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The Eagle [movie]

If you just ignore the fact that this was supposed to be a movie version of Rosemary Sutcliff's beloved YA novel The Eagle of the Ninth, this movie is (to quote one of the critics I found on Rotten Tomatoes) "[a] reliable little adventure flick." The scenery is gorgeous, the reconstruction of Roman places looks pretty accurate (I like the small gladiatorial arena in Calleva, for example), the costumes enchanting in their detail (especially in any scene with a crowd), and some of the combat scenes truly stirring (the Romans use a testudo formation at one point!).

I did not find Tatum Channing as Marcus nearly as bad as some reviewers had led me to believe - he didn't throw me out of the story once, even though he was not quite the Marcus I'd known since I was 12. Jamie Bell is very good as Esca, and his interactions with Marcus are eminently slashable. Although Donald Sutherland is occasionally annoying as Uncle Aquila, he's not a disaster.

However, some of the most beloved characters, plot details, and interactions from the book are nowhere to be seen, and a number of perturbing (even offensive) movie-making contrivances have taken their place.

Some things I didn't like, ranging from merely annoying to really disgusting:

  • All of the fore-story where Marcus gets to know the Britains is completely gone, so the first time we meet them, they're just hairy barbarians attacking the fort.
  • It's Uncle Aquila who decides to obtain Esca as a slave for Marcus, not Marcus himself.
  • We never get to hear Esca utter his memorable line upon accepting his fate as Marcus' slave: "I am the Centurion's dog, to lie at the Centurion's feet."
  • Where the hell are Cottia and Cub?
  • Hunting boars in the woods from horseback, with no dogs?
  • The traveling oculist disguise is out, so instead we have the boys skulking around Scotland with only Esca able to talk to anybody, and apparently he's misleading Marcus in what's being told to him. The final jarring dissonance on this is that supposedly, Esca knew all along where the Eagle had been taken.
  • Celts and Picts as cannibals? Oh, for crying out loud.
  • Marcus and Esca have a number of very 20th/21st-century arguments over Rome's imperialism. The antagonism on that issue was present in the original, but it's presented in a very anvil-y modern fashion.
  • As smillaraaq noted, not only are all the women nothing but extras and walk-ons (even Sasticca the cook is gone from Uncle Aquila's household), but one of the only women even mentioned has her agency usurped: in the novel, Esca tells Marcus that when the Romans overran his tribe, Esca's mother asked her husband to kill her. In the movie, the father decides to do this on his own, apparently by patriarchal fiat.
  • Guern's accent keeps betraying a U.S. Northeast background (maybe even Brooklyn) that was really jarring to me.
  • The viewpoint in the village of the Seal People keeps zig-zagging between a fairly refreshing "let's see what sort of interesting people we have here" and a revolting "these people are barbarian cannibals."
  • Little kids are used and misused as a cheap way to tug heartstrings. The flashbacks to Marcus' childhood are banal but OK (but why is little!Marcus so fair and blond?), but the whole situation with the little boy in the Seal People village just disgusted me. And I don't believe that the prince of the Seal People would have either dragged such a young child of his own blood on such a long war-trail, nor killed him at the end just to make a point and freak out his enemies.
  • Much is made of the idea that Esca has betrayed "his people." In truth, Esca's Brigantes are a completely different tribe from the Seal People, and if their borders had ever run up against each other, a long series of blood feuds and raids would have been as likely as any other result.
  • The decision to have Guern show up with a dozen other former legionaries make sense from the point of view of the moviemaker's desire to have a big, climactic battle, instead of the more intellectually satisfying long, hard, secretive chase that occurs in the novel - but it was still stupid stupid stupid.
  • The implication that the old deserters would ever be able to go back to Roman life was laughable. They betrayed their Legion.
  • The scene immediately before the battle was so soggy wet (rain and a river gorge flinging lots and lots of spray) that when the pyre is built for Guern, smilla and I both wondered where the hell they had found so much dry wood.
  • The very hurried final scene is full of all sorts of issues, from the viewpoint of both the novel and actual history. Just walking in with the amazingly still-shiny Eagle, with no one to announce them? Re-form the Ninth Legion because the Eagle was recovered? Esca is free, just like that, without a proper manumission? (On the other hand, the smirk Esca gives the snooty young Tribune as Esca and Marcus turn to leave was excellent.)

Bottom line: it was pretty and sometimes exciting to watch, but it was not, by any means, the book that so many of us love.

  • Eagle of the Ninth Official Film Site - includes interviews, clips, articles, and more, some of it quite interesting.
  • "The Eagle" is rated PG-13 and has some bloody and scary stuff, including the violent death of a young child. It runs 1 hour and 54 minutes.



( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 13th, 2011 04:13 am (UTC)
Oooh, can I convince you to crosspost (or repost this, from either account) to the filmslash comm? I know a couple of the folks there are serious book fans so that'd be bound to get you some more good discussion. Maybe repost or link on otherjournal too for the sake of any fic-readers who might be interested...

