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Selkies and Wereseals
aka: Selkies
"Selkie" by animawolf
Used with permission.

"Once a Selkie finds its skin again, neither chains of steel nor chains of love can keep her from the sea."
The Secret Of Roan Inish

Selkies (also known as silkies, selchies and seal wives) are mythological creatures that are found in Faroese, Icelandic, Irish, and Scottish folklore. Traditional Selkies are able to become human by taking off their seal skins, and can return to seal form by putting it back on. Stories concerning selkies are often Shapeshifting Lover romantic tragedies. Sometimes the human will not know that their lover is a selkie, and wakes to find them gone. Other times the human will hide the selkie's skin, thus preventing them from returning to seal form. A selkie can only make contact with one particular human for a short amount of time before they must return to the sea.

In modern Speculative Fiction, depiction of seal and sea lion shapeshifters varies. Some are called Selkies and correspond in varying degrees to traditional folklore. Others might be called wereseals. Sometimes seal shapeshifters incorporate features inspired by werebeast and werewolf lore. On rare occasion, the name Selkie will be applied to something other than a seal-shifter, however it is still normally used for something water related.

For more information, see The Other Wiki Selkie article.

Related tropes include Our Mermaids Are Different, Our Werebeasts Are Different, Animorphism, and Shapeshifting. See also Unscaled Merfolk.

Not to be confused with the Webcomic Selkie, or one of the races of the Final Fantasy subseries Crystal Chronicles.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Comics  

     Fan Fic  

  • The Dresden Files fanfic work Fair Vote is about a runaway wizard apprentice, George Saga, who, in the process of disentangling himself from a star-crossed selkie, ends up lost within the dark alleys of Miami politics.

     Film  

  • The 1994 John Sayles movie The Secretof Roan Inish tells the story of a family descended from selkies. It is based on the novel The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry by Rosalie K. Fry.
  • The Australian film titled Selkie depicts a young teenage male moving to a coastal town with his family. After he starts growing webbing between his fingers, having dreams of the water in the bathtub, and becomes a seal after diving into the sea to save a friend, he learns that he is a Selkie.
  • In the movie Ondine, the woman that Syracuse caught in his net is believed to be a Selkie and the film explores Selkie mythology.
  • Invoked in Rob Roy, when Rob's wife Mary tells him about a sex dream she had involving a Selkie.

