Dogs in the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff

Thinking of both historical fiction and dogs put Katherine Langrish, author of fantasy novels for young adults, in mind of Rosemary Sutcliff. Katherine believes that dogs in books are a “Good Thing”. She also believes that Rosemary Sutcliff “must easily win the title of Britain’s most loved writer of junior historical fiction”.

… Rosemary Sutcliff, whose books I devoured as a child …  loved dogs, and there is a noble dog in many of her books: Whitethroat in Warrior Scarlet, Argos in Brother Dusty Feet.  But for me the most iconic is Dog in Dawn Wind,  the young war-hound that the boy Owain finds by moonlight on the ruins of the battlefield:

…it was something alive in the cold echoing emptiness of a dead world. It stood with one paw raised, looking at him, and Owain called, hoarsely, with stiff lips and aching throat: ‘Dog! Hai! Dog!’ … [It] came, slowly and uncertainly… once it stopped altogether; then it finished at the run and next instant was trembling against his legs. He was a young dog; the beautiful creamy hair of his breast-patch was stained and draggled, and his muzzle bloody in the moonlight… ‘Dog, aiee, dog, we are alone then. There’s no one else. We will go together, you and I.’

The brilliance of the writing is to show us, in the lonely and innocent terror of the dog and what he has been made to do, the full dreadfulness of war.
This is used with Katherine’s permission (thank you!). She wonders also in an email to me  if “perhaps Rosemary wrote about dogs as a way of owning them …”. Actually, Rosemary always owned dogs.
(Original post in March, 2010 First Revision 14 Feb 2012. List below added 10 March 2014))
  • Brother Dusty-Feet: Hugh runs away from home to protect Argos.
  • The Eagle of the Ninth:  Cub is Esca’s tame wolf cub.
  • The Silver Branch: Curoi’s hound is called Cullen.
  • Outcast: Canog is a mistreated mongrel owned by  Beric, whose childhood dog was Gelert.
  • The Lantern Bearers: Artos’s dog Cabal.
  • Warrior Scarlet: Whitethroat; Fand the Beautiful.
  • The Bridge-Builders: Math, a Hibernian wolfhound.
  • Knight’s Fee: Joyeuse.
  • Dawn Wind: Dog, a survivor of Owain’s Last Stand.
  • Blood Feud: Brindle is a cattle dog.
  • Bonnie Dundee: Caspa.
  • The Shining Company: Gelert.
  • Sword Song: Bjarni murders a man for kicking Astrid, and Hugin follows him home from Dublin.

3 thoughts on “Dogs in the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff

  1. She not only owned dogs, as far as I am informed she owned Chihuahuas. Chihuahuas are special dogs. Since they have been bred as lapdogs for nigh on a century, now, they are best at just that:cuddle up close to their people and listen to their hearts – and respond. They’re so small, they can’t do much else like hunt or drive sheep or protect yards. Chihuahuas are not like other dogs, they have everything the bug ones have – and more :-))) (I own a Chihuahua, of course)


  2. Then of course there is Artos, in ‘The Lantern Bearers’ and ‘Sword at Sunset’ – who, as the author acknowledges in her Author’s Note: ‘was the kind of man who would have set great store by his dogs and his horses.’ He says more than once: ‘a saddle makes a good enoough pillow, but a hound’s flank makes a better…’ You get the impression that Artos would turn to Cabal for simple comfort and companionship as an antidote to the messiness of human relationships and the loneliness of leadership.


Do Leave a Response

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s