Thurs. 24th February: A homage to Rosemary Sutcliff

The Eagle movie, shortly to be released in the UK, is based upon a novel written by Rosemary Sutcliff. The book is titled The Eagle of the Ninth and more than fifty years after its first publication, is still in print. Dearly beloved by generations of readers, it has sold more than a million copies worldwide, and is widely acknowledged as one of the finest young adult books of the twentieth century. Yet Sutcliff’s writing appeals to adults as well. She once said that her novels were for everyone from ‘eight to eighty-eight’. I for one continue to enjoy The Eagle of the Ninth as much now as I did when I was ten years old.

I can still remember reading the book for the first time. It was either my father or my brother who gave it to me, and I was hooked from the first page. What with school work and chores around the house, there was never enough time in my days to read all that I wanted to. I often had to resort to using a flashlight under my blankets, reading without my parents’ knowledge far into the night. With its wonderfully detailed and atmospheric descriptions of Roman Britain in AD 133, the book stimulated in me a love of Rome, and all things Roman. Who could fail to be stirred by such a tale? It depicts bloody rebellion against the Empire, a tragic, wounded hero lacking in purpose who finds unexpected comradeship and who then takes on an impossible quest – to track down an eagle standard lost years before, in the wilds of Scotland. There are dramatic hunting scenes, thrilling gladiator fights, a journey north to the unforgettable Hadrian’s Wall and beyond. When our hero steps away from the Wall and everything ‘civilized’, into the grey, swirling mists which swallowed up an entire legion, Sutcliff’s power as a writer ensures that all our hopes and fears go with him.

Other Sutcliff books followed in quick succession – The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, and her Arthurian books. Each one was written in the same compelling, deeply evocative way, and usually featuring a young hero with whom it was easy to identify. I’ve been amazed to discover recently that Sutcliff wrote many other books set in the Roman period too. While saddened that I hadn’t read them as a child, I’m delighted to have them to read now.

I wasn’t made aware of quite how deep The Eagle of the Ninth had sent roots into my mind until, at the age of 31 and more than twenty years after I’d read the book, I first set my eyes on the incredible structure that is Hadrian’s Wall. Seeing the wall silhouetted along the skyline sent an electric shock down my spine. Almost at the same time, my love of Rome was rekindled, and I decided on the spot to write a novel about Roman soldiers serving on the wall. While that novel didn’t quite make the cut, my next one did. Since then I haven’t stopped writing, or spreading the word about the wonderfully written masterpiece that is The Eagle of the Ninth.

 (As previously published on www.commandposts.com)

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22 Comments

  1. John Salter
    Posted 24 February 2011 at 14:12 | Permalink

    I can’t wait for the film, it’s the one I’ve wanted to see above all others in ages. I hope they do the book justice and bring the atmosphere to life as Rosemary Sutcliff created it. I’m not too bothered about intricate continuity; ie; clothing or weapons as long as it’s not too extreme.

    PS. I see what you mean about the Rhino! He’s now back in Caesars Legion and bound for Africa! Hey you never know Ben we could be talking about The Forgotten Legion like Eagle of the Ninth in a few years. What a film the three books would make!

  2. benkane
    Posted 24 February 2011 at 14:30 | Permalink

    @John: I live in hope! They’d need more than one film, though… 🙂

  3. Posted 24 February 2011 at 21:53 | Permalink

    So I’m not the only one to ‘blame’ Rosemary Sutcliff for now writing fiction about the Romans myself. 😉

    Oh, and I read books by flashlight as well. I suspect my parents even knew I did.

  4. benkane
    Posted 25 February 2011 at 00:46 | Permalink

    Ha! You’re not the only one, Gabriele, no. It’s funny to know that you did the same 🙂

    I’m halfway into I Marched With Hannibal, by the way. It’s good!

  5. Posted 26 February 2011 at 13:54 | Permalink

    Hi Ben…hows things? I have just got back from Florida (part holiday part trying to recover from Pleurisy…damn hard thing to shift) anyway..while out there watched The Eagle…(for those who dont know “of the ninth was removed because they didnt want american audiences thinking it was a golf movie…sigh….and all the yanks i met thought that was funny too).
    The film…the acting is ok…nothing to write home about, the costume and scenery is excellent, some of the best and most authentic i have seen in a roman film. The fighting, looked to be better too less of the gladatorial dramatic fighting and more of the machine drilled stab and shield fighting, great use of testudo as well.

    The big let down fr me was the seal people of the north who looked like something out of last of the mohichans rather than a far north pict tribe. The american accents etc you can live with..but the seal people was a real put off for me.

    I think this is one that all fans of this genre MUST watch, if for nothing else than to convince studios to do more, to do better, but for me its at best a 3/5 and im being generous because of who’s book it is.
    Maybe i went into the cinema with hopes set too high, maybe if you go with them set lower you may enjoy it more?? (i do think that has a bearing on how you enjoy a film)

    anyway hope i have not put anyone off.

    OH and PLEASE NO ONE SEE I AM NUMBER FOUR its terrible really bad.

    US holidays great for cinema in the evenings…LOL.

