riventhorn: (eagle riding)
[personal profile] riventhorn posting in [community profile] sutcliff_swap

[community profile] sutcliff_swap  is fast approaching and so it seemed like the right time to host a little discussion and writing/drawing warm-up to get in the proper Sutcliffian mood.

The discussion part: List your two favorite Sutcliff characters and tell why they're you're favorites (even if you've only read one book, pick your two favorites from there!) (and okay, ngl, I chose this topic in part so I can talk about Justinius from Outcast).

The writing/drawing warm-up: As we all know, nature porn is a substantial element of any Sutcliff novel with many eloquent descriptions of geese, marshes, heather, and what have you. So the challenge--for writers, go out and take a photo of a piece of nature (and it can have human elements in it--I am all about demolishing the notion that humans cannot be a part of nature) and then write a few sentences of nature porn to describe it. You could use a pre-existing photo too or a google image, whatever. Artists--sketch a little piece of nature porn. It could be based on a photo, if you want? (sorry, I have a harder time devising challenges for artists.)

You can do the discussion part and not the nature porn or vice versa. Or discuss something completely different if you want. This post is mirrored on http://sutcliff-swap.livejournal.com/

The year was still young, and the little wind blew chill through the long heather, smelling wonderfully of bog and thin sunshine, and a little of the snow that still dappled the north-eastern crests of the high fells; and all around them the curlews were crying, filling all the world with their wild bubbling music.
                                 -- nature porn from The Shield Ring

Date: 2016-03-16 09:29 pm (UTC)
chantefable: ([writing] plot bunny)
From: [personal profile] chantefable
Your nature description is so Sutcliff that I want to protect that rosebush at all costs. Isn't a beautiful description generally a sign that something horrible is afoot in Sutclifftopia? What woes shall befall the rosebush? What danger lurks in the greenery? etc., etc. The rosebush deserves a happy ending!

I do adore Hilarion so. Haven't had the pleasure of discovering Justinius yet. :) But you know what I'm thinking? Some kind of nebulous Roman timeline AU where Hilarion and Justinius meet. (And maybe they meet our darling fanon Esca, too.) And succumb to cordial friendship and carnal passions.

Date: 2016-03-15 01:58 pm (UTC)
chantefable: ([eagle] gladiator esca)
From: [personal profile] chantefable
I am incredibly excited that Sutcliff Swap is coming up!

Favourite characters:

1. I love Esca from Eagle of the Ninth, but, to be accurate, I like the transformative version that permeates fanon more, the one that has vibes from the film where Esca has become an amalgam of book!Esca, Cub and Cottia somehow, and I like that version inserted back into book canon. (I sense uncomfortable pro-colonialist Kipling-esque vibes about the book!Esca portrayal, and I feel like the fanon gives him a more honest treatment instead of reducing him to a sort of fairy-tale style magical helper to Marcus, as the book does sometimes.) The imaginary adjustments and story avenues are the best. I realise this sounds like "that overly complicated coffee drink you make, I want it exactly like that, but with rice milk instead of cow milk". But there it is.

2. I had different answers to this but I am going to go with one that deserves a good PR campaign in Sutcliff fandom... *drumroll* The Narrator's Mother aka the Unnamed Protagonist of Sutcliff's short story The Man Who Died At Sea (1967). It is a very short story, very modern gothic in its style, with a Sutcliff does Agatha Christie mystery vibe - a story that rather begs you to imagine other events with the Unnamed Protagonist. Here's how she's introduced:

"My mother was not quite like most people's mothers. She came, as far as anybody knew, of good hard-headed North Country stock on both sides, but she should by rights have been Irish or Highland Scots. She had what people call the 'Celtic temperament', up one instant and down the next, and making sure that my father and I were up and down with her. When she was down, it was though a brown fog hung over the whole house, and when she started going up again, it was as though the sun came out and the birds started singing. Living with her had never a dull moment, but it could be rather unnerving, for she had, unquestionably, a touch of the Second Sight, another thing which one expects of a Celt more than a Saxon. nbsp; She saw our beloved old dog lying in his accustomed place before the hall fire, six weeks or so after he died; and she heard things — the same old dog padding around the house, even years later; footsteps and voices that weren't there for other people; and occasionally she knew that certain things were going to happen. They didn't always happen, but they happened often enough for my father and I not to like it very much when she predicted something bad. (It generally seems to be future trouble and not rejoicings, that shows itself to the person with the Second Sight.)"

