Friday, 16 March 2018

"A world freighted with meaning and value"

Over at Albion Awakening, John Fitzgerald discusses the special qualities of The Mark of the Horse Lord, by Rosemary Sutcliff...

Sutcliff's descriptions of people, places, and the natural world are atmospheric and richly-textured. Her characters are rounded and believable. The story seems to spring from them fully formed - like Athene from the head of Zeus - as if the tale already exists in some archetypal world of Platonic Forms and Sutcliff has merely picked up its wavelength and written it down in one sitting. Any author who creates this impression in the reader's mind is clearly, in my view, a great artist. The reality of even gaining access to that primordial realm, then crafting and shaping a story out of what one encounters there, is always (in my experience anyway) a colossally tough affair...

The Mark of the Horse Lord is full of big ideas as well - loyalty, honour, magic, faith, fraternity, trust, the bond between men and women, and the use and abuse of power. It's a tough, realistic read, despite the glittering prose, but the adult themes are explored in a manner that in no way undermines the innocence of Sutcliff's young readers. On the contrary, it's an education in what makes people tick - what they'll fight and die for, and how far an individual is prepared to go to become something greater than he currently is...

Though her books have been enjoyed for decades by both sexes, I would say there is something particularly valuable here for young men, particularly in an age like the present where so much confusion and disorientation reigns concerning traditional male values and the role of men in society. The Mark of the Horse Lord is the story of a warrior - a man who has to fight every inch of the way - in himself, in his own community, and in the wider world of tribal and imperial conflict. Phaedrus finds his journey from gladiator to king tough going to say the least, but he sticks to his guns, trusts his intuition, does what he feels in his gut to be right, and grows in the end into something almost Arthurian, far more royal and archetypal than the impersonator and figurehead he was originally supposed to be.

The best thing of all about this book is that it posits a world freighted with meaning and value. It stands, as such, as a terrific antidote to hopelessness and despair. The ending may not be conventionally happy, but I found it deeply fulfilling in all the ways that matter. There is a pattern and harmony behind the plot's cut and thrust which Phaedrus begins to sense as the novel approaches its conclusion. But it only reveals itself and he only enters into it when he is ready, and that is what occurs at the very end of the book.

Read the whole thing...

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