Rosemary Sutcliff On Changing the Ending of Stories and Songs

A quotation from Rosemary Sutcliff at the goodreads site – unfortunately without a reference  (does anyone know it?) – gave me pause for thought as I reflected upon the changed ending to the story of The Eagle of the Ninth for the film The Eagle. Perhaps that is a reason after all to celebrate that the film was not (in English) called The Eagle of the Ninth. But perhaps also I should not have been so sanguine about the changed ending when asked to comment by the press when the film came out a couple of years ago now. In any event, this is a thought-provoking note on which to re-energise this blog, now that I am six months into my stint with a new day-job! To regulars….apologies for the silence….and to commenters….apologies for some long delays in approving so that comments are published.

“I do not think that you can be changing the end of a song or a story like that, as though it were quite separate from the rest. I think the end of a story is part of it from the beginning.”

Author: Anthony Lawton

Chair, Sussex Dolphin, family company which looks after the work of eminent children’s & historical fiction author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). Formerly CEO, chair & trustee of various charity, cultural & educational enterprises in UK.

12 thoughts on “Rosemary Sutcliff On Changing the Ending of Stories and Songs”

  1. I personally agree with Mrs. Sutcliff.

    When I watched the movie, I prepared myself by expecting it would be not even close to how good the book was, as The Eagle of the Ninth is one of my favorite books. When I watched the movie I was COMPLETELY HORRIFIED!!! The story was not the same at all! Marcus and Esca did not have any sort of relationship like the book and it seemed like the story (what there was of it) was rushed through to get to violence. Just my two cents.

    I was utterly depressed but I hope someday to make a movie that will actually tell the great story of Rosemary Sutcliff.

    Hope to see you writing again soon! Thanks so much for maintaining this awesome site for the fans of the greatest author in the world.

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  2. The Shining Company quotation comes from “Prince’s Hunting” chapter Here’s the context. (Please forgive all typos; this is from my Bookshare copy.)

    * * *

    There was a moment’s silence, then Luned flicked away from the subject in that minnow way of hers. “Gwyn will not be pleased. He has made a song about the Prince’s hunting and the slaying of the white hart. He was going to sing it tonight at the feasting.”

    I pulled my best tunic with the crimson stripe over my head and reached for my belt. “Gwyn will just have to change the end of the song.”

    Conn said doubtfully, “I do not think that you can be changing the end of a song or a story like that, as though it were quite separate from the rest. I think the end of a story is part of it from the beginning.”

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  3. @Robert: I recently read a literary article about RS which also made me wonder if the writer had actually read “Eagle of the Ninth”, when she came up with this conclusion about the book:

    “However, by the end of the story, as he is forced to deal with his flaws and worst fears, he finds a certain kind of happiness, which eventually leads to his successful reclaiming of the eagle and settling down in Rome.”

    What?! As you commented, the whole point of “Eagle of the Ninth” is that while Marcus dreams of settling down in Rome at the beginning of the book, by the end it’s Britain which has beome his “heart-home” and the place where he does in fact settle.

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  4. Welcome back Anthony.

    I was saddened by the changes in the film but I suppose they were making it in a political climate where suggesting that one’s enemies might have a good reason for their opposition and that their customs might be worthy of respect almost amounts to treason. They changed so much that the changes to the end didn’t surprise me. I’m even more saddened by the people who have told me that now they have seen the film they don’t need to read the book. They are missing SO much.

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  5. Not only that Angela, the producer did not understand the book at all (or did not care). Marcus’ decision to remain in Britain after all (as he longed so much to return to Italy) is one of the major points in the book. And indeed, the burning of the eagle, a sacred object both to Marcus as a former soldier but even more personally (his fathers’ eagle), is so unthinkable, you wonder if the producer understands even his own movie.

    Welcome back Anthony! Missed your posts!

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  6. Actually, there are two endings on the dvd. While I’m no fan of the first one (which was in theatres) I looked at the alternative ending once and must admit I don’t get what it is supposed to mean (Marcus and Esca burnign the eagle and setting out to Spain for horse-breeding). To me both endings suggest that the producers of the movie don’t understand about the eagles aka the roman army at all.

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  7. (PS there’s a wordpress plugin called Akismet that works wonders against spam. Doesn’t cost much and means you don’t need to approve all your comments, thus fostering more real-time discussion.)

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      1. Great! Will link to you when I get around to it. (Used to comment as “Zornhau” but am now writing historical fiction professionally under my real name. Guess who one of my main influences is…)

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