     Literature  

  • Mercedes Lackey's novel The Serpent's Shadow features a group of selkies in a cameo as benign water fey creatures.
    • Selkies, or more accurately the Selch, also show up in Home from the Sea, in a much larger role.
  • British fantasy author Susan Cooper has written both a picture book and a novel featuring selkies. The picture book, Selkie Girl, recounts a traditional selkie legend from Ireland. The novel, Seaward, features characters who turn out to be selkies.
  • In the Merry Gentry series, a selkie named Roane Finn is the lover of Merry Gentry, who is a part human part fey princess who is hiding in Los Angeles in self-imposed exile from the Unseelie Kingdom. Roane Finn had his skin taken away from him, but after sleeping with her (because of fertility powers or something, various characters gain abilities after sleeping with her. Also this is Laurell K Hamilton we are talking about) he regains his skin and can transform into a seal again.
  • George Mackay Brown's novel Beside The Ocean Of Time also involves a young man falling love with a Selkie, and the hiding of her sealskin to keep her from returning to the sea.
  • In Tom Clancy's novel Net Force, a female assassin uses the name "The Selkie" as her underground cover name. She is of Irish heritage.
  • American author Christina Dodd published a romance novel entitled A Well Favored Gentleman about Ian Fairchild. His character made his first appearance in the first book of the Well Pleasured series, A Well Pleasured Lady. Ian is the son of a selkie and has powers due to that legacy.
  • In Anne Bishop Tir Alainne trilogy selkies are a member of the Fae race who must help witches avoid the mass murdering black inquisitors in order to stay alive.
  • James A. Hetley's books, Dragon's Eye and Dragon's Teeth, have a family of characters with the hereditary ability to transform into seals.
  • A.E. van Vogt's SF novel The Silkie features genetically modified people who can transform into aquatic, seal-like creatures or into living spaceships.
  • One of the main supporting characters in Jane Johnson's Eidolon trilogy is a young girl selkie called She Who Swims the Silver Path of The Moon (Silver for short) who becomes close with the main hero, Ben Arnold, when he rescues her from the evil Doddman's pet shop.
  • In the fifth book of The Last Apprentice series, the protagonist is forced to separate a beautiful selkie from her aging husband. In the series, selkies age very slowly, and are considered bad luck or are taught to be prostitutes.
  • Seal Child is a children's novel by Sylvia Peck which details a modern telling of the selkie myth.
  • The Folk Keeper, a "young readers" novel by Franny Billingsley also uses this myth powerfully.
  • At least one tale about selkies is included in Scottish Folk Tales by Ruth Manning-Sanders.
  • Terry Farley wrote Seven Tears into the Sea, a modern and slightly different selkie tale for teenagers. It is a teen romance novel following the story of a young girl who returns to her hometown in search of a selkie she encountered seven years earlier.
  • Selkies also appear as one of many varieties of "changed" human in Ken MacLeod's Engines of Light trilogy.
  • In Against the Tide by John Ringo, selkies are used with tongue-in-cheek humor, as the fantasy counterpart of Real Life U.S. Navy SEALs. In the book, selkies performed commando-style beach infiltrations.
  • The book Water Shaper by Laura Williams McCaffrey is based on some myths about selkies.
  • In Juliet Marillier's Child of the Prophesy, Darragh is turned into a selkie by the Fae.
  • Watcher in Juliet Marillier's Foxmask is a descendant of a selkie mother and a human father.
  • Mollie Hunter's novel, A Stranger Came Ashore, has a character named Finn Learson, a Tall, Dark and Handsome young man who turns out to be the Great Selkie, lord of all the other selkies. He has his eyes set on Elspeth, the prettiest girl from the local village; Elspeth's little brother Robbie, however, doesn't trust Finn and decides to uncover his true identity to save her...
  • Robert Holdstock's novel Merlin's Wood, contains a fantasy short story, The Silvering, in which the human protagonist is transformed into a selkie.
  • David Bischoff and Charles Sheffield wrote the novel The Selkie, a modern treatment of the selkie legend.
  • William Meikle's short story, The First Silkie appears in the Celtic Myth Podshow's Midsummer Holiday Special.
  • In the last of the five short stories in the anthology Love Is Hell entitled Love Struck by Melissa Marr a teenage girl walking along a beach accidentally steps upon a pelt of a selchie. The selchie falls in love with the girl but at first she doesn't return his love. The girl must ultimately make the decision to free the selchie because of his increasing longing for the sea or to keep close the selchie she now loves.
  • The Catherynne M. Valente book The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden includes a story of a female satyr who acquires a male selkie's skin, and then acquires the selkie as a lover.
  • The Star Trek: Titan novels include a Selkie character, Aili Lavena, who was a former lover of Captain William Riker. Note that "Selkie" is a term used by humans for a race which is amphibious during its breeding stage (when humans and other offworlders tend to meet them), before shifting to a fully aquatic phase. These Selkies, and their home-world of Pacifica, are key in the novel Star Trek: The Next Generation - Losing the Peace.
