary Sutcliff was interviewed by Raymond H Thompson (in 1986) for a series of interviews with Arthurian authors.  She spoke of her research, and the influences which led her to her own version of the Arthurian legend in the best-selling Sword at Sunset, first published in 1963.

… I did not discover the historical side of Arthurian legend until I was eighteen or nineteen, when I read two intriguing books by some absolute crackpot called Dayrel Reid: inspired crackpots are very special when you find them. One was called The Battle for Britain in the Fifth Century; the other was called The Rise of Wessex. They dealt with the Dark Ages, but particularly with the Arthurian legend and with the possibilities of an historical Arthur. I was fascinated by this idea, and I set off looking for all the other clues that I could find.  

… Then, little by little, other people, like Geoffrey Ashe, began to write about the historical Arthur, and I read their books as they came along. I always believed very strongly that there could be no smoke without a fire. A legendary hero almost always has a basis in a real person, around whom bits of legend and bits of other people’s stories gather and collect, rather like amber collecting little bits of paper. I was convinced that there was a real man in the middle somewhere.

… I was very interested in archaeology …  two of the books that I was brought up on were by Arthur Wiegel, a German archaeologist:Wanderings in Roman Britain and Wanderings in Anglo-Saxon Britain. They are not up to scratch any more … but when I first became interested in archaeology they were the last word.

… I loved T. H. White’s Once and Future King. It goes so deep and it’s on so many levels: it seems to go deeper than any other written version I know. It seems so up-to-date because the relationships are so recognisable. I read all four books many times.

Source: University of Rochester

Rosemary Sutcliff  first spoke of  Arthur in The Lantern Bearers (1959).  She has also retold Arthurian legend  in Tristan and Iseult (1971), The Light Beyond the Forest (1979), The Sword and the Circle (1981), and The Road to Camlann (1981).

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