The Selkie Girl and Song of the Sea


Hello, dear readers! I may be landlocked in Kansas, but I have the ocean on the brain. Well, not really. Just selkies.

Selkies are not the most well-known mythological creatures in my part of the world. I never heard of such a thing until I saw The Secret of Roan Inish on video in the mid-nineties. [Sigh. I love that movie so much.] We still haven't bought a copy of Cartoon Saloon's Oscar-nominated Song of the Sea, but my patience with the library finally paid off. Our hold came through this weekend, so the girls and I settled in to watch our movie.

Oh, my. I love this movie. I am an animation junkie, and as much as I love Pixar and some computer-made flicks, I miss traditional animation.

Song of the Sea is about a brother and sister, Ben and Saoirse, who live with their father, alone by the sea. Their mother disappeared soon after Saoirse's birth, and their father is depressed, Ben is full of resentment, and Saoirse has yet to utter a single word. One night, Saoirse sneaks into Ben's room and grabs the musical shell his mother left him. As she begins to play a haunting melody, magical lights fill the room and lead her to a locked trunk. There, she finds a little white sealskin coat...

The children move with their grandmother to the city, but on Halloween, three little men arrive, telling them that Saoirse must return to the sea, find her voice, and save the fairy folk. The whole thing is so beautiful.



My father gave the girls a book. We've had it for a bit, but I saved it to read it the night we watched our movie. It's published by Floris Books, the company responsible for the beautiful English-language  Elsa Beskow and Sybille von Olfers now in print. The Selkie Girl is the sweet story of a lonely Scottish boy and the week he spends with a selkie girl. It's a beautiful paperback with French flaps.

The Selkie Girl, retold by Jani Mackay, illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane.
Floris Books, 2014.

Back cover of The Selkie Girl.

Fergus is the son of a fisherman, a widower who is having a streak of bad luck. One day as Fergus is beachcombing, he finds an odd fur. He takes it, not hearing the cries of a girl farther down the beach. The girl is a selkie. The tide is rolling in, and she is trapped. She dives into the ocean, her swimming made difficult without flippers or fins. She makes her way to Fergus's cottage, where she knocks on his window.

Fergus promises he'll return her skin, if she will only spend a week with him. He is lonely and friendless. She agrees. While she refuses to sleep in the cottage, preferring an overturned boat on the beach, she and Fergus spend a fun week together, flying a kite, playing, cooking on the beach. She shows him how to catch fish with his bare hands, which is useful to his father. When the week is over, he begs her to stay but she refuses. He returns her skin. From that day on, his father's luck changes. The fish become more plentiful, and he has plenty to sell in the village. Fergus meets the village children, and he is friendless no longer.








It's amusing to me that here in America, if we know anything about selkies, it's from movies set in Ireland: The Secret of Roan Inish, Song of the Sea, Neil Jordan's Ondine (which is on my Netflix list, and I will watch it someday.) In researching selkies for this post, I discovered that while the lore exists in Ireland, Scotland, and the Faroe Islands, with similar traditions in Iceland, it is Scotland that seems to have the best hold on the legend, particularly in the Orkney and Shetland islands. I put together a new Pinterest board, just for selkies, linking to art, books, songs, and films. Enjoy!

And if anyone has a particular selkie-related work to recommend to me, please mention it in the comments. Thanks!


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Comments

  1. Oh dear, I feel I should have some Selkie knowledge to impart - but I don't! I wonder where the word came from, it definitely sounds more Scottish than Irish. And theres my excuse! That book is a beauty by the way!

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    1. It probably is Scottish. Even the book on which The Secret of Roan Inish is based is actually set in Scotland! I thought that it was funny that all the versions of the story we see or hear about in America are set in Ireland. :) It's a lovely book. I have a couple of others waiting for me at the library. I need to pick them up soon!

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  2. I didn't know anything about selkies -the mythology surrounding them is so interesting. And that book is so beautiful- I need to have it at some point! I've wanted to see Song of the Sea in a while- now I'll try to find it for sure!

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    1. It's a lovely book, and the movie is GORGEOUS. We really loved it.

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  3. I don't think I know anything you don't already know! I've seen Ondine - write me after you see it! I really liked it but I had a question about it. I want to see Roan Inish again! Ok, my jaw was seriously on the floor when I saw Song of The Sea - THE ART. It was like the most glorious picture book art, right up there on the screen! I couldn't believe it.

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    1. Oh my gosh, it's so beautiful. I miss traditional animation like that. I'm glad there are others making it. I will try to watch Ondine soon. All my grown-up TV-watching has been monopolized by Battlestar Galactica lately, but perhaps while Mr. B is at work... ;)

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  4. What a lovely post, thanks for this!
    Selkies are fascinating indeed, and Song of the Sea is mesmerising, one of my absolute favourites! :)

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! The book is lovely. Your illustrations are beautiful!

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