Chosen with a poet’s care | The names of Rosemary Sutcliff’s characters | Placidus, Allectus, Evicatos, Tradui

Cover of Margaret Meek's monograph on historical and children’s novelist Rosemary SutcliffAround 1962 Margaret Meek wrote a monograph about Rosemary Sutcliff, only a decade or so into a writing career that was to last for another 30 years.  She spoke of Rosemary choosing names “with a poet’s care”:

Rosemary Sutcliff’s magic has certain recognizable elements; the names of the characters are chosen with a poet’s care, the dogs have a central place and are characterized with the loving attention children recognize and approve. The villains, such as Placidus in The Eagle of the Ninth and Allectus in The Silver Branch are acidly etched, although there is more reliance on traditional enmity and feud than on personal evil to provide the dark side. Episodic characters, singly or in groups, have a miniaturist’s clarity of outline. Pandarus, the gladiator with his rose in the battle, Galerius the surgeon, the garrulous household slaves, soldiers at a firelit cockfight or warriors at a feast, all are equally memorable.

Others more involved in the developing action, commanding officers, wise men of the tribes, outcasts, especially Guern the Hunter, Evicatos of the Spear and Brother Ninnias, have a legendary quality. Tradui the Chieftain at the making of New Spears, Bruni, dressed in the war gear of a Jutish hero dying as the wild geese fly south, blind Flavian, killed at the hands of marauding Saxons, all carry a dignity and heroism that link this series of tales with the legends Miss Sutcliff loves to tell. Indeed, part of the difficulty in evaluating the achievement of these books comes from the thickly woven texture which is as closely wrought as in many adult novels of quality.

  • Source: Margaret Meek (1962). Rosemary Sutcliff. New York: Henry Z. Walck
  • list of most main characters in Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels. re-tellings and books

(First posted 30 March, 2010; revised,  24 March, 2014)

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.

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