Heroes and History Essay - Critical Context

Rosemary Sutcliff

Critical Context

Sutcliff has earned a reputation as one of the premier writers of historical fiction for young adults, and despite the fact that Heroes and History is purportedly a collective, nonfictional biography, the author herself admits that the book treads the fine line between fiction and fact. In her preface, Sutcliff writes thatBeowulf and Achilles, Robin Hood, Bayard and El Cid; Finn Mac Cumhal, Saladin, King Arthur, Romulus, and William Wallace; they all have the indefinable ‘larger-than-life’ quality, whether they are characters of sober history or figures of legend and High Romance.

She also claims, however, to have “kept to those British Heroes who have a place in the history books.” Thus her intention in writing Heroes and History was “to find out the men behind the legends and fit them into their proper places in the story of Britain.”

In her historical fiction, Sutcliff has also focused on British history—from prehistory to the Roman occupation to the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods to the Middle Ages. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, about the time that this biography was published, Sutcliff was known for her translations of such classic texts as Beowulf (1951), The Hound of Ulster (1963), and The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool (1967), as well as for her juvenile literature. The latter includes such timeless works as the trilogy The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), The Silver Branch (1957), and The Lantern Bearer (1959), to which she added Frontier Wolf in 1980; Outcast (1955); The Shield Ring (1956); Warrior Scarlet (1958); Knight’s Fee (1960); Dawn Wind (1961); and Sword at Sunset (1963). Sutcliff’s collective biography joins this critically acclaimed list of historical texts for young adults.