People write about their childhoods for pleasure: not (if they are interesting writers) a simple ‘wasn’t it fun!’ pleasure, but the poignant one of catching and keeping something which otherwise would be gone for ever. It is a tactic for defying time. Someone interviewing Rosemary Sutcliff about this book remarked that she ‘might have been forgiven’ for not employing this tactic – the implication being that her childhood must have been so painful that only exceptional fortitude could have enabled her to recall it. Miss Sutcliff once won a Girl Guide medal for fortitude, but nevertheless she said in reply that her childhood had been happy; and indeed she persuades us that it was, which makes her story very moving.
Rosemary Sutcliff, before she was three years old, fell victim to infantile arthritis, a dreadful disease which cripples and distorts the body. Most of the activities of childhood became impossible for her, and much of her time had to be spent in hospitals, undergoing operations and other forms of treatment,