I am of course pretty much right with you in agreement on that first paragraph. The scenery is great. The soundtrack is lovely and evocative. The costumers and set designers did a bang-up job of making all the little details of physical culture look great: I'm not a big enough Roman/Celtic history geek to swear that everything was authentic, but there were so many recognizably good little details in the areas I do know a bit about -- some of the furniture, jewelry, clothing, wall paintings, architecture, etc. to give it an overall plausible feel, and I didn't spot any of the common sorts of glaringly obvious styling errors where hair/makeup/clothing is blatantly tweaked to be more compatible with contemporary fashion standards. Some of the details that didn't have to be there for Reasons of Plot were particularly delightful to me just for the level of thought and attention they showed -- the coastal "Seal People" village with all their unremarked-on drying racks of fish, for instance, or their warriors' clothing and regalia using recognizable seal bits, or the brief flash of the legion's Capricorn emblem engraved on the cheek-guard of a soldier's helmet. The actors are all perfectly competent, and a few, like Tahar Rahim or Jamie Bell, were really quite good. (Heck, if the director hadn't been trying to draw some very pointed parallels between American colonialism and Imperial Rome in his casting choices, I think Rahim might have made a pretty good Marcus -- he's Algerian, not Italian, but with his narrower face and lean build and olive complexion he's a much better match for my mental image of the wiry book!Marcus than slab-o-beef jarhead Tatum!)

(TBC -- sorry about the delete/repost, accidentally hit the Post button while still in the middle of typing...)

Edited at 2011-02-13 11:07 am (UTC)
Feb. 13th, 2011 04:16 am (UTC)
IF you don't know the book at all, or can totally compartmentalize the book and film in your brain and view the film as an essentially new canon that just borrows some of the names and vague plot elements from the book, seen on its own merits it is an adequate adventure film for folks who like historic settings/costuming but don't care for the bloodily graphic ultraviolence and/or explicit heterosexual titillation that's been fashionable in epic sword-and-sandals gorefests of more recent years, like 300 or Gladiator or The Centurion or Spartacus: Blood and Sand; it's violent, but well within PG-13 limits, you see blood and fighting and hunting and unanesthetized surgery and a few gruesome scenes with dead bodies, human and animal, but most of the time the camera cuts away from the most potentially squicky scenes of weapons hitting flesh and implies what's going on, rather than lingering lovingly over every sadistic detail. And it's all really rather remarkably chaste -- there's no tacked-on romantic het subplot like you usually see in this sort of flick, no female nudity or sexualized clothing at all to give the usual fanservice for the straight male gaze: the only time we really see any hint of overt sexuality on screen is a brief scene where a couple of cute young Scottish women are giggling and chattering amongst themselves and clearly ogling the hunky Roman stranger, and Marcus very obviously notices what they're doing -- although I can't recall if he actually *smiled* back at them when he made eye contact. On a more covert/subtexty level, now, there are quite a few very well-sculpted masculine bodies on display half-dressed, or in clinging wet clothes, while doing manly things; all the Shirtless Warrior Dude scenes didn't strike me as being particularly deliberately sexualized fanservice, but they're nonetheless full of potential eye candy for any viewers who find butch male bodies sexually appealing. So no blatantly sexy ladies, not even a token female love interest, lots of manly men doing manly things with each other and exchanging intense looks, in a storyline where the interactions between the two primary male leads plays out pretty much like a classic buddy-cop flick, and it is no wonder that the slashers are squealing their heads off with glee while so many of the presumably-straight mainstream male reviewers are griping or wondering or cracking slightly nervous-sounding jokes about Teh Gay.

Unfortunately, all the good stuff is largely outbalanced by the story, which could have had potential if it hadn't been saddled with so much stupid and heavy-handed writing. The characters are mostly cartoony single notes, unlike Sutcliff's subtly nuanced shades of gray. There's some glaring historyfail, plotholes and numerous small continuity errors, characters temporarily overcome by bouts of stupidity in order to move the plot along, etc.; Esca and Marcus are the only ones who get *any* degree of nuance and character growth, but it's all presented so rapidly and badly written that it's really hard to buy into. The actors' body language and facial expressions and vocal inflections are all good enough to make me want to believe that their initial enmity and mistrust are slowly giving way to a hard-won mutual respect and affection, but their not inconsiderable efforts are constantly being undercut by the less-believable and sometimes flat-out ludicrous situations and dialogue they're stuck working with.
Feb. 14th, 2011 02:28 am (UTC)

Hee, yeah about the intense glances ... "eyefucking" was the term I've been seeing show up in a couple of reviews (which means that at least one of them must have been a pro review, because the only fan review I've seen so far was the one on nintheagle).

