Out of your skin and into bondage…

May 16, 2008 at 6:15 am (AJ Hampton, General)

I was approached about doing an anthology about an unusual form of shapeshifting: The Selkie, as known as a seal shapeshifter.

Selkie

The legend is tragic, has the potential for a beautiful plot, but can it be redeemed?

The legend, very similar to the swam-maiden lore, conveys shapeshifting as a type of second skin that is shed. These creatures, both swam and seal, are said to be beautiful enchantress’ that draw men to them.

When they shed their skin they become human and are able to walk among the humans. A selkie can only make contact with one particular human for a short amount of time before they must return to the sea. They are not able to make contact with that human again for seven years, unless the human is to steal their selkie’s skin and hide it or burn it. If this happens, they are bound as humans.

If someone finds their skin, they are able to hide it, lock it away, and force their Selkie lovers into marriage. Ouch. Talk about starting a relationship out on the wrong foot! After the wife bears her husband children, they often grow and tell their mothers where their skins are hidden. It is said, they drop everything and return to the sea.

A woman can call a Selkie man to her by crying seven tears into the sea at high tide. If she steals his skin, she too can bind him to her.

The swam maiden lore is almost identical but talks about the swam feathers as a “magical robe of feathers.” Their children sing songs that hint where they can find their feathers. Once found, they fly away.

A great example of the Selkie myth (is it though?) in modern culture is The Secret of Roan Inish, an excellent, beautiful movie set in Ireland. Gorgeous cinematography.

My question to you: Can a successful romance be built around such a tragic tale? Give me your thoughts and feel free to tell about any other unusual shapeshifting legends you know!

Posted by: AJ Hampton

13 Comments

  1. Darla said,

    To me is seems that a HEA would be a sadistic twist when you have to hide their skin/feathers in order to keep them with you. Resentment would build up and I believe it would end tragically. Now you could change the legend a bit and probably come up with a suitable HEA, which would be more my thing. Maybe the humam in the relationship could be granted their own skin/feathers in order to be able to join their love.

    Look at whats happened to the legends of the werewolf…growing up when you thought of a werewolf you didn’t think “ooooooo, sexy shifter…got to get me some of that”, you thought of blood guts and getting bit would change you into the same thing…example, American Werewolf in London, the same goes for Vamps. Do a bit of the imagination magic and look at all the beloved tales we have now!

  2. Rebecca York said,

    Doria, growing up I DID think “sexy shifter” when I thought “werewolf.” (G) That was because the first werewolf book I read, DARKER THAN YOU THINK, by Jack Williamson, was actually a romance. The woman in the story is a werewolf with the job of awakening the powers of the hero. He doesn’t know his heritage, but he’s the strongest shifter his generation has produced. Weirdly, his name was Will Barbie. That was before “Barbie” dolls were invented. Yes, the werewolves had savage traits, but I identified with them. It’s a spooky story because the werewolves do prey on man. But if you ARE one, you’ve got the advantage.

    If I were writing about Selkies, I’d have to twist the legend around so it wasn’t so sad. I’ve never had problems taking a basic idea like “werewolf” or “vampire” and doing what I want with it. If you keep your world consistant, I think you can do that. I basically want to read and write stories with happy endings. There’s enough bad stuff in the world. I can get tragedy from CNN.

    Rebecca

  3. Michele Hauf said,

    I loved Roan Inish! Hmm, have to dig that out and watch again soon. I’ve always that it a tragic tale, but romantic still. I know there are a few romances out there that have done selkies, so obviously some authors have worked it out.

  4. Marcia Colette said,

    I don’t think it has to be a tragic tale, but boy does it force both parties to open the lines of communication to find out if the person with you skin is a heartless s-o-b.

    I could easily see some cruel wench steaing the skin to bind a selkie to her. But what good is that? Real love means you don’t have to force or blackmail someone into it. I’d rather have a guy with me who wants to be with me, rather than bind him into it. That’s not love. What good is his skin if I don’t have his heart? I think that’s what a selkie-skin stealer would have to ask themselves. Keeping the skin is like keeping an asthmatic from their inhaler.

    As for illustrations of this, I can’t think of one. Oh well. I’m late to the commenting anyway. 🙂

  5. *lizzie starr said,

    I’ve long adored the selkie legends. Not only do we have the idea of a shapeshifter, but there’s also the lure of the seas that calls to so many.

    Reinventing the legend is important for the HEA. Maybe it’s not the skin stealer who wins the selkie’s heart. Perhaps that lover would steal the skin and…

    well, best not be giving away all my story details.

  6. JOYE said,

    I think the Selkies sound so interesting. Of course, love is everywhere so why wouldn’t it work? I would read a book like that. Thanks for the heads-up about the movie. I will rent to watch this Memorial Day weekend

  7. Teresa D'Amario said,

    I’ve read a few selkie stories. Another “twist”, could be when she trusts him enough to GIVE Him her skin. I think it would be great. Imagine the love to trust someone enough to hand an entire part of your life over to them.

  8. Teresa D'Amario said,

    Oh, should I add, or if the hero is the selkie, he trusts her enough to give it.🙂

  9. Savanna Kougar said,

    Teresa has a good take on how a romance would come about. I think I would take the legend and re-invent, especially since there’s so much room to make it something else. That could be story the Selkies want you to believe, rather than the truth of their kind.

  10. Kesali said,

    Absolutely thi shas potential. I’m writing one now though I being an unpublished author I suspect it will only be reading for friends.The legend of the Selchie goes back to Norse & Orkney legend and is loaded with history meshed with fantasy.

  11. Damsel said,

    I would say it has more than mere potential. The story has been used quite a lot for various stories. Not all of them are tragic. One of my favorite authors is Shana Abe, and though her book, “The Last Mermaid” is, as the name says, about a mermaid, when you read it you can see very obvious inspiration from the selkie legends. http://www.shanaabe.com/thelastmermaid.shtml

    Probably 75% of the romance novels I’ve read, by such authors as Connie Mason, Johanna Lindsey, and the aforementioned Shana Abe include rape or almost-rape in the plots. Very strong, overly-masculine men so confident in their sexuality that they seduce the women of the story with force as often as not. Those stories end with the couple being happily in love 100% of the time. It’s a little skewed, because they’re HISTORICAL romances, and that’s not a completely inaccurate portrayal of men and relationships back then. Force doesn’t cause the modern woman to fall in love. (I don’t consider abusive relationships to be love.)
    Despite the lack of “realism” for such a story set in modern times, it is still a very, VERY common plot line for romance novels. So it’s definitely more than mere potential, as the 3 authors I mentioned are all on multiple bestseller lists.

  12. Werewolf said,

    Read the book “the folk keeper”if you can find it. It is a romance about a sealkie, exept They call it a sealfolk. a beautiful book, one of my favourites. The main character is named Corinna and does not know that she is a sealmaiden.

  13. Jim said,

    Here is a concept that can keep the heart and feel of the origional Myth yet offer a romantic side like you might be looking for.

    Open with the Selkie being tricked and having her skin stolen, as per the old myths.

    To add the romantic twist you are looking for, While trapped as a human she abhors her husband/captor but begins to fall in love with a male selkie who visits her on the beach.

    Male Selkie must then confront captor and steal back her skin so she can join him in the sea.

    For a twist…Keep all of the above and reverse the genders.

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