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
Sol Campbell, in the media today for his autobiography-claim that he might have been England football captain for ten years if he were white, ten years ago recommended Rosemary Sutcliff’s Beowulf.
He and other stars of the English Premier League promoted a reading list for children, to try to harness the power of football to encourage families to enjoy reading. The Premier League Reading Stars (PLRS) scheme focused on people who had shown little or no interest in reading but who did have a passion for football. Each of the 20 Premier League soccer teams in England nominated a ‘Reading Champion’ to recommended his favourite book, and each Club adopted one or more public libraries who then hosted a reading club based on the book choices of all 20 Premiership Reading Champions.
Rosemary Sutcliff‘s re-telling of Beowulf is praised at Suz’s Place, an online supplier of used and secondhand books. ‘She’ wrote that her softcover volume was published by Penguin Books in 1961. “It has a little rubbing on all corners and edges but is looking incredibly good for it’s age. I wish I looked this good.”
Lionhearted Beowulf, the hero who had the strength of thirty men in his arms, sailed away over the whale road in his war-boat, his fast floater, to rid the Danes of their deadly scourge, the prowling monster who struck terror into the bravest warriors of Denmark as they waited night after night in King Hrothgar’s court. Great glory came to Beowulf before he died, the renown from his three great battles, with Grendel and his fearful mother, and with the dragon who guarded the brilliant treasure-hoard hidden away in the earth.
Rosemary Sutcliff’s retelling of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf grasps the splendour and mystery of the original poem. It is a story to feed the imagination powerfully, and fill the mind with a trembling awe.
Source: Dragon Slayer: Story of Beowulf – Rosemary Sutcliff
Blogger Zornhau reads children’s writer and historical novelist Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic retelling of Beowulf to his son Kurtzhau.
The two of us together live through the dragon fight, the flight of Beowulf’s thanes, all except Wiglaf who tips the balance in his lord’s favor. Now Beowulf lies dying, poisoned by dragon venom.
Kurtzhau and I both hold each other, sharing a blast of emotions from our ancestors’ cold Dark Ages.
Abruptly, Kurtzhau slips off the bed and rummages with his plastic figures.
“Oh well,” I think. “He’s done pretty well for a—”
He bounces back to join me and thrusts a Playmobil barbarian at me. “This guy can be Wiglaf from now on. Now read the end!”
Afterwards, he’s outraged that the story is so short, and we talk about how lucky we are to have the story at all, and about bards and praise singers, and the irony that the two episodes of Beowulf’s life to come down to us are the ones that emphatically did not happen.
“What happened to Wiglaf?”
I shrug. “Was there a theory he lead a Germanic tribe to Britain? Sorry – I can’t remember and we’ve no Internet access here. But if there were any poems about him, they’re lost.”
Kurtzhau considers. “Somebody ought to write a sequel.
Source: Zornhau’s blog
More about Beowulf on this site