British writer Rosemary Sutcliff re-tells legends of Robin Hood, King Arthur, Beowulf, Tristan & Iseult, Finn Mac Cool, Cuchulain, the Iliad, the Odyssey

Portrait of historical novelist and children’s author Rosemary Sutcliff by Mark Gerson

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

Is the Carnegie Medal for outstanding writer for children and young people in English moving away from children’s books?

UK Hardback Cover Rosemary Sutcliff The Lantern Bearers in 1959

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


Rosemary Sutcliff commended and highly commended for The Carnegie Medal for The Eagle of the Ninth, The Shield Ring, The Silver Branch, and Tristan and Iseult

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


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).