Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel for children The Lantern Bearers won The Carnegie Medal in 1959

Cover of Japanese Edition of The Lantern Bearers

Rosemary Sutcliff won the Library Association Carnegie Medal in 1959 for her historical novel for children (“aged 8 to 88” in her view) The Lantern Bearers. The Medal is awarded every year in the UK to the writer of an outstanding book for children. First awarded to Arthur Ransome for Pigeon Post, the medal is now awarded by CILIP: The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. Both the Carnegie Medal and its sister award, the Kate Greenaway Medal are awarded annually. The 2012 shortlist was recently announced, and the winners will be named on Thursday 14th June.

The Library Association started the prize in 1936, in memory of the Scottish-born philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), a self-made industrialist who made his fortune in steel in the USA. The winner now receives a golden medal and some £500 worth of books to donate to a library of their choice. Rosemary Sutcliff also won or was nominated for many other awards in the UK and USA. (She won other awards in translation). She

Full list of Carnegie Medal winners here

Rosemary Sutcliff won The Carnegie Medal for historical novel The Lantern Bearers in 1959

Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novels The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, and The Lantern Bearers are sometimes called a trilogy. Rosemary Sutcliff won the Library Association Carnegie Medal for The Lantern Bearers in 1959. The Medal is awarded every year in the UK to the writer of an outstanding book for children. The Library Association started the prize in 1936, in memory of the Scottish-born philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), a self-made industrialist who made his fortune in steel in the USA. His experience of using a library as a child led him to resolve that “if ever wealth came to me that it should be used to establish free libraries”. He established more than 2800 libraries across the English speaking world and, by the time of his death, over half the library authorities in Great Britain had Carnegie libraries.

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 some £500 worth of books to donate to a library of their choice. Rosemary Sutcliff also:

Book Awards won by Rosemary Sutcliff

I am trying to make accurate my list of all book awards Rosemary Sutcliff was given or nominated for. This is my summary so far: can readers help me expand and improve it?
  • 1959: The Carnegie Medal, The Lantern Bearers
  • 1968: The Hans Christian Andersen Award, nominated
  • 1971: Zilveren Griffel – The Silver Pencil, in Holland
  • 1972: The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Tristan and Iseult
  • 1974: The Hans Christian Andersen Award, highly commended
  • 1978: The Other Award, Song for a Dark Queen (A children’s book award focusing on anti-sexist, anti-racist titles in the UK).
  • 1985: The Phoenix Award, The Mark of the Horse Lord
  • 2010: The Phoenix Award, The Shining Company

The Eagle of the Ninth author Rosemary Sutcliff won The Carnegie Medal for The Lantern Bearers in 1959

That The Eagle of the Ninth author Rosemary Sutcliff won The Carnegie Medal just over 50 years ago (for her historical novel The Lantern Bearers) came to mind when I stumbled upon the long list of nominations for 2010 (STOP PRESS and now shortlist). Rosemary Sutcliff fan Philip Reeve is nominated for Fever Crumb (STOP PRESS now shortlisted, and an interview with Philip Reeve here). Read More »

Fantasy writer Victoria Strauss writes about Rosemary Sutcliff historical novel for children and young adults, The Lantern Bearers The Lantern Bearers

Rosemary Sutcliff ‘s The Lantern Bearers won the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature. It is a  historical novel for children and young people. One American reviewer, Victoria Strauss, a writer of fantasy fiction, thought Sutcliff’The Lantern Bearers a ‘wonderful book’, having discovered Rosemary ‘s books in her early teens.

I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff in my early teens, and she quickly became one of my favorite authors. I can still vividly recapture the magic of reading her books. It was a real pleasure to return to The Lantern Bearers, which I first read when I was about thirteen, and find the magic still intact.

Published in 1959 and reprinted several times since, The Lantern Bearers is set in the seventh century A.D., at the close of the Roman period in Britain. When the last Roman troops are recalled to Italy, Aquila, the young commander of a troop of cavalry, discovers that his love of his native Britain is stronger than his loyalty to a distant empire he has never seen. He deserts, and returns home. But the Saxon threat is looming, and soon after his return, Aquila’s home is overrun by Saxon raiders. His father is killed and his sister Flavia kidnapped, and he himself is captured and made a thrall in a Saxon household. Three years later, he and Flavia meet again in a Saxon camp, and Aquila discovers that she has married a Saxon and has had a child. Though she helps Aquila to escape, he cannot forgive her for what he sees as a profoundly dishonorable surrender to the enemy.

Bitter at Flavia’s betrayal and consumed with hatred for the Saxons, Aquila travels north to offer his service to Ambrosius, a Celtic prince who is the last inheritor of Roman authority in Britain. Over the fifteen years that follow, Aquila takes part in the long battle to throw the Saxon invaders back into the sea–years of suffering and sacrifice but also of love and friendship, in the course of which Aquila learns to relinquish his bitterness, and to better understand his sister’s choice. In the end, the decisive victory is won, and Ambrosius is crowned High King of Britain–a final defiant lifting of the light of Romano-Celtic civilization against the encroaching barbarian dark.

The Lantern Bearers is a wonderful book. Sutcliff possesses a unique gift for character and description, evoking a sense of place and person so intense that the reader can almost see her characters and the world in which they move. She has a matchless ability to establish historical context without a surfeit of the “let’s learn a history lesson now” exposition that mars many historical novels for young people. Her books are never less than meticulously researched, but her recreation of the past is so effortless that one has no sense of academic exercise, but rather of a world as close and immediate as everyday.

The Lantern Bearers isn’t truly a fantasy novel, but it does touch upon one of the great fantasy themes: Arthur, future High King of Britain, whom Aquila first encounters as a child in Ambrosius’s camp. The Arthurian theme was one of Sutcliff’s favorites: she produced several young adult books on the subject, as well as a beautiful adult novel, Sword at Sunset, to my mind one of the best ever written in this genre. But the Sutcliff’s Arthur is rooted as much in history as in myth–not just the tragic king of Le Morte d’Arthur or the heroic/magical figure of traditional Arthurian fantasy, but a man who might actually have existed, heir both to the memory of Rome and to the last great flowering of Celtic power in Britain.

In the course of her career, Sutcliff wrote nearly forty books (Poster’s note: Actually  over 60.) Many of them are still in print, testifying to her enduring popularity. It is richly merited: she is, quite simply, one of the best.

Used with permission of Victoria Strauss