One of my favorite books from my childhood was Stories From The Sea, a collection of folktales from around the world revolving around one thing:
These stories answered such questions as why the sea is salty, where do storms come from, who Sinbad the Sailor was, and why Disney had the right idea when they altered the ending to The Little Mermaid. More to the point, they introduced me to the wondrous mythical creatures known as selkies. What are selkies, you may ask? STORY TIME!
On a cliff by a shore lived a lonely fisherman. Day in and day out he pulled his nets and sold his fish, but had no wife and children to come home to. Early one morning, the fisherman heard the sounds of singing and laughter coming from the beach. He followed it until he found a group of beautiful women with flowing hair and large brown eyes, naked as the day they were born, dancing on the sand. He saw a pile of discarded seal skins nearby and instantly knew who they were – selkies, the souls of people drowned at sea who could turn themselves into seals.
“And what if I should take one of those wee skins for meself, I wonder?” the fisherman murmured. He snatched up the nearest skin, but one of the selkies saw him and cried out. The others panicked, grabbed their skins and fled into the sea, yelping like seal cubs at dawn as they changed back and swam away. Only the woman whom the fisherman had stole from remained; “Please sir, give me back my skin, I cannot return home without it!” she cried. But the fisherman refused, and told her he would return it to her seven years to the day if she agreed to be his wife. Left with no other choice, the selkie capitulated to him.
They were married and in time she gave him a beautiful son, one who brought light and laughter to her days. But as the years wore on, the selkie grew thin, pale and sickly. Her heart longed for the sea. If she continued on this way, she likely wouldn’t live to see next summer. When the seven years ended, the selkie demanded that her husband return what he promised her, but once again he refused; he was afraid that she would leave him if he gave back her seal skin.
As it so happened, their son wandered into the barn the following morning and found a beautiful, soft coat of silky fur hidden on one of the beams. Inhaling the sweet familiar scent, he knew at once that it belonged to his mother. The selkie was overjoyed when he brought it to her and flew to the shore, wrapping herself in her skin and becoming whole again. The son chased after her, begging her to take him with her. Alas, he was mortal and she was not, so the only thing she could do was give him a small glimpse of her world beneath the waves before returning him home to his father.
The lad grew up into a beloved storyteller with a voice that could make even the most hardened soul weep. On early mornings, one could see him out at sea whispering to a seal in the waves. Some say it was his mother, the selkie, passing on her songs and tales to him; why else would he have the same beautiful brown eyes as she?
I actually bring this tale up because many selkie stories, including today’s movie, follow the same pattern as the aforementioned one. Critics praised Song of the Sea as an original masterpiece, but if you were already familiar with this one story going in, then it’s incredibly easy to spot where things are going. And I’m gonna be honest here…maybe it’s because I know the story so well that I’m not as in love with this movie as most animation aficionados are.Continue reading