  6. Posted 1 March 2011 at 10:06 | Permalink

    Ooh Ive never heard of her, by any chance do you know if these books sell in america? I know some british publishers dont have their books here in america and its hard to get your hands on. By the way I know Im a bit late but by any chance did your third book get release in the US yet?

  7. Posted 1 March 2011 at 10:08 | Permalink

    PS I love books on the Romans, has anyone read Cleopatra’s daughter? The name of the author slips my mind at the moment but the story is brilliant!! Thanks Ben again for the trilogy (which i hold 2/3 of in my own personal library) and thank you for introducing me to rosemary sutcliff

  8. benkane
    Posted 1 March 2011 at 10:13 | Permalink

    Hi Parmenion, sorry for the delay – was in Edinburgh supporting Ireland at the rugby, and drinking a couple of beers. 😉 Very sorry to hear that you have pleurisy – man, that’s not good. (Being a vet, I know about it.) How long have you had that? And I sincerely hope that the holiday helped?

    Argghh, yes, I know about the name change of The Eagle of the Ninth. I’ve also heard really mixed reports about it. I still can’t wait to see it, but I am very worried that I’ll be disappointed. We’ll soon see…

  9. benkane
    Posted 1 March 2011 at 10:18 | Permalink

    @cereza671: thanks for your posts, and welcome to my website! Yes, Rosemary Sutcliff’s books are available in the States – look for them on Amazon. And regarding my third book – you only have 4 weeks more to wait – The Road to Rome is released on March 29th…
    Cleopatra’s Daughter is by Michelle Moran, and I enjoyed it a lot! I ‘know’ Michelle from a forum I’m on, that’s why I heard of her, and then went and bought her book.

    If you’re on the hunt for more Roman authors, cereza, have a look for Harry Sidebottom, Anthony Riches, Russell Whitfield, and Wallace Breem, and Keith Roberts (The Boat of Fate is his only Roman one, but is one of the top 5 Roman books I’ve ever read).

  10. Posted 1 March 2011 at 19:37 | Permalink

    Hi Ben…no worries i had heard you were T’up N’urf
    I think was it Mr Jackson you had a beer with…”don’t panic” not stalking, we chat on FB … the dreaded FB.. good place to pick up and learn about upcoming books and what being written and how fast..etc..

    6 weeks off with the dreaded P, back to aboutr 65% now and back in the office, i think i was about 75% before i got on the plane but as soon as i hit the cold damp air back home it knocked me back a fair bit, i just hope the rot stops there…. Due to be a granddad anytime in the next 4 weeks…(yikes !!)

    @ Cereza i highly reccomend Wallace Breem (his book Eagle in the Snow was the inspiration for gladiator, although the story is very different).
    Anthony Riches is excellent a real story teller.
    Russ Whitfield has a brilliant book out and a great future.
    Harry Sidebottoms books are great fun.
    Also not there on the list: Simon Scarrow, Conn Iggulden, John Stack..although the first couple of books are quite weak it then picks up well and its not often you get a punic war naval book.

    And Yes Ben im a bad boy i have still not started Boat of Fate…i keep getting proofs to review…(a fun wry sigh)

  11. benkane
    Posted 1 March 2011 at 19:47 | Permalink

    @Parmenion: jeepers, you’d better be 100% if you’re to be of any help with babysitting 😉

    I had a great lunch with Doug Jackson in Edinburgh, yes!

    And whenever you get to Boat of Fate, you’ll love it – I think?

  12. John Salter
    Posted 2 March 2011 at 13:59 | Permalink

    cereza671: You can get all three Eagle books in one! The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles by Rosemary Sutcliff. Available through Amazon and saves you some cash!

    Parmenion: Mmm another luke warm review of The Eagle! Can’t wait to see it though. I thought those Seal People looked a bit dodgy on the trailer. One day someone will get the Britons right with lime in their hair and big taches!

  13. simon scarrow
    Posted 3 March 2011 at 00:01 | Permalink

    Three weeks to go before this appears at our cinema. I can’t wait. This was the book that sold me on Rome when I was at school. I reread it recently with my boys and had forgotten quite how well Sutcliff wrote. The trailer looks great and I just hope it lives up to my expectations. Usually I am not too bothered by the prospect of film adaptations, but this, like Lord of the Rings, has me in a mix of eager anticipation and anxiety.

  14. John Salter
    Posted 3 March 2011 at 11:02 | Permalink

    A lot of the reviews I’ve read seem to be by ‘normal’ cinema go’ers. It will be interesting to see what those who are really interested in the subject think. If they capture the atmosphere that Rosemary Sutcliff created, it will be great but its a big if!

  15. cecilia
    Posted 5 March 2011 at 08:35 | Permalink

    I love both the Forgotten Legion and The Silver Eagle and I can say I am drawn to seeing the movie The Eagle. I just love the time period and the history of the Romans military might. The time period was brutal and as far as the rape in your book I could see that in that time in which women were regularly brutalized especially slaves so as to the criticism blow it off. I read Marion Bradley’s book not too long ago about Boudica which was pretty good about when the Romans were in your neck of the woods. Well I’m sure I’m not telling something you don’t know. Thanks and keep on writing. I look forward to the Road to Rome.