Feb. 14th, 2011 03:34 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, tons of eyesex. I am just *dying* for the first reviews to show up on some of the gay news/review pop culture sites that were making hopeful noises earlier about the flick's homoerotic potential -- the dish should be epic.

In the meantime, I continue to be deeply, deeply amused by Channing Tatum's good-humoured attitude to all the interviewers who keep asking him about the bromantic elements. With deadpan trolling like this, I suspect RPF is soon to appear. XD

Edited at 2011-02-14 03:35 pm (UTC)
Feb. 14th, 2011 04:50 am (UTC)

BTW, on Rotten Tomatoes, the viewers like it about twice as well as the reviewers do: 60+% give it a thumbs-up. And some of the critics that liked it are important ones: not just Ebert, but the critics from Variety and Entertainment Weekly, for example.

Feb. 13th, 2011 06:55 am (UTC)
on "barbarian cannibals" and more
On to some of your specific points:

...they're just hairy barbarians attacking the fort.

...a revolting "these people are barbarian cannibals."

This, this right here is pretty much my biggest gripe and disappointment of the movie, not just as a bastardization of Sutcliff's vastly more sensitive and nuanced view, but also as a failure of the film as the director's own reimagining of the story. I expected all along that the story would be simplified and changed in some ways, because if nothing else the different demands of cinematic vs. prose storytelling means that some things in a very internal-POV like Sutcliff's have to be externalized to work on screen, and a rambling episodic story structure like Sutcliff's will if nothing else *have* to be severely pruned and tightened to fit within a conventional cinematic length -- the 70's BBC TV adaptation which was by all accounts pretty complete and faithful, was a six-episode miniseries! So I was ready and willing to accept that for an under-two-hours movie version, subplots and supporting characters might be condensed or combined or eliminated, and I would have been OK with that as long as the heart of the story was still intact. And while I was a little nervous about the trailer clips of the Seal People warriors, the interviews with the director really had me hopeful that he was going to do something thoughtful with the original text's exploration of issues around colonialization and imperialism. And the film disappoints time and again because I can see what he was trying to do with some of the changes -- but they're so poorly thought-out that what ended up on screen totally undercuts his stated intentions.

In the book, all of the Romans are pretty firmly entrenched in the superiority of their own worldview; they're civilized and powerful, they have a right to conquer and rule and take slaves, everyone else is Other and Lesser, and in the case of the Britons in particular, primitive barbarians -- but the difference between sympathetic Roman characters like Marcus or Uncle Aquila, and the more unsympathetic ones like Placidus, is that they at least recognize and to some level respect a degree of humanity in slaves and Britons, rather than viewing them as human-shaped animals or objects. And over the course of the story, Marcus of course comes to a greater degree of understanding and sympathy towards the colonized and enslaved, and is shaken out of some of the thoughtless arrogance of his original POV; and this is convincing to the reader because we see through his eyes how he recognizes familiar virtues of bravery, piety, loyalty, hospitality, skill in craftmanship or battle or the hunt, etc. in these unfamiliar peoples.
Feb. 13th, 2011 07:03 am (UTC)
Re: on "barbarian cannibals" and more
Casting American actors for all of the Romans rather than the usual cliched Brits was a very deliberate choice of the Scottish director, and it's pretty clear from both the interviews and the changes he made to the characterization that this was NOT supposed to be a flattering comparison. All of the movie!Romans start out as cartoonishly sneering bigots towards the Britons -- and while that's a far cry from the nuance of the book, I *could* conceivably have gone along with that as both a means to make the change of heart Marcus undergoes all the more dramatic of a character arc, and as a justified (and, ah hah, shall we say rather personally satisfying) dig against the ugly side of U.S. history -- if it wasn't TOTALLY FREAKING NEGATED by the even more strongly negative portrayal of the Britons! The Romans come across as arrogant and sneering and prejudiced -- but they're also clean and well-groomed and disciplined, while the Britons are time and time again shown as unkempt, dirty, cruel, wild, dishonest savages. Using actors with American accents, with haircuts and dialogue and disciplined formations that, with a change of costume and props, would fit right into any number of gung-ho military films, the film is tapping into all the cliches that for an American mainstream movie audience is going to convey "these are the GOOD GUYS you're supposed to identify with!"; with the Britons being so nasty and brutish in comparison, in looks and behavior alike, even the Romans' bigotry winds up seeming pretty much justified. And it really, really Does Not Help on any of these fronts that a lot of elements in the portrayal of the Britons, especially the Seal Warriors, are also right out of the Hollywood Cliche Book for the portrayal of the Scary Bad Guy Primitive Non-White Tribesmen Du Jour -- they're half-naked, wearing skins and bones and body paint, partially shaved heads with scalplocks (a style that's been found in many times and places around the world, of course, but in English-speaking countries where it's commonly named "mohawk" or "mohican", the commonest historical associations beyond 1970s punk rock and 1980s Mr. T is with North American Indians); plus as I mentioned during the movie, even that line from the Seal People chieftain about how they cut off the dead legionaries' feet to cripple them in the afterlife REALLY made me sit up and wonder if that was meant to be a deliberate reference to the Battle of Little Bighorn, where all but a handful of the 7th Cavalry dead were ritually mutilated after the battle to render the enemy dead crippled and harmless in the afterlife. So yet again, total disjunct and fail between the purportedly critical intent and the actual stereotype-reinforcing effect of the portrayal. It's obviously a little personally iffier to me, but I can still admit to the possibility that someone sufficiently skilled and careful *could* perhaps have deliberately drawn on Indian (or other "Savage $FOOBAR Native Tribesmen") tropes and subverted them to make the obvious Romans/Americans = arrogant invading colonizers, Indians/Celts = indigenous defenders with a right to resist parallels clear and pointed -- but that just DOES NOT WORK as intended to cast criticism on the invaders if you show them in a mildly negative and unsympathetic way, but make the invaded people even MORE negative and unsympathetic in all the usual ugly stereotyped ways, with scarcely even the smallest flashes of positive, humanizing moments for counterbalance.

