I was thus apprehensive, for my sake as well as my children’s, when I encouraged them to read Rosemary Sutcliff. I wondered whether I would still be drawn to her ancient worlds, her vanished races among the Caledonian Forest, her harpers and her war hosts, her bonfire festivals of Lammas and Beltane, her mead horns at Saxon feastings, her evocations of the last of Roman Britain.
I need not have worried. The magic was still there. In his pantheon of literary heroes and heroines, Giuseppe di Lampedusa reserved the highest places for the authors he called creatori di mondi. Rosemary Sutcliff was such a writer, a creator of worlds, lost worlds, often worlds of lost causes, of the departing legions, of Arthurian Britain, of the last stand of the Lakeland Norsemen against the knights of William Rufus. But they are not simply worlds of battle-axes and war horns. Her imagination encompassed the natural world, a feeling for its rites and a knowledge of its workings. Some of her most beautiful passages describe the changing of seasons, the ways of wolf packs, the flights of wild geese, the solitudes of the east coast marshes. And no one (except perhaps Kipling) has handled the death of a devoted dog better than she did in Dawn Wind.