1 November 2007

Sutcliff reviewed: Sword Song (August 1997)

Go for good writing -
Children
Another of Blyton's traits I dislike is her laziness. I don't believe she ever researched anything - unlike her contemporary Rosemary Sutcliff, whose posthumously published Dark Ages saga Sword Song (Bodley Head, Pounds 12.99, ISBN 0 370 323 94 7) is packed with precisely described Viking sea battles and sacrifices in a linguistic smorgasbord of thongs, thralls and fiery-bearded men.

I was never a Sutcliff fan as a child, tiring too quickly of the sun glinting off the halberds of people with names that sound like Haggis Bogtrotterson, but the opening of Sword Song is a stunner: a 16-year-old boy is exiled from his settlement for the manslaughter of a monk who had kicked his dog. Beat that, Melvin Burgess.

Regrettably, the story quavers thereafter, meandering around the coast of Britain as young Bjarni sells his fighting skills to one fiery-beardy after another, but the dense historical detail and rich colours are all still there.

Go for good writing -
Children
Times, The (London, England)
August 23, 1997
Author: Sarah Johnson

18 July 2007

Sutcliff reviewed: The Shield Ring (July 1992)

Nursery rhyme and unreason -
Children's Paperbacks
Times, The (London, England)
July 11, 1992
Author: Brian Alderson

The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff (Puffin, Pounds 3.99): This story of how the Norse settlers of Butharsmere held out against the Norman invaders is one of Sutcliff's most engrossing novels. It has been too long out of print and this edition should be the cause of much rejoicing.

23 June 2007

Sutcliff reviewed: The Shining Company (June 1990)

Violent land of our fathers -
Books
Times, The (London, England)
June 9, 1990
Author: Brian Alderson
Estimated printed pages: 2

THE SHINING COMPANY, By Rosemary Sutcliff, The Bodley Head, Pounds 7.95

Y GODODDIN is not a species of baby-talk, but a tale of bloody strife, said to have been written around the end of the 7th century by the Welsh bard Aneirin. It tells how the High Chief of the Gododdin, Mynyddog Mwynfawr, called a hosting of the Celtic tribes at Edinburgh. There, for the space of a year, he trained a war-band of 300 princes and then unleashed them on the invading Saxons at the Battle of Catterick. Everything went wrong, and only one hero returned from the fray. But his exploits and those of his companions were celebrated by Aneirin in ``the Great Song that others will sing for a thousand years".

This Great Song is at the heart of Rosemary Sutcliff's Shining Company, thus bringing Aneirin longer life than he expected. For as he gave elegiac voice to the deeds of hero after hero, so she has taken the names from his telling and has sought to imagine them back int historical reality. Speaking through the persona of Prosper, the son of a Welsh chieftain, and eventually shieldbearer to the knight who returned, she begins by establishing a sense of the closed tribal world of the time after the Romans, and then introduces unbardic perceptions of form and motive. Personal relationships and the countryside of the Dark Ages become vital ingredients in the renewed story, and as the episodes pile up the ride to Edinburgh, the welding of disparate forces into a single fighting group so the reader is made ready for the great setpiece of the battle and the long dying fall of its tragic aftermath.

Such a theme is natural to Sutcliff's art. She is moved by simple concepts of loyalty and integrity that may be as foreign to today's children's literature as they were to the no-baby-talk Gododdin. But by admitting their possibility, while not shirking the real facts of ferocious woundings and pragmatic betrayals, she still persuades us that a bardic reading of the past is sustainable alongside an awareness of its squalor and its indifferent, but unpolluted, landscapes.

Section: Features
(c) Times Newspapers Limited 1990, 2003
Record Number: 1007894754

OpenURL Article Bookmark (right click, and copy the link location):
http://docs.newsbank.com/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.new
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16 June 2007

Anthony Lawton's blog has moved ...

Dom's contribution is hidden away in the comments, but he points out that Anthony Lawton has started a new blog at: rosemarysutcliff.wordpress.com

Sutcliff on film? Eagle of the Ninth (November 2000)

The Roman Eagle has landed: Saturday Premiere
Daily Telegraph, The (London, England)/Financial Times
November 25, 2000
Estimated printed pages: 1

BRITAIN has never had its own Ben Hur. However, hot on the heels of the success of Gladiator, this may change.

Duncan Kenworthy (the co-producer of comedy films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill) has just bought an option on Rosemary Sutcliff's classic children's book The Eagle of the Ninth. Based on the true story of the lost Ninth Hispana Legion, which disappeared somewhere north of Hadrian's Wall in the second century AD, it is a romping tale about a young legionary, Marcus, who ventures into Scotland to look for the missing soldiers, including his father, and their standard.

