YA Shapeshifters: The Selkie

selkie images

The ‘Animal Kinship’ panel at OGOM Company of Wolves included some discussion of the ‘Selkie’ or shapeshifting seal. This elusive creature was discussed in Peter Le Couteur’s paper ‘Sealskins: Finns, Seal Wives, and Mythmaking’. We were rather excited to receive this proposal I remember. Folklore involving selkies can be traced to the Orkney Islands and there are many sightings of selkie folk to draw upon and even poems commemorating them. This  research paper whetted my interest (pardon the pun) and so I was thrilled to see a mention of the selkie in Scott Westerfeld’s novel Afterworlds:

“What about a selkie?” Coleman suggested. “YA hasn’t had many selkies.”
“What the hell is a selkie?” Oscar asked…
…”It’s a magical seal you fall in love with,” Darcy explained.
“Just think of it as a portmanteau,” Coleman said. “Combining ‘seal’ and ‘sexy.’”
Oscar raised an eyebrow. “I don’t see the appeal.” (page 57)

The novel is gently satirizing the appeal of romance involving such shapeshifters and this extract is cited in Genre Guide: Paranormal Romances for Teens . There are some tentative definitions of the PR genre (I tend to use Roz Kaveney and Alison Waller then develop their ideas via Fred Botting) on this site and another list of YA Gothic romances. At least three of the books I choose for Generation Dead appear in this list: Shiver, Twilight and The Iron King (the most so far). The novel Raised by Wolves is also mentioned and I am researching animal parented children in literature and the idea of wolf children for the Company of Wolves book (deadline for papers pending people). No doubt Kaja has already read this one…..

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Adopted by the Alpha of a werewolf pack after a rogue wolf brutally killed her parents right before her eyes, fifteen-year-old Bryn knows only pack life, and the rigid social hierarchy that controls it. That doesn’t mean that she’s averse to breaking a rule or two


About Sam George

Associate Professor of Research, School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire Co-convenor OGOM Project
This entry was posted in Critical thoughts, Generation Dead: YA Fiction and the Gothic news and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to YA Shapeshifters: The Selkie

  1. William the Bloody says:

    Scott Westerfeld’s vampire novel Peeps is very good; Afterlives looks interesting too–it’s gone in my basket along with Raised by Wolves!
    As it happens, I’m just about to begin what looks like a very promising YA paranormal romance with selkies–and a witch, too! (Praised by Marcus Sedgwick). It’s Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island:


    Where do Roz Kaveney and Alison Waller’s definitions appear, Sam?

  2. firekrank says:

    I love selkies and I am sad that they don’t figure more in supernatural fiction. The imagery of skins and transformation lends itself to some very interesting possibilities about identity.

    I have read ‘Raised by Wolves’ yet because it’s not at my local library and, in a bid to save money, I’m trying to limit the number of new books I buy. But I really want to read it so I am keeping an eye on the catalogue.

  3. William the Bloody says:

    Victoria Amador has made me aware of this selkie film, The Secret of Roan Inish; it looks lovely.
    I know what you mean about over-buying, Kaja, but this film (and Raised by Wolves) seems to have fallen accidentally into my Amazon basket. Why don’t you address the gap and write one, Kaja? I’m enjoying The Brides of Rollrock Island very much.

  4. William the Bloody says:

    And here’s a children’s selkie novel, Mollie Hunter’s A Stranger came Ashore–this looks good and has been well-reviewed:


  5. Lucy Northenra says:

    Oh all this selkie material is great. I need to catch up! I use Roz Kaveney on dark fantasy or PR romance from the Cambridge Companion and Alison Waller on fantastic realism from ‘Constructing Adolescence’. That article ‘P. is for paranormal’ provides insight from the publisher’s perspective too and is quite accessible for students. Does your novel have any nice pics of Selkies? I was looking for some images…

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