When I first saw the trailer for the film THE EAGLE, I happened to be reading a wonderful sci-fi novel by Stephen Baxter (perhaps the finest sci-fi writer alive IMNSHO) called COALESCENT. Curiously enough, both the upcoming film and the Baxter book dealt with events in Roman Britain, a fascinating subject to me, as a historian. The film and its literary source are inspired by a historical mystery--the complete disappearance of a Legion of thousands of Roman soldiers in 2nd century Britain, at a time when the native tribal Picts (source of the term "Pixies") lived in much of the north.
Though intrigued by the beautiful cinematography the upcoming film promised--plus its two handsome and engaging young stars, Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell--it seemed it might be too bloody for my taste. While I visited my mother in Colorado last February for her 90th birthday, I happened to visit a bookstore and purchased the film tie-in version of the Rosemary Sutcliff novel that inspired the film. Though originally titled THE EAGLE OF THE NINTH, this classic published in 1954, a year after my birth, was retitled for this edition simply: THE EAGLE.
I am so grateful to discover Rosemary Sutcliff, whom I had vaguely heard of. An amazing writer who spent much of her life in a wheelchair, her vivid and atmospheric stories are rich with historical detail and plausible characters. Her recreation of the English countryside in late Roman times is stunningly vivid and alive. Now that I've finally seen the DVD of the film (which I gratefully own!) I know that the book is a bit subtler, less frantic, and more detailed.
However the film is magnificent in its own right. Tome it is pointless to compare books with films that inspire them. They're seriously different media. In this case, both book and film are superb, and though there are a few moments to wince and avert your eyes, the film is not all that bloody. In a few moments it breaks you heart--yet life is that way, right?
One aspect both versions share is that they are what folks now call a "bromance." The two major male characters really come to love one another, though they are "guy's guys". It's a bit more than being buddies, though not necessarily lovers. Still, if you read between the lines, it's every bit as romantic and touching as Frodo and his Sam! I don't know how conscious Sutcliff really was of this, though it seems to be recurring in her work, these plausible and sweet bromances.
Now I'm also reading the rest of her "Roman Britain Trilogy," which continues in THE SILVER BRANCH and THE LANTERN BEARERS. These are fascinating, deliciously told stories with historical substance… plus there's something curiously relevant today about the passing of a major empire that has believed it controlled (or should control) the known world for a time.
(Let's hope this corporate hegemony that has taken over all the major governments on the planet is also on its way out, as it's unsustainable and toxic to Life on Earth.)
While we await developments, we need to keep feeding our heads, our hearts and souls. Sutcliff and the film I also adore are great recipes for all of the above forms of feeding.
Flying on this EAGLE's wings I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff, which is a treasure in itself!