The Queen Elizabeth Story, by Rosemary Sutcliff, for the summer solstice

Rosemary Sutcliff is the premire 20th-century author of historical fiction for children. Her books about Roman Britain, in particular, are absolutely must reading. The Queen Elizabeth Story (1950), which I'm talking about today because it starts at Midsummer, is one of Sutcliff's youngest books, and one of her first. It's the only one, as far as I know, in which there is an element of real magic (her one picture book aside).

"...Perdita was born just as the brass-faced clock in the Rector's study struck half-past eleven on Midsummer's Eve; and as everyone knows--or if they do not, they ought to--anyone born on Midsummer's Eve, especially towards midnight, will be sure to see fairies..." (page 12) And so, near midnight on Perdita's eighth birthday, the fairies summon her to receive a birthday wish. Whisking her off to the Broomhill they tell her to wish on the Grey Maiden, the tall grey stone standing at its crest. "I wish to see Queen Elizabeth," she asks. "I wish to see her so close I could put out my hand and touch her." (page 32).

From then on, the fairies fade into the background...but Perdita's story still is magical. It tells how she and her older brother Robin, and Robin's friend Adam, the young heir to the manor, meet the Queen one glorious day. But before that happens, the small doings of life in Elizabethan England are brought to lovely life, made into large happenings through the enthusiasm of young Perdita. And at last her wish comes true...a large happening by any standard!

What really made this book for me, when I was young, was Adam. He was my first book love ( I was nine), and I am awfully fond of him still. He is lame, but so gallant and kind that Perdita doesn't notice it...and in a scene I especially love, he invites a sad and lonely Perdita to a private banquet at the manor, where he makes the lords and ladies of a tapestry come alive for her in a glorious magical wonderful-ness.

There are a couple of stories within the story, that, as a grown-up reader, I find break the flow of the book as a whole. But despite that flaw, it is a lovely book, full of thick description and vivid character and history made real. And its magic is aided and abetted by the wonderful drawings of C. Walter Hodges, my favorite children's book illustrator.

(sorry for the slightly wonky cover image--my own copy doesn't have a dust jacket, or I would have scanned it to make a better image available on line...)


  1. I somehow missed out reading Rosemary Sutcliff when I was a kid - I need to give her a try soon! Any recommendations for a good one to start with?

  2. Did you know that Megan Whalen Turner is a huge fan of Rosemary Sutcliff, and has referrences to her books in her own books?

    I'd suggest starting with The Mark of the Horselord, for its absolutly mindblowing ending...or The Eagle of the Ninth, more of a straight adventure story, or perhaps Warrior Scarlet, which is about a boy in the Bronze Age...Or perhaps The Witch's Brat, for medicine in the middle ages....etc. I hope that helps :)

  3. You're making me want to start reading Sutcliff again. I read several of her books when I was a child but have somehow never gotten back to her since.

  4. I am looking forward to reading this-- thanks for writing about it. I haven't read a lot of her novels, but have poured through her legend retellings. Sutcliff's 3 books about the Arthurian legends brought them alive for me in a way that other versions had not.

  5. I know how you feel, Bookwyrme--typing that made me want to go on a Sutcliff rereading binge myself!

    I hope you're able to find a copy, Farida...and that if you do, you like it!

  6. Okay, Mark of the Horselord it is, if I can get it. I know the library has Eagle of the Ninth, but I only noticed because that's the one I've heard of. Now that I know Megan Whalen Turner's a fan, how could I resist?

  7. Oh, I loved this book - but I agree "The Mark of The Horse Lord" is the best ever. I also love "the Silver Branch" and "Dawn Wind".

  8. I haven't read any Sutcliff, either! Thanks for the suggestions of where to start--and for the reminder that MWT is also a fan, of Sutcliff and of Dorothy Dunnett, who is my favorite author of historical fiction for adults. If you haven't read the Niccolo series, you must.

  9. For those of you who are stimulated by Charlotee and the comments here to read and find out more about Rosemary Sutcliff, see also www.rosemarysutcliff.wordpress.com, where this review is referred to as a Sutcliff Review of the Week, this week!


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