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Monday, September 20, 2010

What I'm re-reading: Rosemary Sutcliff

Well, actually I'm re-reading plenty of stuff, in between reviewing, but this is what I picked up yesterday. I'm not one of those who read her books as a child, though I had heard of her. I discovered her as an adult, as I did Tolkien and C.S.Lewis and others.

As a matter of fact, I had a strange experience not long ago. You see, I'm currently rustling up some Sutcliff books for one of my Year 8 students. They've mostly been sitting on the shelves gathering dust because our kids, while they will read fantasy no problem, are less interested in historical fiction these days and anyway, the covers are all pretty battered. But one of the boys stumbled across Mark Of The Horse Lord, which came out in a snazzy new cover some years ago, and loved it. We were supposed to have the Eagle of The Ninth series, but the catalogue and the shelves told different stories. I found him what I could, but most of our books are just the re-tellings. So when he asked me, once more, for "something like Mark Of The Horse Lord" I was lucky enough to find The Shining Company - the only other non-retelling book we had - and promised him i would get the others. I got to the staff room and excitedly told a colleague, an English teacher of about my age, that I had a customer for Rosemary Sutcliff's books. Imagine my surprise when she asked, "Who's Rosemary Sutcliff?"

"You know - The Eagle of The Ninth?" I prompted, assuming she'd hit her forehead and say, "Oh, yeah, her, of course..." But no. She actually had never heard of the greatest children's historical novelist of the twentieth century! And her an English teacher, old enough to remember... She asked if they were fantasy, because she doesn't like fantasy. No, I told her patiently, Sutcliff's books were not fantasy. They were historical fiction. She teaches history as well. Ancient history, to Year 7 students.


Anyway, I'm having a great time re-discovering Marcus Aquila and his descendants, and if they do produce that wonderful 70s TV series on DVD I'll buy it immediately! I know there's a movie planned, but after what was done to Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising, I'm going to wait and see before I decide whether to see the movie or not.

I've called Chris at the Collected Works Bookshop to ask him to find and pick up the novels for my library so that young Peter can have the same joy as I am having with this series.


A latte beckons said...

I was pleased to snaffle The Shield Ring at a library book sale not long ago, but I wish I'd been able to find The Eagle of the Ninth. We watched the BBC (?) series at school in the 80s, for Latin I think, and I remember being so intrigued with Marcus worshipping Mithras -- the first time I'd come across an explicitly non-Christian good guy... It was a long time ago!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Well, if you want to re-read Eagle of The Ninth and its two sequels, I have good news. There's a new book which has the three under the same cover. That's what I'm reading now. I think most of them are available, you just won't find them in the bookshops - and believe me, I've tried! Oxford Uni Press is the publisher.

Of course, Roman soldiers did worship Mithras and it's interesting that the characters swear by him and say, "Ahriman" instead of "Satan" and such. There is one character in The Silver Branch who is a Christian, but he has to be very careful, because this is a generation before Emperor Constantine! He draws a sign of the fish at one point and Justin, one of the two heroes, knows what it is because he spent time with the Eagles in Judea.

The BBC series was wonderful! I'm going to check their web site in case it is available - they have the copyright, apparently.

Morva Shepley said...

I'm just thrilled to bits that the new movie will show a new generation some beautifully written, ripping good yarns again.