Rosemary Sutcliff Padraic Colum - Essay

Padraic Colum

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ever since Standish O'Grady published his bardic history of Ireland in the nineties, storytellers and poets have been exalting Cuchulain….

Cuchulain's story is the grand episode of the epic tale of pagan Ireland, and, like a good deal of Irish romance, has much of supernatural and irrational in it. Here is the hero who is to die young, the one who defends his uncle's kingdom against the forces of the whole of Ireland, who has to meet a well-loved friend in single combat, who unwittingly slays his son and whose love story is charming in a way that is rare in ancient romance.

Rosemary Sutcliff, who has finely presented the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, makes a stirring narrative out of Cuchulain's career ["The Hound of Ulster"]. Here and there she misses a trick. The ancient storytellers had to make Cuchulain undefeatable. His victorious returns become monotonous as Miss Sutcliff relates them. There is one episode that would have provided relief: his courtship of Emer, a sophisticated damsel, who could be occult as well as charmingly coquettish. It would have been a relief from the raids and the slaughters. At the end, however, not the sternness but the pathos that was in the life of Cuchulain is brought out. She has sensitively presented the superman who is also gentle, loving and chivalrous.

Padraic Colum, "Legend of the Past, Parable of the Present: 'The Hound of Ulster'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1964 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 3, 1964, p. 26.