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Author Comment
Registered User
(12/10/02 3:03:46 am)
Hello everyone!

I've been researching selkies and have found one brief mention of them taking seal-form only to travel from one air-breathing city to another. Does anyone know a source for this variation, or was the author perhaps confusing this with the celtic finfolk?
For my selkie character, I'd like to focus more on her humanness than sealness, while still being free to use the ideas of longing for home and transformation. (I also welcome comments on these themes. Thanks!


Registered User
(12/10/02 9:46:02 am)
This variation sounds modern, because of the idea of rapid travel and the emphasis on cites. Most selkie stories I've read seem to be set in smallish villiages. I could be completely wrong, though--where is this variation from?

You could certainly write about a selkie on land, though, possibly because her skin was stolen, she grew up on land (selkies appear to have a dominant gene and children of selkies will often also become selkies), or just because she wants to go to the city.

BTW, have you read The Folk Keeper? It's kind of a spoiler to mention it in this thread, but it's a great story.

Registered User
(12/10/02 9:46:39 pm)
Barbara Fass Leavy's _In Search of the Swan Maiden_ is a great study of the motif in folklore and literature; she discusses several folk tropes that focus upon otherworldy romances, including swan maidens, selkies, and demon lovers. You might find something interesting there.


Registered User
(12/10/02 10:37:18 pm)
I'd actually meant to start another thread to ask this question, but this just seems like the perfect opportunity ... would anyone happen to know of any connection between selkies and rusalkii besides the shared affinity for water and the possibly coincidental linguistic similarity? Got curious in the course of some research ...

Laura McCaffrey
Registered User
(12/12/02 7:30:17 am)
If you're not tied to a strict retelling
Rhonda -

Many selkie stories do focus on the selkie's time on the land - from when her skin is stolen, through the many years she spends married and having her "land" children, to the time she flees back into the sea. That's a whole lot of land time to work with. Try:
I've also found The People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend, by David Thompson, very helpful. And I too highly recommend The Folk Keeper.

You could also, of course, write the piece and borrow from folklore but not necessarily create a retelling. This will free you up to create any scenario you might imagine. But then you might not want to use the term selkie anymore.

Helen - sorry, no response for you, my Russian is limited to: please, thank you, and I don't speak Russian, I speak English. I won't even attempt to spell these terms here.

Laura Mc

PS - I apologize - it's David Thomson, not Thompson. No 'p'.

Edited by: Laura McCaffrey at: 12/21/02 7:26:17 am
Charles Vess
Unregistered User
(12/12/02 8:50:26 am)
Scottish seal stories...
There are at least two story collection fron Scottish travelor/storyteller Duncan Williamson which would definitely be worth looking up. Both TALES OF THE SEAL PEOPLE, Scottish Folk Tales (Interlink 1992) and THE BROONIE, SILKIES & FAIRIES, Travellers Tales of the Other World (Harmony Books 1987) are packed with highly entertaining as well as folklore-informative tales about the selkies.

And I too would also reccomend the David Thompson book THE PEOPLE OF THE SEA. It's especially intersting to read about the civillian neigbors reaction to the human form of the selkies.


Judith Berman
Registered User
(12/12/02 8:54:29 am)
rusalka etymology?
My Russian root dictionary has nothing for rus- or rusl-, but I would guess that rusalka is from Russian ruslo, "riverbed, river channel, course of the river."

There might also be a connection to rucheyok and ruchei, which are brooklet and stream, respectively, and these in turn look to me as if they are probably related to reka, river (attributive form rechnoi).

Selkie, selchie: Modern English "seal" comes from ME selch, seel, OE seolh, Germanic *selhos. A possible origin is in selk- "to pull or draw" -- a seal being "that which drags its body along." Other relatives would then be Latin sulcus, "furrow (made by dragging a plow)," Greek helkein "to pull, draw," English hulk.

Ah, etymology, a happy distraction.


Jane Yolen
Unregistered User
(12/12/02 9:12:20 am)
Both selchies and rusulkas are shapeshifters, taking off their outer skin (garments) to become human on land. Both have stories in which they are married (selchies usually by force, rusulkas sometimes) to a human who steals the skin.

Selchies are seals, rusulkas are birds. (Usually swans or other large water birds.) Selchies are not necessarily royal and can be male or female, but rusulkas tend to be the daughters of the Mosko Tsar, the King of the Underwater.

You might take a look at FISH PRINCE AND OTHER MERMEN STORIES by yours truly and Shulamith oppenheim.


Unregistered User
(12/19/02 3:23:28 pm)
Slightly off-topic, but too interesting to pass by
The detail about the selkies travelling between cities reminded me of this *wonderful* Hans Christian Anderson story called 'The Dryad' or 'The Wood Nymph', depending on the translation you pick up (It's a bit obscure). The Dryad makes the same bargain as the little mermaid, only she doesn't want some boring old prince, she wants to go to Paris and see the 1867 World Exposition. She embarks on quite an extensive tour of the city- she even goes down into the sewers, to the Magdalene church, a dance, the exhibition itself. I've been working on this story quite a bit because it's one of those texts which suit your purposes so consummately you can scarcely believe they exist.

So maybe there is something in this idea of animal/vegetable maidens changing shape not for a prince but to travel, to experience a new environment camouflaged. I'd love to know if there's anything predating Anderson in this vein- it seems to me to tap into so many contemporary events which were transforming both the space of the city and conceptions of feminine desire. Perhaps this is the modern(ist) variant of the tale afterall, this is the bargain modern misses make....


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