  16. Posted 6 March 2011 at 07:49 | Permalink

    Thanks all for the information Ill be sure to check out the books I really do need to update my library l0l.

    And Ben I can’t wait itll be my late birthday present to myself l0l!! Im so excited to see what happens to Romulus! And I cried when Brennus died 🙁 You really are an inspiration and I cant wait to see what you come up with next. I recommend your books to everyone who will listen to me l0l! Definitely one of my reasons to continue writing: in hopes to be as great an author as you are!

  17. benkane
    Posted 6 March 2011 at 08:11 | Permalink

    @Cecilia: thanks for your post, and your comments. Welcome to my website! I hope too that The Eagle is very good, but I feel that I’m going to be disappointed…

    Not long now until The Road to Rome comes out in the States!

  18. benkane
    Posted 6 March 2011 at 08:12 | Permalink

    @cereza671: aw, thanks! I cried while writing that Brennus scene too, if it helps. Thanks for your recommendations of my books, and I hope that you achieve success with your writing soon. What time period do you write about?

  19. Posted 29 March 2011 at 11:20 | Permalink

    I tend to write about different time periods and genres, and I can never seem to finish them because I always find a new idea. Just tonight I finished handwriting my epilogue for a fanfiction I’ve been working on for years *first book to ever be finished* yay me! But Im currently writing a vampire trilogy, a book on angels and demons as well as a king arthur fanfic haha and I wonder why I never finish my work.

    I want to write a book focusing mainly during the time of the 12 emperors of Rome. But I feel that I dont have the sufficient amount of information I need to do it justice and there are so much resources out there for me to pour over that I dont have the time to do it lol.

  20. Bridgetthebooklover
    Posted 22 April 2011 at 18:51 | Permalink

    I thought that you might like to know of other novels which are set during the eras of the Roman Empire, and post-Empire: for a start, there are Robert Graves’s “I, Claudius” and “Claudius the God”, Marguerite Yourcenar’s “Memoirs of Hadrian”, and Allan Massie’s “Caesar”, “Augustus” and “Tiberius”.

    The following novels are set in Roman Britain: “The eagle and the raven” by Pauline Gedge, and “The forests of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley (the latter was also published as “The forest house”). The two subsequent novels in the “Avalon” series, “The mists of Avalon” and “Lady of Avalon” are set in post-Empire Britain, and evoke that era splendidly, as do the trio by Bernard Cornwell, “Enemy of God”, “The winter king” and “Excalibur” (I live in the middle of Dorset, and Bernard Cornwell uses the geography of the area in these books: I consider myself very lucky to be here).

    I have been a fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels for years, and hope she’ll become known to a new generation of readers. I reread “The eagle of the Ninth” for the umpteenth time, just before going to see “The eagle”; and every time I read it, I notice something different, which is a sign that it ever going to be a favourite: her prose is quite lyrical, and the story and characterisation powerful. I enjoyed “The eagle” on its own merits, and didn’t worry too much about how it had deviated from the novel. I gather that the the BBC’s serialisation, in 1977, stayed much closer to the original (you can find a very short, tantalising glimse of it by “Googling” Anthony Higgins in Eagle of the Ninth) and I am now hoping that the BBC will release it on DVD. I have discovered that the rights are held by the BBC Archive, so I do urge anyone who is interested in getting it released to lobby the BBC. The postal address is: British Broadcasting Corporation, Wood Lane, London W12 7BX; and you can convey your interest on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbpointsofview/NF1951566?thread

    Back to books: recently, I have found the following in second-hand bookshops and charity shops, and recommend them all:

    “Conquest: the Roman invasion of Britain” by John Peddie. ISBN 075093798X

    “A companion to Roman Britain” by Peter Clayton. ISBN 0714820318

    “Greece and Rome at war” by Peter Connolly. ISBN 185367303X

    (My copies of the works by Clayton and Connolly are hardback: I do not know whether they wer published in softback)

  21. benkane
    Posted 22 April 2011 at 19:29 | Permalink

    @Bridget: welcome to my website, and thanks for posting! Thanks too for the exhaustive list of books; I have no doubt that others will find it useful.

    I have to say that I’ve never been able to get on with Massie; maybe I could try him again sometime.

    I’ll email the BBC about TEOTN – ta for the link.

    Peter Connolly’s book Greece and Rome at War is an indispensable text for anyone interested in Rome. It sells for about £28 secondhand, so you did well to get it in a charity shop!

  22. Bridgetthebooklover
    Posted 23 April 2011 at 12:46 | Permalink

    Thank you for your warm welcome.

    I’m reading the “Road to Rome” at the moment: I’m particularly intrigued by the character of Tarquinius.

    I have just remembered a Website which you, and anyone else, might find helpful with your research. It is:

    http://www.bookshop.blackwell.co.uk

    Press the ADVANCED search button, and then use the Keyword “window” to type in the subject you are researching eg: Roman army. Then press the red “Search” button on the top right; and you should get the details of lots of published works on the subject.

    Keep me up-to-date with the results of your enquiry re: the 1977 version of “The eagle of the Ninth”, won’t you?

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