Caroline Lawrence and the power of sadness – or, Virgil for reluctant readers

Caroline Lawrence web

Dr Helen Lovatt, School of Humanities, delivers the lecture ‘Caroline Lawrence and the power of sadness – or, Virgil for reluctant readers’.

Read Dr Lovatt’s blurb: The children’s author Caroline Lawrence, well-known for her Roman Mysteries series, made into a successful children’s TV series, has also adapted two episodes from the Latin epic poem by Virgil for reluctant readers, in a series published by Barrington Stoke. Both books focus on episodes in the second half of the poem that feature young protagonists at war: the Night Raid follows two young men as they go on a daring mission; the second, Queen of the Silver Arrow, is due out in January 2016. This book focuses on two young women: Virgil’s Camilla, and her best friend, Acca.

I am currently writing about the way that the Aeneid uses sadness to engage its audience, and shows responses to trauma, exploring resilience. From the destruction of Troy to the death of Dido and the avoidable, unnecessary war in Italy, sadness is central to the Aeneid. Yet many characters use their sadness to come closer to each other and move them to action.

This lecture focuses on Lawrence’s adventurous choices in adapting the Aeneid for young readers. Both stories feature deaths of the main characters. Both stories feature main characters who begin their stories by responding to bereavement and loss. Both stories also feature same sex relationships of great intensity.

The second half of the Aeneid is about immigration: the Trojan ‘invaders’ will go on to become the ancestors of the Roman race. By writing one book from the Trojan perspective and one from the Italian, Lawrence enables her readers to unpick the malevolence of anti-immigration rhetoric. The violence of the stories also brings out the horror of war. All of this is achieved with straightforward vocabulary and short chapters, making the classical world come to life not just for young readers, but for those who find reading difficult.

The lecture will also compare these books for young readers with Ursula LeGuin’s 2008 adult novel Lavinia which covers the same material from the Aeneid, and won the Locus award. What different tactics do LeGuin and Lawrence use in adapting the Aeneid for different age groups? How is the Aeneid made immediate for a modern audience? To what extent is the power of sadness at the heart of these three receptions of Virgil?

Admission free, all welcome.

Part of the Popular Culture Lecture Series. For more information, visit their website. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Art by Michael Weinstein

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