The spellbinding storytelling in the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff

Margaret Meek paid tribute to Rosemary Sutcliff in her 70th year with an insightful reflection on her personality and her work. (Margaret Meek wrote a monograph about Rosemary Sutcliff in the 1960s).

The sharing of storytelling that writers do with readers is the dialogue of imagination. Rosemary Sutcliff lives, grows and acts and suffers in her stories. The worlds created in her imagination have had to stand in for the world of much everyday actuality. From her therefore we can learn what the imagination does, and how it allows us all to explore what’s possible, the realm of virtual experience. 

In Rosemary Sutcliff‘s world, heroes, heroines and readers alike walk a head taller than usual, as heroic warriors, to confront, like Drem in Warrior Scarlet, fearsome events as rites of passage and thus discover what is worth striving for.

Readers have to expect to be spellbound in the tradition of storytelling that’s much older than reading and writing, when before the days of written records bards and minstrels were entrusted with the memory of a tribe. Rosemary Sutcliff is in this tradition; she says of herself that she’s `of the minstrel kind’. This in itself sets her apart from some of the more, apparently, throwaway casualness of some contemporary writing. In these days, when we’ve learned to look closely at the constructedness of narratives, she will still say that she knows when a story is `in’ her and `waiting to be told’.

The rest, she insists, is sheer hard work: research, planning the shape and the details of themes rather than plots. But the tale is there, entire, from the beginning.

Source: Books for Keeps, Issue 64

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