(I totally missed the cannibalism reference you mention, though -- where did that come in? Yet another for the list of the Hollywood "Savage Native Tribesmen" cliches getting used all wrong here, I'm sure...)
Feb. 13th, 2011 03:24 pm (UTC)
Re: on "barbarian cannibals" and more

Guern says something about hearing the tribesmen killed and eating his fellow troopers, and then I swear he said something about the Britons ripping out hearts and eating them. That cast a whole new light on the Seal King's jovial greeting to the Prince: "Well, d'you want me to eat these people too?"

Feb. 13th, 2011 05:08 pm (UTC)
Re: on "barbarian cannibals" and more
Yikes, I *totally* missed those lines...must've had a particularly noisy mouthful of popcorn for one and blinked in the wrong place for the other, or something! LOVELY.

Although in all fairness I have to note Sutcliff herself does have at least a few references in some of her other books to ritual cannibalism among the Little Dark People of the Hollow Hills -- in Sword at Sunset there's a memorable scene where Artos and his companions come across a village where the Old Ones have been slaughtered by the Saxon force they're pursuing, and his Romano-British and Celtic troops are shocked when their hillman guide Irach finds his father's body and cuts out the dead heart to eat his courage. But where his men view the act as savage and horrifying, Artos himself explicitly recognizes that strange as it seems to them, "he had only done as the custom of his people demanded, and the act had been performed in love". And that level of cross-cultural sensitivity is echoed again towards the end, when the second Cabal has been released from his mortal wounds. A different hillman gently chides the newly crowned Artos as he walks away from the hound's body: "Are you not going to take his heart?...He fought well for you; it was a great heart -- worthy even of an emperor."; and Artos in turn shows no disgust or horror at the suggestion, simply explaining that the Sun People have different customs and beliefs.
Jun. 17th, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC)
Re: on "barbarian cannibals" and more
I hope it's okay to pop into long-gone discussions like this - only just joined in the Livejournal thing. I have been reading the Eagle discussions with fascination. Anyway..

even that line from the Seal People chieftain about how they cut off the dead legionaries' feet to cripple them in the afterlife REALLY made me sit up and wonder if that was meant to be a deliberate reference to the Battle of Little Bighorn, where all but a handful of the 7th Cavalry dead were ritually mutilated after the battle to render the enemy dead crippled and harmless in the afterlife.

Do you know, I picked up on that and thought of something entirely different. I thought it was a deliberate reference to The Searchers, and John Wayne shooting the eyes out of dead.. was it Comanches, such a long time since I've seen it?.. so they couldn't find their way to the afterlife.

A family member who sees a lot more films than I do (and who remembers The Searchers when it first came out!) saw Eagle and thought there was more than a _little_ nodding to The Searchers in Eagle. Civilised Man plus Ambiguous Semi-Barbarian on the trail of something stolen by Primitive Barbarians is not the half of it, apparently.

Never tried to quote before; hope it works.

Aug. 4th, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC)
Re: on "barbarian cannibals" and more
Hi hi! Forgive the delayed response -- I don't do comment notifications by mail so thread-necromancy like this tends to get missed until/unless I happen to be looking up old posts for something. Better late than never, I hope! :)

A family member who sees a lot more films than I do (and who remembers The Searchers when it first came out!) saw Eagle and thought there was more than a _little_ nodding to The Searchers in Eagle.