  • Uist Skerrie: The Inheritance, by Ellen S. Cartwright involves an island in the Chesapeake Bay where descendants of the Uist Islands in the Hebrides off Scotland live on in both Selkie and peacekeeper roles as an young doctor receives her birthright in a legacy filled with mystery, romance, and suspense. Selkie legend and modern science coexist with a constant struggle for protection against mainland intrusions and curiosity.
  • Sea Change, by Aimee Friedman is about a girl who comes to Selkie Island during the summer after a drama-filled year. She meets Leo, who is a selkie.
  • In Julia Golding's children's books The Companions Quartet, the selkie is a companion species, and the minor character Arran is a selkie.
  • JJ Beazley's short story "When the Waves Call" has a female selkie coming ashore on the west coast of Ireland at the time of the harvest moon, looking for a human male to help her move back to the land.
  • In the 2009 novel Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler, the main character, Jane True, is the adult child of a selkie and a human man.
  • In Patricia A. McKillip's novel The Tower at Stony Wood, a character is revealed to be of selkie origin when she regains her former shape by donning the seal suit she has made.
  • In Selkie Girl by Laurie Brooks, the main character Elin Jean has had webbed fingers her whole life. She finds out that her mom is a selkie. Elin then becomes a selkie as well.
  • At the end of the fantasy novel Kitty and the Midnight Hour, there is a mention of a wereseal. This mention is expanded upon in Kitty's House of Horrors, where the heroine meets a wereseal. He was a normal human until he was infected with a disease by a bite from another wereseal, must transform during the full moon but can transform at other times, has a Healing Factor, and has some degree of human intelligence in the other form but is basically an animal. A short story set in the same world also includes a selkie, which seems much more like the kind typical to Shapeshifting Lover stories.
  • In Vampire High, selkies are a type of vampire that can turn into an otter, and enjoy playing water polo.
  • In War of the Dreaming, selkies refer to the skins as "jackets," and they can be made from any species' flesh. Weirdly enough, this is also played for comedy: high-ranking selkie switch skins so often the lower ranks are perpetually confused about their identities.
  • The Petaybee series by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough employs the selkie myth in a futuristic setting. The Shongili family uses genetic engineering to create a selkie (Sean). Sean's kids are natural-born selkies as well.
  • The Dragon Knight series has Sir Giles, a selkie knight.
  • Greyling by Jane Yolen features selkies.
  • The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg briefly mentions silkies, also referred to as were-seals
  • In one Larry Niven The Magic Goes Away story, the main character is suspected of being a werelion, until it's noticed he never eats red meat, preferring fish. Because he's a were-sealion.
  • In the fantasy book from Paul Edwin Zimmer A Gathering of Heroes the Sea Elves can turn into Seals. It's much likely a reference to the Selkie myth.
  • Herbert, A character in Eva Ibbotson's The Island Of The Aunts, is one, as is his mother. They spend the book in seal form, until magical creatures are being taken from the island and someone accidentally touches a knife to Herbert, triggering his transformation. The transformations here are triggered involuntarily- they can only change shape when touched with cold steel or if someone cries seven teardrops on them. They can apparently stay in whichever form they prefer, as Herbert is something of a Love Interest for Aunt Myrtle, but eventually he decides to go back to the sea and go with The Kraken and his son on their journey.
  • One of The Magic Treehouse books featured the two child protagonists meeting a selkie. Despite the protagonists being normal humans, they were allowed to transform into seals via sealskin as well.
  • The Brides Of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan refers to selkies as "sea wives". On Rollrock Island, all the women are sea wives. The witch Misskaella has the ability to turn seals into incredibly beautiful women. She decides to provide this service to the men of Rollrock Island for a high price. Soon, all the men want their own sea wife, and no longer want human women. The families begin killing girl babies so that the sea wives won't have any competition.
  • In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novels, selkies and Roane are two fae races. The selkies' tragic origin story appears in one volume.
  • In Carousel Tides by Sharon Lee, one of the protagonist's friends is a selkie, and the dangers of letting one's skin fall into the wrong hands are discussed.
  • In Harry Potter, selkies are merpeople, or at least the particular subspecies of merpeople that lives in Scotland. They do not seem to have any connection to seals.
  • Discussed and perhaps subverted in Outlander. A chieftain's daughter is arranged to be married, but disappears at the last moment. Attempts to find her yield rumors that she fell in love with a dark-haired dark-eyed "silkie" and has gone to live with the seals. By the time the couple are located, she's happily pregnant. Interesting as it is set in Period Scotland, yet the character speculated to be a selkie is a man, for once.
  • In John C. Wright's War of the Dreaming duology selkies are the chief mooks of the forces of evil. In a reverse they are humanoid seals who wear human skins in order to pass, skins they cut off human corpses.
  • In Mildred Downey Broxon's fantasy novel Too Long a Sacrifice, the female protagonist Maire ni Donnall has an encounter with a male selkie.