It is an odd project for Kenworthy but it will be good to see the Romans in Britain for once. Let's just pray that the producer does not want to cast Hugh Grant as Marcus . . .

http://docs.newsbank.com/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.new
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21 March 2007

Sutcliff reviewed: The Shining Company (July 1990)

Reliving a glorious past -
Children's Books
Sunday Times, The (London, England)
July 15, 1990
Author: Susan Hill
Estimated printed pages: 5

Rosemary Sutcliff has never tried to ingratiate herself with young readers by making her prose bland and easily digestible. The complexities ofher style are not gratuitous, but reflect the depth and complexity of her subject-matter. Those without an innate historical sense or taste need to be encouraged to read her, because they discover that she not only makes bare facts ``come alive" but attempts to make sense of them, and to illuminate legend, in human terms. She is also an extraordinarily rich, exciting and poetic writer. To those of my generation who thrilled to The Eagle of the Ninth, it is a pleasure to read her latest book, The Shining Company (Bodley Head Pounds 7.99), and find her still at the height of her powers.

The inspiration for it comes from an early northern British epic poem such sources are often the triggers for her fiction about 300 young, keen warriors belonging to the tribe of King Mynyddog in 600 AD who were brought together and trained for a year, as a fighting brotherhood, before being sent out against the invading Saxons. The hero is Prosper, son of Gerontius, a shieldbearer to one of them, and the story concerns him, his close friends and confederates, and his bond-slave. It is a remote time, and values and customs are completely alien to those of our own, particularly the concept of fealty and loyalty to a king, an individual lord, a blood brother. Rosemary Sutcliff gets under the skin of adventurous young men in trying to reveal what made them follow a leader and give their lives gladly in his service. It is as inspiring, and tragic, as any similar war story involving a ``shining company" of golden boys, and this intricate, compellingly imagined and beautifully told story makes period and people sympathetic and comprehensibl in our own time.

http://docs.newsbank.com/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.new
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8 March 2007

BBC's Eagle of the Ninth, 1977

Finally, I found a good photo of BBC's 1977 series of Eagle of the Ninth, showing Aqulia leading his troops. Details of the production can be found here. Marcus Aquila was played by Anthony Higgins. This scene, was, I think also briefly shown in Togas on TV recently, along with a couple of other scenes. Any chance of a DVD release please of the whole series, Auntie Beeb?

From a pedant's point of view, the armour looks dodgy. As it's AD 117 they'd be OK with lorica segmentata, but it looks like scale armour. And the helmets are odd too. Perhaps they are auxiliaries? Nethertheless, I'd rather have a well acted drama with naff costumes than nothing at all ...

28 February 2007

Sutcliff and Simon Schama (October 2000)

Television Review
Independent, The (London, England)/Financial Times
October 5, 2000
Estimated printed pages: 3

THE PROBLEM with the past is that it just won't stay put: it's always shifting to accommodate our needs, our assumptions about the sorts of people we are. Not long ago, I re-read Rosemary Sutcliff's children's story, The Silver Branch, which is set in Britain towards the end of Roman rule. When I first read it, 25 years ago, I took it as a fairly faithful recreation of the period; second time around, what was striking was how obviously it was the product of the time it was written, the 1950s. The story has two young Romano- British patriots on a spying mission in Saxon-occupied Britain - sleeping in haylofts, evading the brutal Germanic invaders with the help of friendly locals: it's basically a Second World War resistance yarn transposed to the fourth century.

By contrast, Sunday's opening episode of A History of Britain by Simon Schama (BBC2) presented a much gentler picture of the same period. Schama disdained talk of "apocalypse" in favour of gentle change - Roman Britannia "morphed" into the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms; the process was "an adaptation, not an annihilation".

Partly, no doubt, the differences between Sutcliff's picture and Schama's reflect advances in understanding. But Schama's version also said something about the way we live now: this was history for a multicultural society, one that embraces difference and defines its relationships with the outside world in terms of trade and economics, not wars and empires. Schama depicted the Roman occupation of Britain in similarly benign terms - the odd violent episode aside, it was a matter of seduction rather than conquest. Hadrian's Wall was depicted as a conduit for trade, not a military frontier.

Full article at:
http://docs.newsbank.com/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.new
sbank.com:UKNB:IISC&rft_val_format=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:ctx&rft_dat=0F2A785
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Film rights

I've been contacted recently by someone from the US trying to find out if a particular book by Rosemary Sutcliff has had the film rights bought. I've passed her onto Anthony Lawton, needless to say. But she did ask if there were any 'fun' titles I'd like to see on film ... I told her the books that are most often mentioned by fans I've met (Eagle of the Ninth* and Mark of the Horse Lord), plus threw one in of my own (Sword at Sunset). Lets see if it comes to anything in the coming years ...

But which of Sutcliff's books would you like to see on the big screen?

*Yes, I know that Eagle of the Ninth was serialised by the BBC, but it's a fat lot of good if the Beeb neither shows it now, nor issues it on DVD

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