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Literature / Simon

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"Oh God I thought this was the English Civil War! Did I take a wrong turn at St. Albans?"note 
Simon is a 1953 Young Adult Historical Fiction novel by Rosemary Sutcliff.

The outbreak of the English Civil War severs the lifelong friendship of Simon Carey, a principled Parliamentarian, and Amias Hannaford, a passionate Royalist. At sixteen, Simon enlists as a cornet of cavalry under Fiery Tom Fairfax in the New Model Army, while Amias disappears to join the King's forces. As the tide of the war turns against the Royalists, Simon finds himself once more in his native West Country, destined to meet Amias again on opposite sides of battle.

Simon contains examples of:

  • An Arm and a Leg: John Carey receives a Career-Ending Injury when a bridge is mined underneath him.
    "A small affair, but 'twas well done. The Royalists mined a bridge by which we were to pass, and fired the charges when our foremost Horse were actually upon it, myself included. A brilliant piece of timing."
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Mouse Carey exasperates Simon by tagging along on his childhood adventures with Amias. On their return to Lovacott in 1646, they discover that she turned out pretty cool in a crisis.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: Relf's court martial sees him drummed out of Fairfax's Horse and demoted to that proud service, the Pioneersnote .
    "The Pioneers, save for a few brilliant officers, were the scum of the New Model."
  • Army Scout: Simon's assignment at Lovacott is to relay intelligence from Torrington between the disreputable body of men known as "scouts" and the army command. His contact Podbury is a once and future con artist.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Zeal-for-the-Lord Relf, representing the “red-hot hell-fire militant Anabaptist” contingent of the New Model Army, as well as Mrs. Killigrew and Chaplain Joshua Sprigg.
    “Corporal Relf was a long lean man, with a harsh voice, a hollow cheek, and a brilliant eye; the word of the Old Testament was constantly in his mouth, and his right hand seemed empty when his sword was not in it."
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: The night battle for Torrington is fought by the light of burning barricades.
  • Best Friends-in-Law: In the 1650 epilogue, Amias has paired off with Mouse, and Simon with Susanna.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: The critical Parliamentarian victory of 14 June 1645, the Battle of Naseby, followed by the Battle of Langford, the assault on the fictional manor house Okeham Paine, and finally the Battle of Torrington.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: After a year of patiently ignoring his taunts, Simon finally snaps one night and serves up what their messmates deem a well-deserved beating to Denzil Wainwright. (Not one to let things go, Wainwright vows revenge.)
  • Call to Agriculture: The Careys have farmed their Devonshire manor, Lovacott, since Agincourt. Corporal Relf was a Lincolnshire bulb farmer. They bond as fellow country-men in the Berkshire tavern garden where Relf tells Simon his life story.
    Relf: Maybe you know how 'tis with a plot of land–how it gets to be wove in with a man's heartstrings when it has bred him and his forebears.
  • The Cavalry: As Fairfax’s horse are pushed back from the centre of Torrington by the Royalist defenders, Cromwell’s cavalry sweeps in the reinforce them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The first chapter's main relevance to the plot is to establish Pentecost Fiddler’s hidden cottage, Solitude, as a safe haven for some future time of need.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Estrangement or no, Simon is appalled to find himself crossing swords in deadly earnest with Amias at Okeham Paine. Amias conspires with Mouse to divert suspicion from the apparently-harmless Simon when his patrol searches Lovacott, and Simon risks court-martial and execution to shelter the defeated and wounded Amias after the Battle of Torrington.
    "Two loyalties; and to keep faith with one meant breaking it with the other, and who could say which was the blacker treachery?"
  • Continuity Nod: Careys are among the North Devonshire gentry presented to Her Maj in The Queen Elizabeth Story.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Much of the plot depends on improbable reunions and Infallible Babble. Simon happens to meet Barnaby in Windsor after saving him in the retreat from Lostwithiel; Corporal Relf happens to hear of James Gibberdyke's change of fortunes; Simon happens to meet Amias at Okeham Paine; Simon happens to hear of Relf from a Royalist prisoner; Relf happens to find Gibberdyke and meet Podbury; Wainwright happens to see Simon contact Dr. Hannaford; Relf happens to confess the powder-store affair in the nick of time to clear Amias. Admittedly it all takes place in Devon.
  • Creator Provincialism: Sutcliff grew up in Devonshire.
    "Most history books deal with the final campaign of the Civil War in a final paragraph, and the Battle of Torrington they seldom mention at all. In this story I have tried to show what that final campaign in the west was like, and to re-fight the battles fought over my own countryside."
  • The Dandy: Lieutenant Barnaby Colebourne, Simon's friend and immediate superior.
    Barnaby: Ah, well, even in the Army one can observe the decencies, you know. It's different with the Ironsides, of course: they mostly pride themselves on dressing like a cross between a parson and a horse-thief.