The story then goes to tell "first time that she became aware of this uncanny gift", and there are the tiniest clues to suggest more about the heroine, her coming of age, agency, self-awareness, and, y'know MAGIC TELEPATHY PREMONITIONS. And although there is a death (see title), the Unnamed Protagonist apparently gets at least 30 years of life (with magic predictions!) and flirting and marriage and child and dog. It's a character I want to know more about, Second Sight and all. (Yes, you can probably guess what canon will be among my requests this year.)

Have you read The Man Who Died at Sea? It's a quick read, under 1000 words - and an unusual (for Sutcliff) female protagonist who gives you a good way to unleash your imagination.

Nature! Inspired by this waterfall landscape:

Every one of them fell silent, the words superfluous when faced with the incessant speech of falling water, lofty and loud: it spoke over them, drowning their words and thoughts. The water was a goddess, surely: the cascade was bound by snow-white branches and sharp rocks, adorned with cracked ice and roiling, living dirt - all of it dazzling, beautiful, like torcs and tiaras gracing the most fluid, impetuous powerful nymph. They had never seen anything like it, in no place they lived or served Rome in. The water beckoned them, a jewel of the wild Britannia, a nymph of the North. It spoke to them, and they sought her grace.

tl;dr and then a bunch of sexy Roman soldiers from Italia/Africa/Macedonia fall into a trance, and then into the waterfall. And drown, because dramatic Sutcliff.
Edited (Adding the writing warm-up) Date: 2016-03-15 02:12 pm (UTC)

Date: 2016-03-16 09:24 pm (UTC)
chantefable: ([eagle] gladiator esca)
From: [personal profile] chantefable
Thank you! :D And I thoroughly support armor kink! Meticulous dressing up and dressing down. Also sandals. All the frolicking Romans!

Just imagine all the BAMF, steampunk/urban fantasy detective stories the Second Sight Narrator's Mum could have been part of. I so want them all. :)

Date: 2016-03-16 07:27 pm (UTC)
isis: (waterfall)
From: [personal profile] isis
I read "The Man Who Died At Sea" but I admit, I don't remember Narrator's Mother.

And your dramatic Sutcliff made me laugh!

Date: 2016-03-16 09:20 pm (UTC)
chantefable: ([txt] it's research)
From: [personal profile] chantefable
Now that neither you nor [personal profile] riventhorn remember the Second Sight Mum from The Man Who Died At Sea I begin to worry that there might be two Sutcliff works with the same name? Because the Narrator's Mother is pretty much the only one who is anyone in that story; after the introduction from earlier, it basically goes like a mashup of Northanger Abbey and Hercule Poirot, Sutcliff style:

The first time that she became aware of this uncanny gift it frightened her so badly and made such a deep impression on her that when she told me about it, thirty years later, she told it as freshly and in as much detail as though it had happened only the day before. It was indeed an unnerving experience for a young girl.
My mother was seventeen at the time, and she was going out to India to stay with an elder brother in the Indian Civil. It was her first trip away from home, and by herself, and at the beginning she felt a little strange and lonely, but she soon got to know a few people and settled to life on board ship. Among the other passengers was a middle-aged man — I shall call him Mr X. One can't be a month or more in the same ship without coming to know the faces of all the other passengers, so she came to know this man by sight, and she heard other people speak to him by name. But he remained simply a face with a name to it, among all the crowd of passengers she didn't know.
The weeks went by, and she had a mild flirtation with one of the ship's officers; they were through the Suez Canal, and the punkahs (fans) came into use, and the nights as well as the days began to be very hot. And one night in the Indian Ocean, she woke from an uncomfortably vivid dream to find herself in the gangway outside her cabin on her way to fetch the ship's Doctor because Mr X was dying.
She had never walked in her sleep before, and she was bewildered and startled, but she pulled herself together and crept back into her bunk without waking her cabin mate, telling herself it was probably the heat.
The next night exactly the same thing happened again. Only this time she was more than half way to the Doctor's cabin when she came to herself, and had quite a long walk back, hoping desperately that she wouldn't meet anybody on the way.
She told herself it was the heat; but she began to be very worried in case it should happen a third time and that she actually got all the way to the Doctor's cabin: and finally she decided that the best thing would be to go and tell him the whole story.
So next morning, that was what she did. 'If you wake up in the night and find me flapping around your cabin in my nightie, it's because I've come to tell you that Mr X is dying. I've never walked in my sleep before, but last night and the night before, I woke up on my way here. I think it must be the heat.'
The Doctor said, ' Well I hope to God nobody does die this trip, because I've done the stupidest thing — I've forgotten to bring any death certificate forms with me.'
And it was when he said that, that my mother realized for the first time, the full, very frightening implication of this sleep-walking to fetch the Doctor. Whenever she caught sight of Mr X that day, she looked at him rather anxiously, but as far as she could judge, never having really looked at him before, he seemed just as usual.
That night she slept beautifully, no dreams, no sleep-walking: and when she woke in the morning it all seemed so comfortably in the past that she decided she had been rather silly and had made a fuss about nothing. Then, while she was still dressing, the stewardess came in with a message from the Doctor. She was to go to him in the Sick Bay at once, and not to speak to anyone on the way.
In the Sick Bay she found the Doctor looking rather white. He said, 'I didn't want you to hear it from anyone else and get a shock — Mr X had a heart attack and died in the night.'

So I guess that qualifies the Narrator's Mother here as one of the most able (and present!) and the least miserable of Sutcliff's nearly invisible female protagonists. Was there maybe a different story?

Glad the plight of buff Mediterranean occupants made you laugh! We get enough sadness in Sutcliff canon, laughs are always welcome.
Edited Date: 2016-03-16 09:21 pm (UTC)

Date: 2016-03-17 12:58 pm (UTC)
chantefable: ([writing] plot bunny)
From: [personal profile] chantefable
You basically knew what was going to happen all along...and then it did.

I absolutely agree! To me, the appeal of it was in the between the lines things that needn't to be spelled out, that are just happening. There IS a mystery psychic girl. On a ship. There's flirting. (With the officer, and possibly with the doctor.) I can see it with my mind's eye, the shenanigans, the crisp heat, the stolen glances, the stiff British upper lip conversations. Mr X on the brink of death! (And he is middle-aged, which doesn't mean he's beyond feelings, you know. Let's ship him with the officer. Or with the Doctor, for Sutcliff tragedy.) Oh, the transience of life! Oh, the symbolism! Basically, yes, on the one hand, there are zero surprises. On the other hand, the story is so matter-of-fact about so many threads one can pull on. It begs 20k sequels of casefic and adventures. Seriously, sea trips were long. ;)

I must say, all of Sutcliff's short stories I've read were unsurprising. You basically know what is going to happen, it's all tropes or her favourite themes, and yet. It's like sharing the bed/huddling for warmth trope fic. "There is only one bed." You KNOW the characters will share the bed. And yet you're like, "OMG will they share the bed?!"

Like in The Fugitives, which is another short story that begs sequels/explorations. There is so much that could be going on right off the page, and yet in the story, everything is 100% predictable.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE FUGITIVES AHEAD. (Well, it's mostly because young Lucian is quite the self-insert for Sutcliff's discussion of disability, and the reader can easily guess his character development, while the fugitive is quite the staple "the oppressed adoring the oppression in a merry PTSD fashion" pro-colonialist character one encounters so frequently in Sutcliff. You basically know what is about to happen the moment they appear.)


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