Rosemary Sutcliff imagined a rich cast of characters to people her historical novels. But many of her works also draw heavily on legend
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
Althea M. wrote an insightful review of Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic children’s historical retelling, The Hound of Ulster, the story of a legendary Irish hero, Cuchulain.
….in Sutcliff’s introduction, she mentions how one can tell a lot about a people and culture from the tales that they tell… and, reading these, I couldn’t help but be reminded (again) of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Gifts,” and how she showed in that book how small and petty conflicts and rivalries could be magnified to an importance all out of proportion in an isolated, primitive culture. Here, a good deal of Cuchulain’s “heroic” exploits have to do with no more than stealing a neighbor’s cattle! It’s interesting to read these stories in contrast to so much of the extremely ‘elevated’ fantasy inspired by Celtic myth.
The book also shows, however, some of the interesting aspects of the culture – how a Queen could sometimes be more powerful than her husband, how bearing a child out of wedlock did not have shame attached, and acceptance of infidelity in marriage – things that are there in the original stories, but surprising, I thought, for a book published in 1963 and marketed to an audience including young people.
Two Rosemary Sutcliff titles are available in Welsh. Since I am temporarily working up here in Bangor in North Wales, heart of Welsh-speaking Wales, it seems right – indeed essential – to recall an older post and note that Cwchwlin Penarwr Iwerddon (The Hound of Ulster), and Merch y Pennaeth (The Chief’s Daughter). Author G R Grove, who wrote Storyteller, Flight of the Hawk, and The Ash Spear reminded me of these editions.
Rosemary Sutcliff books in Welsh: Cwchwlin Penarwr Iwerddon is The Hound of Ulster; Merch y Pennaeth is The Chief’s Daughter.
Author G R Grove, who has written Storyteller, Flight of the Hawk, and The Ash Spear, has alerted me to two welsh editions of Rosemary’s books. Cwchwlin Penarwr Iwerddon is The Hound of Ulster. Merch y Pennaeth is The Chief’s Daughter.