Form and Content

In Heroes and History, Rosemary Sutcliff provides a collective biography and description of a hero, a person who she believes cannot thrive in the modern world. Each chapter is devoted to a separate individual who has gained a place in history books on England, Scotland, and Wales. The men, who with the exception of one individual belong to the ancient and medieval world, are presented in chronological order. The preface describes the qualities of a hero, and a detailed index provides quick and easy access to many entries. An attractive pen-and-ink action sketch by Charles Keeping adds interest to each chapter.

Each chapter of Heroes and History starts with a brief overview of the particular historical hero and his time. Background information is given for each person, and then the author focuses on the deeds that made the individual a hero. After a chronological examination of each man’s life, Sutcliff presents variations on the factual information, as found in the legends that developed surrounding that person. In the case of entries where there are more legends than historical facts, such as with King Arthur and Robin Hood, Sutcliff effectively blends the two while always distinguishing between fact and fiction. Robin Hood, for example, is a possible composite of two or three personages, and Sutcliff presents the Robin Hood of legends against the lives of these real people. When literary sources are cited in the text, Sutcliff includes the author or title. Each narrative is written in a very pleasing and readable style.