Rosemary Sutcliff Margaret Sherwood Libby - Essay

Margaret Sherwood Libby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"We are the Lantern Bearers, my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind."—so, at the end of the latest and one of the finest of Rosemary Sutcliff's historical novels ["The Lantern Bearers"], does Ambrosius, who had held off the Saxon hordes for a time, speak to his young aid Aquila, adding that "morning always grows again out of the darkness, though maybe not for the people who saw the sun go down." Aquila, the hero of the story, had let his troop sail without him when the Romans abandoned Briton forever, and great had been his subsequent sufferings…. His story, exciting, thoughtful, mature, the story of a man's steadfast adherence to a difficult choice that brought both bitterness and satisfaction, is for young people ready for adult books. The characterizations are vivid, varied and convincing, the setting a superb recreation of an unfamiliar period in English history, and the plot, both interesting and plausible, has its significance heightened by the recurring symbolism of light in dark days, first introduced in an early chapter when Aquila, having let his fellows sail for Gaul, impulsively lights once more the great beacon light of Rutupiae which would be quenched forever after the departure of the legions.

Margaret Sherwood Libby, in her review of "The Lantern Bearers," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), February 14, 1960, p. 11.