I’ve always been a bit of a history nerd. I did Modern History and Classical History in year 12 at school, and just have one of those memories that seems to remember all these tibits of information about life in other times. I love reading about them too. I think this why I love reading all the books in ‘1001 children’s books you must read before you grow up’ is that so many of them speak of a different time and a different place.
I have always had a soft spot for Classical history in particular. When I was about eleven or twelves, my friends and I were obsessed with Greek mythology and made our own magazine, called Greece Lightening, which turned Greek myths and legends into stories in a tabloid (yeah, we were that cool).
This was why I really enjoyed The Eagle of the Ninth – set in Roman Britain, it was as far from 2012 that I probably could have gotten. I didn’t think I would have enjoyed a book about roman battles and invasions as much as I did, because that has never been the part of what has interested me about history. But The Eagle of the Ninth, while it did have a battle at the beginning of the book, was not really about battles and war. It was about what happens after – how people adapt their lives, or not, after war has finished. It was about a grand story, about finding things lost, and people lost, and memories lost, but it was also about the little things, the little things that make up people’s lives.
I loved reading once Marcus had been discharged from his legion, and moved into his uncle’s house, and how his uncle’s house was run. It was fascinating – it was obviously so different to how our houses are run now. Or when Marcus and Esca travel north, and visit tribal villages – the description of their spiritual rituals were perfectly vivid.
But it was not just their differences to my life that pulled me in – it was also how our lives are the same. Rosemary Sutcliff writes, ‘How little difference there was between children, all the world over, thought Marcus, looking on with amusement, or fathers, or shaving, for that matter; the small patterns of behaviour and relationships that made up family life. He remembered the fascination of watching his own father on such occasions’. Marcus is thinking about the similarities between Roman fathers and children and Scottish fathers and children, but really, he could be talking about families in his time, and in my time. We are not so different, me and him.