You and your relative are right on the money; director Kevin MacDonald has specifically cited "The Searchers", and Westerns in general, as thematic inspirations: http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/archives/kevin_macdonald_talks_the_eagle_centurion_exclusive_channing_tatum/ I don't think I've ever seen that one myself, or at most saw it so young and so long ago that it's all blurred into a haze of cowboys-and-Indians flicks, so direct historical parallels were going to come to my mind more easily than allusions to movie Westerns. I'd be surprised if the scriptwriter for "The Searchers" didn't get the idea for post-mortem mutilation extending into the afterlife either directly from historical accounts of the Indian Wars, or second-hand via other writers drawing on primary sources.
Feb. 13th, 2011 09:00 am (UTC)
then cleaning out and bandaging of wounds, and chants of victory amid the encircling hounds
We never get to hear Esca utter his memorable line upon accepting his fate as Marcus' slave: "I am the Centurion's dog...

Not dog, HOUND! And I suspect this is a very careful and deliberate word choice on Sutcliff's part -- in English, all hounds are dogs but not all dogs are hounds! Hounds are essentially working dogs that actively seek, pursue, and/or catch and hold their quarry -- fleet sighthounds to outrun swift prey like deer or rabbits, sharp-nosed scenthounds that follow trails the human hunters cannot see, fearless catchhounds that will bite and hold on to dangerous large game like boars to slow it down and let the hunter come close enough for the coup de grace in relative safety, warhounds that follow their masters to do battle with men. In English, calling a human "dog" or "bitch" can have negative connotations of dirtiness, fawning/craven behavior, animalistic sexuality or low value, but "hound" by itself isn't typically used as a specific nasty epithet. Irish and Scottish Gaelic have differing terms for hounds and dogs as well, and while I don't know if there are similarly negative usages of calling a human by the "dog" terms, in ancient Irish usage at least the "hound" term cu was a positive epithet for human warriors, likening them to the noble "manly" virtues of a hunter's/warrior's hound -- courage, loyalty, speed and strength. There are some dog-dogs floating about in Sutcliff, mostly sheepdogs belonging to minor characters, but all the major named canine characters I've seen so far in Sutcliff are hounds by function and breed and commonly referred to as such in both the narrative and dialogue -- Margarita and both Cabals in Sword at Sunset, Dog in Dawn Wind, Garm in The Shield Ring, Bran and Gerlund and Matilda in Knight's Fee; her protagonists are mostly Noble Warrior Guys, as Rachel puts it, and so of course they have Noble Warrior Guy sorts of dogs who can keep them company while they do Noble Warrior Guy Stuff like fighting and hunting.

And that's a big part of what makes that line so utterly utterly delicious to me -- Esca is a proud man, a warrior and a hunter who recognizes Marcus, for all that their peoples are enemies, as a honorable warrior that he can respect -- in no small part because Marcus in turn acknowledges him respectfully like a fellow man and warrior, not rubbing his nose in his enslavement. This is not the cringing, desperate submission of one who is weak and hopeless and defeated, no fawning kicked dog licking boots for mercy; this is the conscious, deliberate *choice* to submit of a strong, proud man who could have reclaimed his own freedom, but instead chose to accept servitude as a debt of honor. Casting himself as the noble, devoted hound who serves willingly out of loyalty and love, not from craven fear or force, foreshadows the attitude he displays again after his manumission: "I have not served the Centurion because I was his slave...I have served Marcus, and it was not slave-service" (What can I say? I'm *such* a dog person. And as you know from past discussions on such doggedly devoted sorts as Chikage and Saizo and Gojyo, I am a complete and total sucker for quiet loyalty.)

the whole situation with the little boy in the Seal People village just disgusted me.

Yeah...that didn't really hit me on any sort of emotional level, but intellectually it really made me roll my eyes at how blatantly telegraphed and cheaply manipulative it was. The only reason the kid was there was to give a "Pet The Dog" moment to Esca, a "Kick The Dog" moment to the Seal Prince, and demonstrate Marcus' amazing positive character growth in that he is now willing to debate with Esca about the merits of killing barbarian kids as a safety precaution, instead of just whipping out the knife without a moment's hesitation. Well, isn't that mighty white Roman of you, mister, acknowledging the kid might be almost human! *snort*

Edited at 2011-02-13 09:08 am (UTC)
Feb. 13th, 2011 11:04 am (UTC)
Re: then cleaning out and bandaging of wounds, and chants of victory amid the encircling hounds
And speaking of hounds again -- the film gets a point for showing a regionally-appropriate and historically-plausible breed by having Scottish Deerhounds in the Seal People's village -- and then loses the point by showing them used in a totally stupid way. You want scenthounds for a manhunt against targets who have a day's lead on you, not coursing sighthounds who will be mostly useless until you get in visual range of the quarry, and that's just what Sutcliff had her pursuing tribesmen doing in the book. And even if I want to handwave that these are kin to the enormous Irish wardogs that Consul Quintus Aurelius Symmachus wrote of as a great and terrifying wonder that left all of Rome marvelling at their size and fierceness, it makes ZERO SENSE to drag them along on the chase and then NOT set them loose to attack your enemies -- that's what warhounds are for! Stupid, stupid, stupid. I guess they weren't really after Marcus and Esca for revenge and reclaiming the stolen eagle, they were just out for a REALLY LONG walk -- big dogs need exercise, yo! -- and happened to run into the boys while they were out on their walkies? Hey, it makes as much sense as anything else in the script! At least the dogs, like the boys, were fairly pretty...

