Sealskin Soulskin: a tale of simple beauty

selkies-explanationAs always, Nuestro Rincón de Lectura dedicates August to children’s literature and back to school themes. One of the truths of Puerto Rican children is that we must learn in two languages since kindergarden.  I offer you this post in English of a simple tale from a frozen faraway land…

Sealskin Soulskin is one of my favorite all time stories. I read it with my son when he was in grade school and we both loved it. We must have read it about 5 times because we could not get enough of it. The beauty and sadness of it. The universal symbolism and meaning inside a foreign Inuit world. The simple truths andinuit-man lessons within the myth.

This post is dedicated to my son Xavi with whom I had many adventures, discovered many truths, including LOVE and the better parts of myself. May you enjoy it as much as we did when we first read it so many years ago…

sealBeing a mother and a lover of mermaids, selkies and anything fantasy-like that comes from the sea or otherwise, the story of the Inuit seal woman naturally called to me like a siren song. A sad man who is old and alone in the vast forgotten tundra. seal-skinA beautiful, happy, young selkie woman who is forced to go with him when he captures her skin. She must abandon her world, her family, her otherness. It is a great sacrifice to follow, but she is compelled to stay on land for 7 years. The man promises to return her skin at the end of 7 years…

The selkie woman is happy because she soon has a child. She tells him stories of the creatures of the sea, of underwater realms and walruses, whales and seals. The child is happy and thriving. Love makes mother and child happy.

selkieSeven is always a magical number, it is uneven, a prime number, undividable except by itself. There is a simple truth to this prime number as there is a meaningful depth to the plight of the selkie woman: she is literally dividing herself. Each day longer than 7 years that she remains on land, she dies a little more: her hair is falling, she grows paler, her eyes dim, she limps around the house, she loses herself more, until there is nothing left but skin and bones. One night her son awakens to the angry sounds of his father berating his mother for wanting to leave him and she is crying for wanting what was promised to her, for wanting what belongs to her that has been taken. The man refuses to give her back her skin and otherness. He storms out of the house.

selkie-mother-childBut nature always finds a way to restore the order of things. And the child is called to the sea by a great silver seal. On his way to answer the calling, he stumbles on his mother’s skin. He knows it belongs to her because it smells of her and her soul passes into him from the sealskin. The child is filled with joy and his mother’s soul, so he brings back the skin to her. The selkie woman puts on the skin, breathes her sweet breath on him, and takes her child back to the sea for 7 blissful days. There he meets the great silver seal who is no other than his grandfather. Even though grandpa and mom love him, he must return ashore for he is of land more than sea. But the child will be a bridge between land and sea. He will grow up to be a singer of songs, a teller of tales. He will know himself loved by his mother. And he will never forget his mother came from the sea…

As you can see the simple beauty of the story makes it universal: undying love, endless seal-uner-waterwanting, ethereal otherness, selfishness, betrayal, losing oneself, losing your soul for following others, parting with loved ones, and saying goodbye. All these truths we can understand. They are timeless and human. They are universal and divine. As readers we feel for the mother who was enslaved, for the man who was selfish and barren of love, for the child who must grow up alone because his mother cannot stay. To stay would bring death and desolation. To part brings loneliness and regret. Life is made of difficult, impossible choices and we must all learn to survive. Yet love conquers all and never dies…

I hope you will enjoy this tale with your kids as I did with mine. You can read Seal Skin Soul Skin here.

Other posts related to selkies (in Spanish): De sirenas, selkies y criaturas fantásticas del mar , A Well Favored Gentleman, Regresando al Edén en the Brides of Rollrock Island

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