The Hitchcock Blonde reads Rosemary Sutcliff

In the summer of 2007 The Hitchcock Blonde was  re-reading her ” favourite childhood authors: Rosemary Sutcliff, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Ursula LeGuin. Along with Wolf Brother, they share certain themes: the buildungsroman grail quest, the primacy of animals and nature, the value of a sharply sensed moment in a great sweep of time and place. They are properly epic, humbling and exhilerating.

But above all, these tales are rolled out in a cool, deep river of action. There is so little self-indulgence, because kids are the most exacting, most selfish readers. They have no time for a book written to please anyone but themselves, certainly not an author or a critic. Awkwardness is too familiar and raw a feeling at that age to want to grapple with it in books. Pain, yes, ambiguity, yes, but not wanking about with words.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth | A Review

Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic children’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth (now a film The Eagle) was given a fantastic review on the historical novels website. Margaret Donsbach wrote:

The Eagle of the Ninth is about a young Roman centurion posted in Roman Britain. Marcus Flavius Aquila is discharged from his legion after being badly injured in his first battle. Years ago, his father was lost when the Ninth Legion mysteriously disappeared in northern Britain. When this novel was first published in 1954, the Ninth Legion’s disappearance in Britain was believed to be fact. More recent evidence shows the legion was actually moved to the Rhine River after serving in Britain. Whether the legion’s disappearance is fact or fiction, though, makes little difference to a reader’s enjoyment of the novel.

Crippled, his military career gone forever, Marcus thinks his useful life is over. Still, he makes friends with a native Briton in spite of unpromising circumstances. He acquires a wolf. He attracts a girl. And he sets off on a dangerous adventure in quest of the golden eagle standard of his father’s legion. Without it, the disbanded legion can never regain its honor and be revived. Worse, in the hands of hostile British tribes the eagle could become the focus of a serious uprising …

Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Silver Branch | The Folio Society beautiful illustrated edition | Sutcliff re-Discovery of the Day

This beautiful illustration of Little Cullen from Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel, The Silver Branch is from The Folio Society’s 2004 edition, drawn by Roman Pisarev. (From another great comment from Anne ).

You can buy this beautiful edition of the book  from the Folio Society’s website. There is also a stunning version of The Eagle of the Ninth, probably Rosemary Sutcliff’s most famous novel which you can buy it here.

Summary of Rosemary Sutcliff historical novel, children’s book The Shield Ring (1956)

In England  just after the Norman Conquest, high up among the fells of the Lake District is a secret valley where the Northmen (or Vikings as they are sometimes loosely called) have their last stronghold – or shield ring – struggling to keep the Lake District free. The Normans want to crush this last group of Northmen, so they build a castle in Carlisle and an army is sent north under Ranulf de Meschin. Frytha a young, orphaned Saxon girl seeks refuge in the valley after her home is burnt by the Normans. She witnesses the waning power of the Norse as she  joins Jarl Buthar’s Viking band after her family are slaughtered by the Normans.

Bjorn, the Bear-Cub, is the foster son of the old harper. He  longs to be allowed to play the ‘sweet-singer’, the special harp owned by his foster father which is smaller than the hall harp and strung with Irish white bronze, not horse hair. The old harper realises that one day Bjorn will indeed be a harper and he starts to teach him how to play it.

Life goes on in the valley – lambing, shearing, spinning, harvesting, and singing and story telling in the great hall in the evenings. But always there is the need to prepare for a Norman attack and Bjorn has a secret fear. Several times in the past the Normans have captured Northmen and  tortured them to try to force them to reveal where the hidden valley is – but no Northman has ever betrayed the vital secret. Bjorn wonders how he would act if he were ever in that position and fears he would not be able t keep silent.

The outnumbered Northmen try to outwit the Normans by building the Road to Nowhere – a road which will lead the Normans into an ambush. But they also need intelligence about  the Norman army. They need to send someone into the Norman camp. Bjorn volunteers; he speaks enough Norman to get by, and a harper  can go anywhere. So Bjorn sets out for the Norman camp knowing that if he is found to be a spy he will be tortured – his secret fear from childhood. But he does not go alone. Frytha follows him.

Rosemary Sutcliff appreciated by one of her editors

Led there by the excellent appreciative but disappeared I found this posted in 2003 to an ancient history website (which I also cannot find now) about Rosemary Sutcliff.

 I knew Rosemary as a friend and, briefly, as her editor…most of her best writing was done in the 50s and 60s, beginning with The Eagle of the Ninth and ending with The Mark of the Horse Lord, which is my own favourite. What she really wanted to do, however, was to write romantic novels full of sex, but here her experience, and imagination, let her down. She was crippled by Still’s disease, contracted as a child – She had no movement in her legs, and hands whose work (including writing and miniature painting) was done with just a forefinger and a tiny, rudimentary thumb.Read More »