Edited at 2011-02-13 11:19 am (UTC)
Feb. 14th, 2011 02:50 am (UTC)
Re: then cleaning out and bandaging of wounds, and chants of victory amid the encircling hounds

Well, imouto-chan, I will certainly not argue with you about either Esca or dogs! In my own defense, I will say that dogs are pretty much a positive for me - despite the fact that it has often been used as a negative term in English.

Dogs are loyal unto death, loving, brave, humorous (mostly), and protective. So I wasn't dissing Esca by coming up with the wrong word for that quote.

Feb. 14th, 2011 04:13 am (UTC)
Re: then cleaning out and bandaging of wounds, and chants of victory amid the encircling hounds
Heee, no worries, nee-chan! *hugs* I knew you didn't mean anything negative by accidentally swapping dog for hound in the quote, but I couldn't resist the excuse to blather about Sutcliff's original word choice because I believe she was very careful and deliberate about making a distinction between different working types, and holding up "hound" as an especially positive and praiseworthy type/epithet for the sorts of characters and cultures she's depicting. As I was discussing with you in the beta conversations, my big reread binge last year really left me immensely impressed at the subtlety of her language.

(And ZOMG, the hounds really are everywhere in her work -- looking through a little more just in the titles I have on hand, along with the bigger named examples I rattle off earlier, there are some more minor but still named hunting wolfhounds in Frontier Wolf, and another named, elderly wolfhound who dies with the rest of Aquila's family in the earliest chapters of The Lantern Bearers...at this point I'd be seriously stunned if I ever come across a Sutcliff book that doesn't have at least one dog of some sort lurking about the margins.)
Feb. 14th, 2011 10:32 am (UTC)
Re: then cleaning out and bandaging of wounds, and chants of victory amid the encircling hounds
Ah ha ha, and talk about missing what's right under your nose -- I was just looking through that Celtic Personal Names of Roman Britain reference page for something and had a huge DUH! moment...Esca's got what looks a lot like that hound/warrior/noble reference RIGHT THERE IN HIS PATRONYMIC -- Cunoval's a real Brythonic name documented from a Roman-period inscription in Cornwall -- I'm seeing some undocumented claims the name translates to "Glorious Prince" or "Famous Chief", but if the "cuno" part isn't more literally from that same Celtic kuno "hound" root element that's related to the Irish cú/cúnna/con "hound" element where it's a figurative epithet for a warrior or noble, I'll eat my hat. (Judging by the other examples on that University of Cambridge page, the "val" part is probably derived from the uellano "chief" element, so I guess that could parse literally as something like "Hound Chief", in the "valorous warrior" figurative-epithet use of "hound"?

Oh man, I can't believe I didn't spot that earlier. The Centurion's hound is the son of a hound. That is SO DAMN COOL. *wriggles with geeky glee*
Mar. 22nd, 2011 02:18 am (UTC)
Old comment is old
As far as I can tell, Cunoval is from Brythonic cuno 'hound' + walos 'great', so 'Great Hound,' more or less. The v/w is interchangeable depending on the spelling system you're using. :-D
Mar. 26th, 2011 08:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Old comment is old
AWESOMESAUCE. This is Extremely Relevant To My Interests -- thank you so much!

(Do you by any chance have ideas as to where she may have picked up Esca's name? The bulk of her "Celtic" personal names seem pretty readily traceable back to real names borrowed from Gaelic languages, and outside of specifically Welsh characters she primarily seems to be drawing from anglicized Irish sources, but I've had no luck finding clues for that boy...)
Mar. 26th, 2011 09:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Old comment is old

I assume you alreadychecked out the E- listing in the database I used for the story. Esico is as close as that seems to get.

Mar. 26th, 2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Old comment is old
But of course -- not just the E- and I- listings, I've also spent a lot of time going over all of the listed name elements, just to see what interesting things might jump out and bite me. :)

(And heh, now that I've read Outcast, I've finally found a Sutcliff with a fairly prominent dog-dog character -- Canog in Outcast, who seems to be sort of a shaggy mid-sized beastie, perhaps a rough-coated collie or wire-haired larger terrier sort, as she's described as being half the size of the protagonist's previous dog, who's one of her more usual huge brindled hunting hound Noble Warrior Guy's Noble Warrior Dog sorts.)

