Freeman, Mara. "The Selkie" from The Murmur of the Streams: Mara’s tales & other Celtic story links. Internet., 1996.

Ethnic Origin: Celtic

Running Time: approximately 8 minutes

Power Center(s): the moment when the selkie dawns her skin again and plunges into the sea; this moment shows her decision to become herself as well as showing the family’s grief over their loss

Characters: selkie wife, Neil MacCodrum, Morag MacCodrum, Donald MacCodrum


Neil MacCodrum spies seven naked girls and a pile of speckled brown skins. He takes one of the skins and hides it. He takes the naked girl to be his bride. She bears him two web-footed children. Time passes and the daughter discovers the sealskin. She brings it to her mother. The mother says goodbye to her children. She dawns the skin again and slips into the sea.


This is the story of a seal maiden who becomes a fisherman’s wife when he steals her skin. Some years later, she is given back the skin and returns to sea.

Rhymes/Special Phrases/"Flavor":

"I go not because I do not love you, but because I must become myself again"

white as swans on the lake

as white as a pearl, as still as frost in the starlight

large brown eyes that held the depths of the sea

Audience (why is this story appropriate for the audience? developmental characteristics?

According to Charlotte Huck, children ages 12 and 13 are interested in older concerns, understand the importance of identity, are sensitive to complexity in human relationships and feelings.


Bibliographic information on other versions/variants (at least two)?

Kennedy, Patrick. "The Silkie Wife," from Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, (London: Macmillan and Company, 1866), pp. 122-4.

"The Seal Maiden" from Strange Stories and Folk Tales of the Highlands and Islands, (Glasgow, Scotland: Lang Syne Publishers Ltd., 1995).


Brief comparison of all versions/variants:

"The Selkie" is the tale of the MacCodrum family, who are believed to be descended from seals. I like the idea of bringing in a human element by giving the family a name. Also, in this tale, one of the children finds the sealskin and presents it to her mother, unwittingly helping her mother escape back into the sea. "The Seal Maiden" contains a bibliographic reference to "an almost identical tale" about the Clan MacCodrum. In "The Silkie Wife," the seal husband finds the sealskin rather than her child finding it. I think the child innocently helping her mother escape is a more powerful image.

In "The Selkie," there are very good descriptions of the maiden whose voice "trembled with silver" and the girls who were "white as swans on the lake" which help me visualize the story. "The Silkie Wife" begins "Those in the Shetland and Orkney Islands who know no better, are persuaded that the seals..." I was immediately turned off by this as it does not make the story seem real and, in fact, pokes fun at the people who believe it. "The Seal Maiden" is incorporated somewhat into my telling of "The Selkie."