Rosemary Sutcliff, historical novelist and author for children, was once asked whether, as a writer of children’s books, she particularly liked children. Rosemary Sutcliff said:
I like a child or a dog or an adult according to their merits. I am prone to like more dogs on a percentage basis.
Rosemary Sutcliff said to the Radio Times in 1977: “I like a child or a dog or an adult according to their merits. I am prone to like more dogs on a percentage basis”! Dogs also feature in many of her books. Katherine Langrish, fantasy novelist, wondered if “perhaps Rosemary wrote about dogs as a way of owning […]
For reasons I cannot divine, my Google alert for new items on <Rosmeary Sutcliff> pointed today to a 2011posting at this blog about her appearance on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs! At that time, a recording of Rosemary Sutcliff’s appearance with Roy Plomley was not available for downloading. It is now, here.
In the usual way on this radio programme, Rosemary Sutcliff talked (in October 1983) about her life and work and chose eight records to take to the mythical BBC Radio desert island. She said she chose her music just because she loved it—not everyone does, especially these PR-obsessed days. Her choices were:
- Record 1: Dvorak’s New World Symphony, played by the London Symphony Orchestra, by Istvan Kertesz.
- Record 2: “Eternal father strong to save” – Hymn.
- Record 3: L’Apres-midi d’une Faune by Debussy. Royal Philharmonic conducted by Thomas Beecham.
- Record 4: “We’ll Gather Lilacs” sung by Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth.
- Record 5: “The Flowers of the Forest” played by the pipes & drums of the 1st Battalion of the Scots Guards.
- Record 6: Excerpt from “Under Milk Wood”. Polly Garter’s song.
- Record 7: “The Lark Ascending” by Vaughan Williams. The Boyd Kneale Orchestra. With Frederick Grinker.
- Record 8: “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Bach. Choir of King’s college, Cambridge, conducted by David Willcocks.
- If she could only take One Record: The Lark Ascending
- One Luxury for the island: Roy Plomley refused her request to take her beloved dogs. She chose therefore flowers, “delivered daily by bottle”.
- One Book for the island: “Kim” by Rudyard Kipling.
Read more about Desert Island Discs, and stream the episode, here
Around 1962 Margaret Meek wrote a monograph about Rosemary Sutcliff, only a decade or so into a writing career that was to last for another 30 years. She spoke of Rosemary choosing names “with a poet’s care”:
Rosemary Sutcliff’s magic has certain recognizable elements; the names of the characters are chosen with a poet’s care, the dogs have a central place and are characterized with the loving attention children recognize and approve. The villains, such as Placidus in The Eagle of the Ninth and Allectus in The Silver Branch are acidly etched, although there is more reliance on traditional enmity and feud than on personal evil to provide the dark side. Episodic characters, singly or in groups, have a miniaturist’s clarity of outline. Pandarus, the gladiator with his rose in the battle, Galerius the surgeon, the garrulous household slaves, soldiers at a firelit cockfight or warriors at a feast, all are equally memorable.
Others more involved in the developing action, commanding officers, wise men of the tribes, outcasts, especially Guern the Hunter, Evicatos of the Spear and Brother Ninnias, have a legendary quality. Tradui the Chieftain at the making of New Spears, Bruni, dressed in the war gear of a Jutish hero dying as the wild geese fly south, blind Flavian, killed at the hands of marauding Saxons, all carry a dignity and heroism that link this series of tales with the legends Miss Sutcliff loves to tell. Indeed, part of the difficulty in evaluating the achievement of these books comes from the thickly woven texture which is as closely wrought as in many adult novels of quality.
- Source: Margaret Meek (1962). Rosemary Sutcliff. New York: Henry Z. Walck
- A list of most main characters in Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels. re-tellings and books
(First posted 30 March, 2010; revised, 24 March, 2014)