There's actually a big generalized Sutcliff book-discussion going on at the movieslash comm right now -- you should come over when you get a chance, nee-chan, there's much squee and pimpage and meta to play with!
Mar. 26th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Old comment is old
Ha, I totally went and looked for that, and the best I could come up with is that it's probably from a Welsh or Brittonic word related to water or fish, a la the River Usk or Isca. Apparently esc is Old Irish for 'water,' and easca Irish (reference, see especially page 2 on speculated British forms), so that seems like the best bet. HMMM. I wonder if this is a Significant Name or just one she liked. I'm not sure that it's plausible as a name.

I think a lot of her names are questionable, and there aren't that many options to choose from in the first place--what info we have was certainly not likely to be readily available in the 1950s. The way she used Roman names is odd, too, and some of them are anachronistic (Kaeso) or inappropriate (e.g. Alexios having a Greek praenomen because his mother was Greek). I overlook it; I don't think it's really possible to write much in Britain in that period without running into name problems, and plenty of contemporary authors with more material available to them do much worse.

As far as Relevant to Your Interests goes, I have some Gallo-Brittonic grammer and vocabulary stuff I found if you want me to email that to you as well. It's downloadable from Scribd, but not everyone wants to sign up for an account. (It's very much from the P-Celtic vs. Q-Celtic premise and not Insular vs. Continental.)
Mar. 26th, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Old comment is old
*nods* The esc/easca/water thing was all I could come up with groping about through Irish dictionaries, but not having any academic background in *any* of these languages I was really dubious about even daring to making a guess there -- most of her names, whether or not they're particularly historically/grammatically correct, do at least seem to have be cobbled together from real names she found someplace or other, rather than made up out of whole cloth. (I wonder if her throwing the Brythonic Cunoval in with a bunch of more Irish and Scottish names might have been influenced by something like this rather dodgily historical Edwardian potboiler, which has brothers named Caradoc and Cunoval hobnobbing with druids in Canterbury...)

And I would love to see those language references if it's not too much trouble, thank you! (I should probably sign up for Scribd anyway given how often I find myself poking about there, but if you've already got a local copy at hand and sending the whole doc isn't much more bother than sending the link, I certainly wouldn't complain...)
Mar. 26th, 2011 11:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Old comment is old
Well, I have no academic background, either, so grain of salt. :-/ I am just kind of obsessed with onomastics as a hobby and trying to teach myself more about linguistics.

Yeah, I don't think she made up names out of whole cloth. I just get easily frustrated by names...I picked up some novels about Boudicca in the library the other day, and they looked decently done and had encouraging author's notes that even addressed the name/language issue...but with the size of the cast, the author ended up giving a ton of characters modern Gaelic names, and it really bugged me. I'd be less jarred by modern Welsh, and even less jarred by, say, middle Welsh. I'd rather 400 years out-of-period than 1800, you know?

(Sadly, a lot of the good stuff on Scribd is archived and you usually have to pay--but this one isn't. It's not a problem, just need somewhere to send it. :-) )
Feb. 13th, 2011 10:42 am (UTC)
And do not make the mistake of assuming that the wolf is more dangerous than the woman...
Guern's accent keeps betraying a U.S. Northeast background (maybe even Brooklyn) that was really jarring to me.

Several reviewers noted similar gripes, but I think this is a YMMV bit -- it didn't throw me much, given the Rome = America casting conceit; real Roman soldier were from all different parts of the Empire, so I didn't have much trouble accepting regional U.S. accents as standins for the real historical accent differences. But it probably works better for me than some because Brooklynese, like most other mainland-US regional accents, was not anything I was exposed to in person on a regular basis growing up: I heard this stuff on TV or in the movies, but almost never in real life. Whereas living on the East Coast and having relatives in New York City, I'd imagine it wasn't as distant and exotic to you? Where to me as a kid, stuff set in New York City or Dallas seemed only slightly less unfamiliar than stuff set in London or Paris or Moscow; even with a language mostly in common, the U.S. mainland was just so different on every level that it felt almost halfway towards being another country.

(BTW, I was right in remembering that book!Guern also had a Mithras brand to betray his past along with the tune and the chinstrap-gall, and that described himself as looking like a Pict because he was originally from Northern Gaul -- I was wrong about his hair color, though, he was old enough to be completely grey. I think I was conflating him with all the other blond Gauls who show up in various Sutcliff books -- notable even here in the very first chapter, where Marcus' men are described as "six hundred yellow-haired giants...from the tribes of Upper Gaul", and a total contrast to the black-haired, olive-skinned "Roman to his arrogant fingertips" Marcus, "wiry and dark as they were raw-boned and fair".

Much is made of the idea that Esca has betrayed "his people."