  • Ensign Newbie: As a son of the landowning (in a modest way), educated classes, sixteen-year-old Simon is commissioned as a cornet (junior officer) of cavalry. Though he can ride and shoot, this system only works because the adult veterans under him are willing to teach him his job, with Corporal Relf as his Sergeant Rock.
  • Fiery Redhead: Amias.
    Simon: Did you happen to notice a red-headed Royalist among the garrison that night – in the hall when you broke in?
    Barnaby: The one who looked as though we all smelt?
  • Fighting the Lancer: Simon has followed Amias's lead loyally and without argument for most of their lives. The King's declaration of war against Parliament is the first time Simon is forced to declare independence from Amias.
    "Ever since they were three years had been the two of them, Amias leading and Simon following. But now it was over; it could not be like that ever again."
  • Good Is Not Nice: Mrs. Killigrew, a rigid and forceful Puritan.
    Simon: She's a good woman. But not comfortable.
  • Great Escape: Relf, guarding Podbury, secretly gets his intelligence out of him and carries it to his contact Simon, then bashes his fellow guard over the head and drags Podbury off to hide above the highly-combustible Royalist gunpowder store in Torrington church tower, where they sit tight until Fairfax's forces attack the town. Then they discover that someone has taken away their ladder, and that the church is being filled with prisoners who could unwittingly set off the powder. Podbury makes a noisy jump for it, Parliamentarian guards who don't know the powder is there burst in with lighted matchlocks, and the church shortly blows sky-high with everyone but Podbury still inside.
  • Hair-Trigger Explosive: Relf stashes Podbury in the last place any sane man would want to hang about: the Torrington gunpowder magazine.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Relf's revenge.
    Captain Weston: In joining our ranks he had broken faith with the things he still believed to be right. He had paid away his self-respect, and though he clung all the more fiercely to his revenge in consequence, maybe it was dear at the price.
  • Hero of Another Story: Two darker storylines run concurrent with Simon’s experiences: Amias’s service to the doomed Royalist cause in their crumbling army, and Relf’s quest for vengeance against his erstwhile friend.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Simon and Amias's old friendship is symbolised by the brace of sabres they share, and by Biblical allusion to David and Jonathan.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Simon is a steady quiet fellow whose messmates are surprised is capable of losing his temper;
    • Mouse has an Amias-like taste for adventure under her collected demeanour;
    • Susanna’s “grey ghost” exterior conceals a certain vividness of soul.
      "It was something inside Susanna, shining out to meet and mingle with the winter sunset, that made her suddenly beautiful."
  • Historical Domain Character: Lord-General Sir Thomas Fairfax, Lt-Gen. Oliver Cromwell, Dr. David Morrison, Rev. Joshua Sprigg, Col. Henry Ireton, Maj. Richard Cromwell, Philip Skippon, Rev. Hugh Peters, and other assorted historical figures.
  • I Regret Nothing:
    Corporal Relf: The words of the liar are abomination in the sight of the Lord. I repent of nothing, who am an avenging sword in the hand of the Almighty, for the smiting of the evil-doer!
  • Kill the Ones You Love: At the assault on Okeham Paine, Simon comes face to face with Amias in a nightmarish situation where duty compels them to do their damnedest to kill each other. Relf vows to kill his treacherous friend James Gibberdyke. Neither succeeds.
  • Manly Tears: Simon has a brief bout after the Battle of Torrington.
    "For the first time since he was nine years old, when his dog died, he was crying; crying for an unknown man called Ishmael Watts, who had once been Corporal Zeal-for-the-Lord Relf, of the General's Horse, and erstwhile of Cromwell's 'Lovely Company'."
  • The Medic: Odysseus Hannaford, David Morrison, and someday, Amias. The practical nursing is provided by women like Mrs. Carey, Mrs. Killigrew, and Mother Trimble, the New Model Army's camp-follower-in-chief.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The first three chapters take place when Simon is ten to twelve years old and establish two plot points: the existence of Solitude (a.k.a. the Golden City of Manoa), and the outbreak of the war.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Amias's commander, Worthy Opponent Sir Ralph Hopton, to the Prince of Wales.
    "Lord Hopton, refusing the offer of a Command in the Parliamentary Army which was accepted by many of his officers, followed him overseas, a very faithful servant. Simon watched him board the ship that was to take him into exile, and wondered whether Prince Charles, who seemed by all accounts to be a wild and rather unpleasant youth, deserved the loyalty of such a man."
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Mouse and Amias improvise a cover identity for Simon.
    Mouse: That is my brother. He is [touches forehead] not quite 'zactly.
    Amias: As mazed as ever?
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: General Fairfax, Officer and a Gentleman and an accurate judge of character, detects without difficulty the flaws in the case against Amias.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Amias is dramatic, bold, reckless, and haughty; Simon is quiet, patient, humble, and reliable.
