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
In earlier times The Carnegie Medal used to have “commended” and “highly commended” books each year, as well as a winner—I do not think it does now.
Rosemary Sutcliff was awarded the medal in 1959 for The Lantern Bearers. But she was several times commended too. In:
1954 for The Eagle of the Ninth
1956 for The Shield Ring
1957 for The Silver Branch
And highly commended in:
1971 for Tristan and Iseult
In a comment on a recent post yesterday Robert Vermaat points me to a blog post from a few years ago which explores how Rosemary Sutcliff passed a dolphin ring down many generations of the Aquila family over several books. Thus:
“Marcus took it from him and bent to examine it. It was a heavy signet-ring
; and on the flawed emerald which formed the bezel was engraved the dolphin badge of his own family … ”
As to why this was a dolphin, he’s not sure it was ever explained? Does anyone know? The books, by the way, in order of century setting, not order of writing, are:
A Twitterer, who is “reading Knight’s Fee now” asks “is there a chronology of (Rosemary Sutcliff) books re the family with the dolphin ring?”. I think it goes like this – but do put me right any of you Rosemary Sutcliff experts out there … And does anyone know or recall WHY a dolphin is the image on the ring?
The Eagle of the Ninth (AD 133),
The Silver Branch (about AD 280),
Frontier Wolf (AD 343),
The Lantern Bearers (AD 450),
Sword at Sunset (immediately follows the time of The Lantern Bearers)
and Dawn Wind (AD 577).
The sequence of stories of the descendants of Marcus Flavius Aquila, hero of The Eagle of the Ninth, continues with Sword Song (about AD 900) and The Shield Ring (about AD 1070).
In England just after the Norman Conquest, high up among the fells of the Lake District is a secret valley where the Northmen (or Vikings as they are sometimes loosely called) have their last stronghold – or shield ring – struggling to keep the Lake District free. The Normans want to crush this last group of Northmen, so they build a castle in Carlisle and an army is sent north under Ranulf de Meschin. Frytha a young, orphaned Saxon girl seeks refuge in the valley after her home is burnt by the Normans. She witnesses the waning power of the Norse as she joins Jarl Buthar’s Viking band after her family are slaughtered by the Normans.
Bjorn, the Bear-Cub, is the foster son of the old harper. He longs to be allowed to play the ‘sweet-singer’, the special harp owned by his foster father which is smaller than the hall harp and strung with Irish white bronze, not horse hair. The old harper realises that one day Bjorn will indeed be a harper and he starts to teach him how to play it.
Life goes on in the valley – lambing, shearing, spinning, harvesting, and singing and story telling in the great hall in the evenings. But always there is the need to prepare for a Norman attack and Bjorn has a secret fear. Several times in the past the Normans have captured Northmen and tortured them to try to force them to reveal where the hidden valley is – but no Northman has ever betrayed the vital secret. Bjorn wonders how he would act if he were ever in that position and fears he would not be able t keep silent.
The outnumbered Northmen try to outwit the Normans by building the Road to Nowhere – a road which will lead the Normans into an ambush. But they also need intelligence about the Norman army. They need to send someone into the Norman camp. Bjorn volunteers; he speaks enough Norman to get by, and a harper can go anywhere. So Bjorn sets out for the Norman camp knowing that if he is found to be a spy he will be tortured – his secret fear from childhood. But he does not go alone. Frytha follows him.