No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

#76: Warrior Scarlet -- Rosemary Sutcliff (reread)

I was inspired to reread this by walking on the South Downs, watching cloud shadows and the folds of the land, wandering around the ancient quarries and earthworks on Wollstonbury Hill. This is Rosemary Sutcliff's Bronze Age novel, set around 900BC: a tale of a crippled boy who proves his right to wear warrior scarlet and be accepted as a man of his tribe. The story's simple, the wealth of detail enthralling, but best of all is Sutcliff's talent for evoking landscape.

Below him the turf of the steep combe-side was laced with criss-cross sheep-tracks, and the faint formless cropping sounds of the flock at the bottom came up to him along the ground. ... A little warm wind came up from the south, trailing the cloud shadows after it across the Marshes and up the slow-gathering slopes of the Chalk, thyme-scented and sea-scented and swaying the heads of the blue scabious flowers all one way.

Rereading this novel (published nearly 50 years ago) I'm struck by the complexity of the prose; the way that a great deal of the emotional events are alluded to, rather than described; and the rich vocabulary. I suspect that it'd be too 'difficult' for a lot of children today. (I remember reading a teacher's account of his class's reaction to The Mark of the Horse Lord, my favourite Sutcliff: a lot of the children had difficulty understanding the book.) And I wonder if young readers would now find this distressingly violent: a swan is killed, there's a lot of fighting (humans and animals), and the whole point of the novel is that Drem must kill a wolf, armed with no more than a spear and a knife. I can, unfortunately, imagine a reader feeling sorry for the wolf ...

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

1 comment:

  1. I was 12 years old, reading this as a school set work book in South Africa. Mind you, that's 40 years ago now!

    Nick Wood

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