Rosemary Sutcliff was the proud recepient of the Carnegie Medal for 1959 for her Roman historical novel ( “I write for children aged 8 to 88”) The Lantern Bearers.
An intriguing question is posed this year (2018) by Children’s Literature Lecturer Lucy Pearson about the focus of books awarded the Carnegie Medal. She questions whether the award is moving away from children’s books. The “short version” of her thesis is that “the Carnegie has definitely seen a massive swing in favour of YA (Young Adults) in the last decade”. Her notion of whether a book is for children or for young adults is based on a combination of the readership aimed at, and the age of the protagonists.
Rosemary Sutcliff wrote for children of all ages, about people of all ages. She was promoted in the 1950s to adults as for children and juveniles (sic). She was no stranger to the Carnegie Medal. She was commended in 1954 for The Eagle of the Ninth, 1956 for The Shield Ring, and 1957 for The Silver Branch. Authors originally could not be awarded the medal a second time. But by 1971 they could, and Rosemary Sutcliff was ‘highly commended’ for The Carnegie Medal for Tristan and Iseult in 1971
One Alan Myers once compiled an ‘A to Z of the many writers of the past who had a significant connection’ with the North-East of England. It seems now to have disappeared from the web . He writes of Rosemary Sutcliff:
“One of the most distinguished children’s writers of our times, Rosemary Sutcliff wrote over thirty books , some of them now considered classics. She sets several of her best-known works in Roman and Dark Age Britain, giving her the opportunity to write about divided loyalties, a recurring theme. The Capricorn Bracelet comprises six linked short stories spanning the years AD 61 to AD 383, and Hadrian’s Wall features in the narrative.
The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is perhaps her finest work and exemplifies the psychological dilemmas that Rosemary Sutcliff brought to her novels. It is a quest story involving a journey north to the land of the Picts to recover the lost standard of the Roman Ninth Legion. A good part of the book is set in the North East around Hadrian’s Wall (a powerful symbol) and a map is provided. The book has been televised, and its sequels are The Silver Branch (1957) and The Lantern Bearers (1959), which won the Carnegie medal. Sutcliff returned to the Romano-British frontier in The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965) and Frontier Wolf (1980).
Northern Britain in the sixth century AD is the setting of The Shining Company (1990), a retelling of The Goddodin (v. Aneirin) a tragedy of epic proportions. The story, however, is seen from the point of view of the shield-bearers, not the lords eulogised in The Goddodin, and treats themes of loyalty, courage and indeed political fantasy.”
Extract from a blog post by Amanda McCrina:
I feel like I should rename this as ‘Books that will make you cry if you, in fact, cry for books.’ I don’t, typically. The following books particularly moved me—if I did cry for books these would be the ones that did it—but I think I only truly cried at the first. (Some spoilers follow, naturally.)
1) The Lantern Bearers, Rosemary Sutcliff.
Unsurprising to most of you who know me and my reading preferences. This is my favorite of her books, it’s very nearly my all-time-favourite book, and yes I have cried while reading it. Through most of the ending chapters, but especially at this part:
Aquila was staring into the fire, his arm across his knees. What was there to say to Flavia, after their last meeting, and the years between? And then he knew. He put up his hand and freed the shoulder-buckle of his leather tunic, and pulled it back; he dragged up the loose woollen sleeve beneath, to bare his shoulder, and leaned toward Mull in the firelight. ‘Look.’
Mull strained up higher on his sound arm, and looked. ‘It is a dolphin,’ he said.
‘A friend did it for me when I was a boy.’ He let his sleeve fall and began to refasten the buckle. ‘Ask her if she remembers the terrace steps under the damson tree at home. Ask her if she remember the talk that we had there once, about Odysseus coming home. Say to her–as though it were I who spoke through you, “Look. I’ve a dolphin on my shoulder. I’m your long-lost brother.”’
2) The Shining Company, Rosemary Sutcliff.
Not even among my top five of her books, probably, but undeniably a tear-jerker.
Source: Top 10 Tuesday: Books to make you cry » Amanda McCrina — Historical fiction and fantasy; incl. The Lantern Bearers, Oxford University Press, pg. 292
Before my mother stopped her (to keep all her papers in one place), Rosemary Sutcliff happily responded ad hoc to speculative letters asking for research notes and other papers connected with her historical novels and children’s books. So this collection at the University of Southern Mississippi includes notes in her trademark red notebooks. Interestingly the reference refers not only to The Lantern Bearers, but to notes for books called The Red Dragon and The Amber Dolphin, as well as notes on several other topics. There never were published books with those titles. The collection also contains a manuscript and two typescripts for the radio play The New Laird. The programme was taped on April 4, 1966, and broadcast from Edinburgh on May 17, 1966 as part of the Stories from Scottish History series. (I note that the library has not bothered with making accurate and up-to-date their brief paragraphs on her life … )
Source: USM de Grummond Collection- Rosemary Sutcliff papers
The Lantern Bearers by historical novelist and children’s writer Rosemary Sutcliff, first published in 1959, won the prestigious Carnegie Medal that year. An American reviewer wrote some twenty years later …
I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff in my early teens, and she quickly became one of my favorite authors. I can still vividly recapture the magic of reading her books. It was a real pleasure to return to The Lantern Bearers, which I first read when I was about thirteen, and find the magic still intact. … The Lantern Bearers is a wonderful book. Sutcliff possesses a unique gift for character and description, evoking a sense of place and person so intense that the reader can almost see her characters and the world in which they move. She has a matchless ability to establish historical context without a surfeit of the “let’s learn a history lesson now” exposition that mars many historical novels for young people. Her books are never less than meticulously researched, but her recreation of the past is so effortless that one has no sense of academic exercise, but rather of a world as close and immediate as everyday.
… The Arthurian theme was one of Sutcliff’s favorites: she produced several young adult books on the subject, as well as a beautiful adult novel, Sword at Sunset, to my mind one of the best ever written in this genre. But the Sutcliff’s Arthur is rooted as much in history as in myth–not just the tragic king of Le Morte d’Arthur or the heroic/magical figure of traditional Arthurian fantasy, but a man who might actually have existed, heir both to the memory of Rome and to the last great flowering of Celtic power in Britain.
… her enduring popularity … is richly merited: she is, quite simply, one of the best.
Copyright © 1997 Victoria Strauss
(First posted, April 29th, 2009)