     Live Action Television  

  • Hallmark made a movie in 2001 titled The Seventh Stream: A grieving Irishman falls for a stranger with a special gift reminiscent of a Celtic legend.
  • In an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in which the movie being riffed on was The Space Children, Mike comments, "There's a Selkie caught in the oil slick."
  • In Man vs. Wild, Bear Grylls makes a sealskin wetsuit. This has suggested to at least one viewer how selkies might be demythtified.
  • The "Fae Gone Wild" episode of Lost Girl centered around selkies whose seal skins were stolen by a sleazy strip club owner.

     Mythology  

  • In the Faroe Islands there are two versions of the story of the Selkie or Seal Wife. A young farmer from the town of Mikladalur on Kalsoy island goes to the beach to watch the selkies dance. He hides the skin of a beautiful selkie maid, so she can't go back to sea, and forces her to marry him. He keeps her skin in a chest, and keeps the key with him both day and night. One day when out fishing, he discovers that he has forgotten to bring his key. When he returns home, the selkie wife has escaped back to sea, leaving their children behind. Later, when the farmer on a hunt kills both her selkie husband and two selkie sons, she promises to take revenge upon the men of Mikladalur. Some shall be drowned, some shall fall from cliffs and slopes, and this shall continue, until so many men have been lost that they will be able to link arms around the whole island of Kallsoy.
  • One tale tells of the fisherman Cagan who married a seal-woman. Against his wife's wishes he set sail dangerously late in the year, and was trapped battling a terrible storm, unable to return home. His wife shifted to her seal form and saved him, even though this meant she could never return to her human body and hence her happy home.
    • Another story tells of a childless fisherman who found a selkie child in his nets and adopted it. It ends similarly to the above.
  • Some stories from Shetland have selkies luring islanders into the sea at midsummer, the lovelorn humans never returning to dry land.
  • Seal shapeshifters similar to the selkie exist in the folklore of many cultures. A corresponding creature existed in Swedish legend, and the Chinook people of North America have a similar tale of a boy who changes into a seal.
  • One tale from the Hebrides islands has a mermaid princess who is unhappy that she has webbed feet instead of a tail, having inherited human genes from her great-grandfather (a sailor). After her mother dies, her father remarries a Sea Witch, who is (not surprisingly) a Wicked Stepmother, jealous of the princess' beauty. When her biological mother was alive, she would come up on land and save an apple for the princess. The Sea Witch tricks the princess into going up on land...only instead of eating an apple, convinces her to eat a wild grape. The grape turns her into a seal, except for one night each year.

     Music  

  • The Progressive Death Metal band Between The Buried And Me album Alaska has a song called "Selkies: The Endless Obsession."
  • The album Honeycomb by former Pixies front-man Frank Black includes a tune called "Selkie Bride", which alludes to the Selkie legend.
  • The poet Jane Yolen wrote a poem entitled "The Ballad of the White Seal Maid", that is a sad story of a fisherman and his selkie wife. This poem was set to music by the folk musician Lui Collins, and recorded by her and also by Mike Agranoff.
  • The Faroese ballad "KˇpakvŠ­i" (the seal-ballad) by Faroese writer Joen Danielsen is based on the story about the Seal-Wife from Kalsoy island. The ballad is in Faroese and consists of 68 verses.
  • The song "SŠlkvinden" (the seal-woman) by Danish singer Lars Lilholt is a sad story about a young fisherman and a selkie.
  • The British folk artist Talis Kimberley wrote "Still Catch the Tide," a song written from the perspective of the selkie's lover, upon returning to find the selkie (which is of indeterminate gender) packing their things to return to the sea. The song has been covered by several other folk artists.
  • The US folk artist Gordon Bok wrote "Peter Kagan and the Wind" a cantefable about the fisherman Kagan who married a selkie, and how his selkie wife saved him from a terrible storm, even though this meant she could never return to her human body and hence her happy home.
  • Californian filk artist Seanan McGuire released the song "In This Sea," a song from the perspective of a selkie's lover letting her willingly go, on the CD Stars Fall Home. The same album contains a cover of the Talis Kimberly song above.
  • Folk singer Joan Baez included a song called "Silkie" on her second album in 1961.
  • Australian folk band Spiral Dance, in their 1999 CD titled Magick, includes a song titled "Song for a Selkie".
  • Singer Mary McLaughlin sings a beautiful song entitled "Sealwoman/Yundah" on the "Celtic Voices: Women of Song" CD.
  • Singer MÚav NÝ Mhaolchatha, opens her solo album Silver Sea with the song "You Brought Me Up", a Selkie woman captured then abandoned on land.
  • The Irish-American musical group, Solas, have a song called "The Grey Selchie" on their "The Words That Remain" CD.
  • US singer Alexander James Adams sings "First Rising Tide", about a selkie man, on his 2008 CD "A Familiar Promise".
  • Druid folk singer Damh the Bard's first album Herne's Apprentice features a song titled "The Selkie" about these beings.
  • Singer/songwriter S.J. Tucker created a song "Seafaring Satyr" based on Catherynne M. Valente's story about a female satyr and a male selkie.
  • On Heather Dale's album Gawain and the Green Knight, there is a song called The Maiden and The Selkie, about a selkie lord who wishes to marry a fisherman's daughter.