Grrrr, yes, huge history!fail there, that could have been avoided if they'd stuck to the books! Sutcliff is really good at showing both the actual historical complexity of what happens when old tribal feuds and conflicts are carried over when a new foreign power enters the playing field, and on the common human othering tendency to lump together as Not-Us peoples who have their own finer-grained senses of identiy -- in EOT9, for instance, the various British characters all very specifically think of themselves in terms of their tribe, Brigantes or Picts or Iceni, etc., while the Roman characters tend to call them all British; or in the later-period books, the Romano-British defenders often call all the new invaders Saxons, even though they're a mixed lot of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes...

Where the hell are Cottia and Cub?

I'm almost glad in a perverse way that she wasn't included, because it really would have ticked me off to see my proud, prickly, fierce Iceni girl get reduced to a simpering or sexpot-esque cardboard Token Love Interest Chick. :/ At least Cub or his relatives got to keep a little bit of dignity as useful and handsome blankets and soldier's cloaks, though I felt pretty bad for the live one stuck in the cage at the arena in Calleva! (I hereby declare by head-canon editorial fiat that this atmospheric Finnish video depicts his eventual happy escape -- that's an old favorite of mine that I have strongly associated with Esca and Cub since the big December reread-binge.)
Feb. 13th, 2011 10:43 am (UTC)
Re: And do not make the mistake of assuming that the wolf is more dangerous than the woman...
one of the only women even mentioned has her agency usurped

That bugs me soooo much more than Cottia getting left out entirely because that is just so contrary to, well, EVERYTHING in Sutcliff -- her women may not always have the biggest and most active roles, they may be shown with roles that are prescribed by gender, but they still have strength and dignity and character, and are memorable even in brief appearances as INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE, not interchangeable and indistinct woman-shaped stock figures with no personality beyond their roles as lover or mother or daughter to the male characters. Throughout EOT9, Marcus repeatedly notices that the British women he meets -- most notably Guenhumara, Murna, and Cottia -- "carry themselves like queens", and Cunoval, being a clan chieftain, would be at least of noble if not literally royal status. All of which helps cast Esca's father killing his mother in accordance with her wishes in the tradition of proud royal women of the classical world like Cleopatra or Boudicca herself, who chose death over the degradation of Roman captivity. The film version, OTOH, has the only faintest hint it might have been even partially consensual on her part, which makes it come across more like a preemptive "honor killing" -- more Unfortunate Implications, hoo boy. (Speaking of which, how about that scene with the cute giggling Seal People girls? I could almost give the writers a tiny grudging credit for the prince having no problem with his sister and her friend making eyes at the hunky Roman slave and saving all of his ire for Marcus daring to look back...if not for the further Unfortunate Implications of how much that scene played out like an echo of all the times and places where accusations of "looking at a white woman" were enough to get enslaved or colonized non-white men beaten or killed. If that's a coincidence, it's yet another scene showing how poorly the script was thought out, if it was deliberate...well, that's poorly thought out from the other direction, once again undermining the purported intent of making some pointedly critical comparisons between America and Rome by making the other side look even worse.
Feb. 14th, 2011 02:57 am (UTC)
Re: And do not make the mistake of assuming that the wolf is more dangerous than the woman...

You're probably right about Guern's accent's being associated with my family at gut-level. I was conscious from quite an early age that my cousins didn't speak the way we did. I don't ever told you the story about when my mother was attempting to correct my childish pronunciation of "animal" (I said aminal up through at least kindergarten). My father told me that I said to her "But Mommy, you only say it that way because you're from New York."

(And yes, they probably would have messed up badly with Cottia. I would love to somehow pass a law that no one can make movies of beloved childhood/teen classics unless he or she is Peter Jackson. The LOTR movies weren't perfect, but they showed ever so much more respect for the canon.)

Feb. 14th, 2011 12:09 pm (UTC)
Re: And do not make the mistake of assuming that the wolf is more dangerous than the woman...
Awwww! No, you've told me some stories about culture-clashes with her and the NYC-side cousins around fashion and such, but not that particular story -- how cute! :)
Feb. 13th, 2011 08:53 pm (UTC)
Jamie Bell is the best part of many bad movies, at this rate.
Feb. 14th, 2011 07:56 am (UTC)
Eh, I'd call this one more mediocre on balance rather than truly flat-out bad? The scripting is terrible, inconsistent and stupid, but everything else about it is competent-to-quite-good. Bell's definitely pretty much the biggest good thing where the acting is concerned, so now I'm curious about his other films -- would you say any of them are worth watching, even at just the "find highlight clips on YouTube" level?
Feb. 15th, 2011 12:39 am (UTC)
I confess, the only thing I've seen him in is Jumper, which is really, really terrible. But he's awesome in it. I was so excited when I found out he'd been cast as Tintin.
Mar. 22nd, 2011 02:49 am (UTC)
The Eagle/Eagle of the Ninth Recs Post
User carmarthen referenced to your post from The Eagle/Eagle of the Ninth Recs Post saying: [...] some of the things it tried to address. So, moar meta plz! has a not so positive movie review [...]
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