A chiff-chaff in Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel Dawn Wind

Chiffchaff (illustration from RSPB)

As he did so, there was a small fluttering in the heart of some overgrown bushes beside the gap in the wall. His heart lurched unpleasantly, and then steadied as a chiff-chaff darted out, and the fluttering was explained.

From Dawn Wind by Rosemary Sutcliff

Nuns, monks and friars in the historical fiction and children’s books of Rosemary Sutcliff

Stimulated by an article in The Guardian which recalled Rahere in The Witch’s Brat, I am trying to track down all the nuns, monks and friars in the historical novels and children’s books by Rosemary Sutcliff. Commenters at the Facebook page on Rosemary Sutcliff associated with this blog are helping … can you (if you have not already!)?

Monks, friars and nuns in Rosemary Sutcliff's books

Life will go on and is well worth the struggle | Faith from Rosemary Sutcliff

Responding to an earlier post quoting Margaret Meek on  in her eponymous monograph about historical novelist and doyen of children’s literature  Rosemary Sutcliff, reader and regular commenter Anne (much more knowledgeable than me about the details of Rosemary’s work. and commentary upon it) posted:

It seems appropriate to add this piece from another critical essay, this one by May Hill Arbuthnot and Zena Sutherland:

The theme of all (Sutcliff’s) stories, as Margaret Meek points out, is “the light and the dark. The light is what is valued, what is to be saved beyond one’s own lifetime. The dark is the threatening destruction that works against it.” In The Lantern Bearers… the blackness of despair is concentrated in the heart of Aquila, a Roman officer….

No briefing of these stories can give any conception of their scope and power, and when young people read them they live with nobility… Nevertheless, these are difficult books, not because of vocabulary problems, but because of the complexities of the plots in which many peoples are fighting for dominance.

Fortunately, Dawn Wind …, one of the finest of the books, is also the least complex. Chronologically it follows The Lantern Bearers, but it is complete in itself and will undoubtedly send some readers to the trilogy. For the fourteen-year-old hero Owain, the light of the world seems to have been extinguished. He finds himself the sole survivor of a bloody battle between the Saxons and the Britons in which his people, the Britons, were completely destroyed. In the gutted remains of the city from which he had come, the only life the boy finds is a pitiable waif of a girl, lost and half-starved. At first Owain and Regina are bound together in mutual misery, but eventually they are united in respect and affection. So when Regina is sick and dying, Owain carries her to a Saxon settlement, even though he knows what will happen to him. The Saxons care for the girl but sell Owain into slavery…. After eleven years, he is freed and sets out at once to find his people and Regina, who has never doubted he would come for her.

So life is not snuffed out by the night. A dawn wind blows and two people start all over again with those basic qualities that have always made for survival…. Rosemary Sutcliff gives children and youth historical fiction that builds courage and faith that life will go on and is well worth the struggle.

Source: May Hill Arbuthnot and Zena Sutherland, “Historical Fiction: ‘The Lantern Bearers’ and ‘Dawn Wind’,” in their “Children and Books”, pub. Scott, Foresman and Company, 1972, pp. 508-9

Dogs in the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff

Thinking of both historical fiction and dogs put Katherine Langrish, author of fantasy novels for young adults, in mind of Rosemary Sutcliff. Katherine believes that dogs in books are a “Good Thing”. She also believes that Rosemary Sutcliff “must easily win the title of Britain’s most loved writer of junior historical fiction”.

… Rosemary Sutcliff, whose books I devoured as a child …  loved dogs, and there is a noble dog in many of her books: Whitethroat in Warrior Scarlet, Argos in Brother Dusty Feet.  But for me the most iconic is Dog in Dawn Wind,  the young war-hound that the boy Owain finds by moonlight on the ruins of the battlefield:

…it was something alive in the cold echoing emptiness of a dead world. It stood with one paw raised, looking at him, and Owain called, hoarsely, with stiff lips and aching throat: ‘Dog! Hai! Dog!’ … [It] came, slowly and uncertainly… once it stopped altogether; then it finished at the run and next instant was trembling against his legs. He was a young dog; the beautiful creamy hair of his breast-patch was stained and draggled, and his muzzle bloody in the moonlight… ‘Dog, aiee, dog, we are alone then. There’s no one else. We will go together, you and I.’

The brilliance of the writing is to show us, in the lonely and innocent terror of the dog and what he has been made to do, the full dreadfulness of war.
This is used with Katherine’s permission (thank you!). She wonders also in an email to me  if “perhaps Rosemary wrote about dogs as a way of owning them …”. Actually, Rosemary always owned dogs.
(Original post in March, 2010 First Revision 14 Feb 2012. List below added 10 March 2014))
  • Brother Dusty-Feet: Hugh runs away from home to protect Argos.
  • The Eagle of the Ninth:  Cub is Esca’s tame wolf cub.
  • The Silver Branch: Curoi’s hound is called Cullen.
  • Outcast: Canog is a mistreated mongrel owned by  Beric, whose childhood dog was Gelert.
  • The Lantern Bearers: Artos’s dog Cabal.
  • Warrior Scarlet: Whitethroat; Fand the Beautiful.
  • The Bridge-Builders: Math, a Hibernian wolfhound.
  • Knight’s Fee: Joyeuse.
  • Dawn Wind: Dog, a survivor of Owain’s Last Stand.
  • Blood Feud: Brindle is a cattle dog.
  • Bonnie Dundee: Caspa.
  • The Shining Company: Gelert.
  • Sword Song: Bjarni murders a man for kicking Astrid, and Hugin follows him home from Dublin.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Dolphin Ring and fictional Roman Aquila family

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:
The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) – set in the 2nd century
The Silver Branch (1957) – 3rd century
Frontier Wolf (1980) – 4th century
The Lantern Bearers (1959) – 5th century
Sword At Sunset (1963) – 5th century
Dawn Wind (1961) – 6th century
Sword Song (1991) – 10th century
The Shield Ring (1956) – 11th century