     Table Top Games  

  • Selkie are monsters in the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. They resemble seals with human-like hands and facial features, who have the ability to transform into humans. Some rule books also include wereseals as a separate type of creature.
    • Dungeons & Dragons also includes a much nastier variant in the form of the "seawolf", which is essentially an amphibious werewolf with the beast form of a huge, wolf-headed seal.
  • In Magic: The Gathering there are three cards with the name selkie in them. They are classified as a merfolk, are all green/blue hybrid-mana creatures, and pictured as half seal, half human. The flavor text for the card Wistful Selkie says, "Selkies call to a sea they never swam, in a tongue they never spoke, with a song they never learned." This is not just a bit of Meaningless Meaningful Words, but in fact a very necessary Lampshade Hanging: the selkies' home plane has no oceans, just rivers that don't go anywhere, so these selkies are adapted to fresh water and presumably very confused.
  • Changeling: The Dreaming includes selkies. As all the kiths embody various dreams, selkies are dreams of the sea. Their sealskin coat can take any form (from a belt to a leather jacket to a wetsuit), and they start to wither and die (at least, their fae side does) if they're away from the coast for too long.
  • Selkies in Pathfinder are shapeshifting Monstrous Humanoids whose true form is part human and part leopard seal. They tend to be tricksters, and range from somewhat feral to out-and-out nasty.

     Video Games  

  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles has a race called Selkie, however unlike mythical Selkies, they are simply a humanoid race, with body paint and blue-green hair, with no apparent shapeshifting abilities. However, in their town, there is a selkie who says something along the lines of, "We Selkies came from the sea, and one day we will return there." Also, this same main town of the Selkies, Leuda, is set on an island far out at sea.
  • The writers of Knights of the Old Republic may have derived their race of aquatic peoples, the Selkath, from the Selkie legends.
  • Selkies in AdventureQuest are not shapeshifting humans, but rather, just seals that can transform into vicious, humanoid seals.

     Web Comics  

  • The Web Comic Selkie is the story of on a young selkie girl adopted by a human. The depiction is quite different from the normal folklore, presenting selkies as a fish-like humanoid species. The story focuses on problems related to the girl's unusual needs, like her carnivorous diet and her problems fitting into normal shoes.
  • In Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name by Tessa Stone, the character Veser is the Half-Human Hybrid of a human/selkie marriage. Kind of a Deconstruction: it seems to posit that a guy who would knowingly hold a selkie against her will is likely a Jerk Ass (he also abuses his son and murders his best friend), their marriage is a sham, and Veser seems to acknowledge that his mom would abandon him if given the chance.
  • Red Right Hand has a brief mention of selkies.
  • Mixed Myth features a character who's part selkie and part werewolf. He can transform into a wolf, but only when he has his wolfskin with him. Later, his pureblood selkie relatives show up.
  • Bad Machinery, "The Case of the Fire Inside", Sonny accidentally acquires a selkie girl's skin (Lottie stuffed it in his bag while he wasn't looking, and neither of them realized that it was a selkie skin). The selkie girl (Ellen Selkie, as she ends up being called) goes looking for her skin, and due to shenanigans she finds herself enrolled at the same school as Sonny and Lottie.
    • Ellen's father also comes looking for her and her sister, who turns out to be Mildred's psychotic romantic rival (for the young man who found her sealskin as a child). Unfortunately, she left her skin behind when she was very young and no longer fits into it, leaving her trapped as a human. She ends up arrested for murdering previous rivals
  • In Archipelago, a were-walrus appears in Book 9, Page 36.

     Web Original  

  • Kingdom of Loathing includes wereseals. Blood of the Wereseal is a potion that causes your muscles to wax and wane with the moons.

     Western Animation  

  • In an episode of Catscratch, the banshee that was haunting the Highland Quid Clan was in fact a selkie (called a "seal woman" in the show) under a curse.
  • Cartoon Saloon and Tomm Moore's next film Song Of The Sea has Bronagh and Saoirse, who are mother and daughter selkies respectively.


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alternative title(s): Selkies; Wereseals
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