retold by Susan Cooper
illustrated by Warwick Hutton
New York: Macmillan, 1986
Interests: ocean, magic, Celtic, selkies, folklore, mermaids
A retelling of an ancient Celtic legend, of a lonely crofter named Donallan who catches a lovely Selkie girl for his bride. Not quite mermaids, the Selkies are sometimes seals, sometimes beautiful women. Donallan is able to keep his wife in her human form as long as he hides her sealskin from her. When one of their children innocently discovers the skin, the mother is able to return to the sea forever.
One of those folk tales that is tinged with sadness and longing, and beautifully depicted with watercolour illustrations evoking the cold and barren coasts and islands of Scotland and Ireland, and the lonely lives of the folk who live there. One feels sympathy for Donallan, how could he help but fall for one of the beautiful naked girls he sees on a rock one day? And yet you have to know that keeping a wife essentially captive through an underhanded trick is going to end badly. She doesn’t even tell him her real name, though she bears him five children, all the while waiting patiently for her chance to return to the sea. Her children give her the opportunity, but even as she leaves them they seem to know that this is the way it should be. After all, their mother tells them she also has five children in the sea. “You must go to them. It’s their turn,” says her very wise daughter Kate Annie, and from then on the family receives extra bounty from the sea, as their Selkie mother watches over them.
Lovely and bittersweet folk tale, cold and windswept, gently fateful.