One source of inspiration for David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks: Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Lantern Bearers

Cover of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks was nominated for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Holly Sykes, the heroine, appears in some form in each of its six segments, which begin in 1984 and stretch to 2034. The sixth and final portion imagines a near future in which an ‘Endarkment’ has reset the world into barbaric times.

In an interview for an online magazine about books, arts, and culture—The Millions— David Mitchell was asked whether any specific sources inspired his vision of how the world might look in twenty years time. He spoke first of a “really good book published in the 1950s called The Death of Grass where a killer virus doesn’t kill us, humans…but gets the crops we eat”. The second source of inspiration was Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth series, which is “the book that Holly is reading to the kids in the last section”.

Cover of The Lantern Bearers


Cover of The Death of Grass







Rosemary Sutcliff … was an English, wheelchair-bound classicist in the 1950s who wrote about the Romans leaving Britain and the collapse of Roman civilization. The series focuses on the power vacuums a collapse of that magnitude leaves, and how the innocents always end up having to pay more then the soldiers. Those books are colossal. They are fantastic. In the third book of the trilogy, The Lantern Bearers, the best of the three, there is a scene where the Roman ships leave the shores of Britain for the last time, and they know it’s the last time. What are they leaving behind? What’s going to happen to these people? That’s what was at the forefront of my mind—really how our world will look to my daughter as she grows—as I was writing that last section.

Teachers’ Guide to the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff

Publishers Farrar, Straus and Giroux produced a teachers’ and readers’ guide about the books of Rosemary Sutcliff (that they pubished!). It is undated, covering ” the award-winning trilogy set in Roman Britain as well as Outcast, The Shining Company, Sword Song, Tristan and Iseult, and Warrior Scarlet”. The historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff, it says:Read More »

Carnegie Medal 2014 shortlist announced | Rosemary Sutcliff won in 1959 with The Lantern Bearers and runner-up for Tristan and Iseult

The Carnegie Medal—judged by librarians in the United Kingdom is 77 years-old, this year! Past winners have included Rosemary Sutcliff as well such classic authors of children’s literature as Arthur Ransome and  C.S. Lewis. The shortlist of eight books for 2014 has just been announced:

  1. All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry (Published by Templar)
  2. The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks (Puffin)
  3. The Child’s Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston (David Fickling Books)
  4. Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper (Bodley Head)
  5. Blood Family by Anne Fine (Doubleday)
  6. Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (Faber & Faber)
  7. Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead (Andersen Press)
  8. The Wall by William Sutcliffe (sic) (Bloomsbury)

Rosemary Sutcliff  (1920-92) won the Library Association Carnegie Medal in 1959 for her historical novel for children The Lantern Bearers (she wrote for children ‘aged 8 to 88’, she said).  She was runner-up with Tristan and Iseult in 1972.

First awarded to Arthur Ransome for Pigeon Post, the medal is now awarded by The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. The winner  receives a golden medal and  £500 worth of books to donate to a library. Both the Carnegie Medal and its sister award, the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustrated books, are awarded every year.

Originally the Library Association started the prize in 1936 in memory of the Scottish-born philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). He was a self-made industrialist who made his fortune in the steel industry in the USA and who was a great supporter of libraries. He once said ”if ever wealth came to me that it should be used to establish free libraries”.

Rosemary Sutcliff also won or was nominated for many other awards in the UK and USA. (She won other awards in translation).

Rosemary Sutcliff has written some of the finest contemporary recreations of the Arthurian story

Raymond H. Thompson (Author)  interviewed Rosemary Sutcliff for the periodical Avalon to Camelot in 1986. In the introduction he wrote:

Though perhaps best known for historical novels set in Roman Britain, such as The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), Rosemary Sutcliff has written some of the finest contemporary recreations of the Arthurian story. She introduces us to Arthur in The Lantern Bearers (1959), a book for younger readers that won the Carnegie Medal, and in Sword at Sunset (1963) she continues his tale in his own words. She has also retold the Arthurian legend with clarity and elegance in Tristan and Iseult (1971), The Light Beyond the Forest (1979), The Sword and the Circle (1981), and The Road to Camlann (1981). Her later novels were set in the more recent past, but she returned to Dark Age Britain for her … novel The Shining Company (London: Bodley Head), which is based upon the Gododdin. This poem, composed about 600 A.D. in North Britain by the bard Aneirin to commemorate a band of British warriors who fell in battle against the Angles, is of special interest in that it provides us with the earliest mention of Arthur’s name and Sutcliff’s novel preserves the Arthurian echoes.

Source:  Interview with Rosemary Sutcliff | Robbins Library Digital Projects.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Carnegie-medal-winning The Lantern Bearers adapted for radio by Felix Fenton (1961)

I recently discovered  Felix Felton (1911 – 72) who was a British actor, and a radio director and author. In 1961 he adapted Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Lantern Bearers (published in 1959) for a six-part series for Children’s Hour for BBC Radio. In 1962 he also adapted  Dawn Wind (1961) for radio, playing the role of Einon Hen himself.