Always at the same writing desk, seated in an old captain’s chair, Rosemary Sutcliff imagined a rich cast of characters to people her historical novels. But many of her works also draw heavily on legend.
In her first published book in 1950, she re-worked her Chronicles of Robin Hood. The best-selling Sword at Sunset in 1963, written for adults, re-made the story of King Arthur. Later in her writing career, she created a trilogy of books aimed at children and young people retelling the tale of Arthur again—The Light Behind the Forest: The Quest for the Holy Grail (1979), The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1981), and The Road to Camlann: The Death of King Arthur (1981). She also wrote novels re-making the stories of Beowulf, Tristan and Iseult, and the Irish heroes Finn Mac Cool and Cuchulain, The Hound of Ulster, as well as re-telling Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey
Raymond H. Thompson (Author) interviewed Rosemary Sutcliff for the periodical Avalon to Camelot in 1986. In the introduction he wrote:
Though perhaps best known for historical novels set in Roman Britain, such as The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), Rosemary Sutcliff has written some of the finest contemporary recreations of the Arthurian story. She introduces us to Arthur in The Lantern Bearers (1959), a book for younger readers that won the Carnegie Medal, and in Sword at Sunset (1963) she continues his tale in his own words. She has also retold the Arthurian legend with clarity and elegance in Tristan and Iseult (1971), The Light Beyond the Forest (1979), The Sword and the Circle (1981), and The Road to Camlann (1981). Her later novels were set in the more recent past, but she returned to Dark Age Britain for her … novel The Shining Company (London: Bodley Head), which is based upon the Gododdin. This poem, composed about 600 A.D. in North Britain by the bard Aneirin to commemorate a band of British warriors who fell in battle against the Angles, is of special interest in that it provides us with the earliest mention of Arthur’s name and Sutcliff’s novel preserves the Arthurian echoes.
Source: Interview with Rosemary Sutcliff | Robbins Library Digital Projects.
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. Read More »
In the blog A Fondness for Reading with ‘ …thoughts, memories, and ideas from a lifetime of reading’, a post entitled ‘Something Beautiful and Mysterious and Magical’ (May 23, 2007) is about Rosemary Sutcliff’s Arthurian Trilogy. Robin writes:Read More »