    "[Amias] was the kind who leads and has brilliant ideas, whereas Simon was the kind who follows loyally, and does his best to save the brilliant ideas from ending in disaster."
  • Redemption Rejection: Relf refuses buy his way back into Parliamentarian command's good graces by letting them know he rescued their agent in Torrington.
    Relf: I will have no man say, "He only turned to our Service again, that he might crawl back thereby, like a fawning cur to his old place."
    Simon: Who would be fool enough to say that? And if the whole Army said it, what would it matter, so long as you knew it wasn't true?
    Relf: But I should not know it! If, through your good report, I was to–find the way back, I should never know it wasn't true.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Amias, coming to only to find his company wiped out on Torrington Castle Green, wraps the Colours around his waist and walks out through the Parliamentarian lines, pausing to joke with an enemy trooper about the powder store exploding behind him. Simon, hearing of it, recognises it as utterly typical of him.
  • The Reliable One: Simon may not be the exciting member of the friendship, but he's the one Amias depends on to pull his chestnuts out of the fire.
    Amias: He always got me out of scrapes in the old days, and it became a habit.
  • The Resenter: Simon walks into a coveted cornetcy in Second Troop on the strength of his assistance to Barnaby and Major Ireton's troop on the retreat from the Battle of Lostwithiel the previous autumn. Denzil Wainwright, a senior cornet, never forgives him for it. He leaps at the chance to shop Simon for breaking the Articles of War.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: In the novel's major subplot, Corporal Relf, though a fanatical believer in the Puritan cause, goes AWOL from the the New Model Army to avenge himself on his erstwhile best friend, who stole his life savings and his newly-bred double white hyacinth bulb. Relf is recaptured, court martialled, escapes, and then follows the man into the Royalist army in order to get close enough to kill him, while telling everyone he meets why he's doing it in the hopes of terrifying his avengee.
  • Rule of Three: Simon believes that he will meet Amias a third time at the Battle of Torrington.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Simon befriends Susanna Killigrew during his convalescence at Okeham Paine. She will not reappear until the epilogue.
  • Scenery Porn: Standard Sutcliff stuff.
    "It was not yet noon of a day that was still lovely, and the June sun shone warmly, gently, on the dead of two English armies, who lay tumbled uncouthly among the thyme and the little white honey-clover of the downland turf, here at the heart of England. High overhead, the buzzard still wheeled, mewing, on motionless wings; and on every side the coloured counties fell away in shallow vales and hazy woodland, and little fields where the hay harvest was in full swing."
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: After forswearing his oaths to the Parliamentarian cause he passionately believes in, being arrested, broken, whipped and nearly hanged, escaping from jail, joining the Royalist army he loathes, and spending months hunting down his treacherous friend James Gibberdyke, Relf catches up with him... just in time to see him killed in a Bar Brawl with Podbury, resisting arrest.
  • Shout-Out: Simon and Amias's shared pair of sabres, Balin and Balan, are named after two brothers in Thomas Malory's Le Morte D Arthur cursed to unknowingly fight each other to the death.
  • Shrinking Violet: Susanna Killigrew, firmly under the thumb of her domineering mother, appears to be excessively demure and entirely spiritless until the last few hours of Simon's brief acquaintance with her.
  • The Spymaster: Major Watson, commander of the Scouts.
    "a most unlikely-looking individual to have charge of the bunch of brigands who made up the Intelligence Service of the New Model Army. Only his clipped voice gave the lie to his lamb-like appearance."
  • Supporting Leader: Sir Thomas Fairfax, the Commander-in-Chief of Parliamentarian forces, is the head of Simon's regiment and personally commissions and tries him. Lieutenant-General Oliver "Old Noll" Cromwell is also well-known to him.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Corporal Relf narrowly escapes hanging for desertion when he takes French leave of the Army to pursue James Gibberdyke. His court martial takes the merciful option of having him flogged before his regiment, after which he promptly deserts again.
  • Undying Loyalty: Simon and Amias both technically commit treason – a hanging offense – to shield the other from their own side when they believe it doesn't directly aid the enemy. Amias thinks Simon is a convalescent and not the spy he's searching for when he pretends to his patrol that Simon is not a Parliamentarian soldier, and Simon tries to hide Amias from arrest when Amias is suspected of blowing up the Torrington magazine.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The church really did blow up, and nobody knows who did it.
  • Wandering Minstrel: Pentecost Fiddler is a vagabond who ranges all over North Devon, playing for Parliamentarian and Royalist camps alike, and knows everyone, every place, and everything. He was also the ship's fiddler on Sir Walter Raleigh's last doomed voyage to the New World.
  • We Used to Be Friends: After their argument at the declaration of war, Simon and Amias don't speak to each other for four years. Until Amias protects him during the search of Lovacott, Simon has no idea whether Amias would have killed him without a pang at Okeham Paine. Relf considered James Gibberdyke closer than his own brother.