In the Selkie legends of Scotland and Ireland, a seal sheds its skin and comes ashore as a woman. When a man falls in love with her, he hides the skin to prevent her from returning to the sea. In Seán Virgo’s story, the master of a tall ship hides the shadow of his beloved, with moving consequences.
While on a voyage far from home, his ship at anchor among islands and palm trees, a ship’s master sees a girl laughing in the sea. He is entranced and searches for her on his way home. A wise old woman tells him where to find her, and also tells him that he must hide her shadow. He is convinced that he loves the girl more than the sea itself, and takes her back to the river of his birth, where their son is born.
The boy grows up in a world of silence. His father is gloomy, and his mother, although loving, moves like a shadow in the house and walks alone by the sea, full of loss and longing.
On his tenth birthday the boy finds an old sea chest in the attic, where he returns whenever he feels sad and lonely. One day its rusty lock comes undone, and inside he discovers a strange white skin, with an underside that stings him. The boy becomes feverish, and in his delirium hears a voice telling him to take the skin down to the shore. Waves gradually take the skin and the boy into the water, and he swims out to the world where he belongs.
Seán Virgo was first inspired to write this story when researching a novel in the Solomon Islands, where the islanders believe in Kareimanua, a half man, half shark. He was also influenced by the Selkie legends of Scotland and Ireland, the swan maiden of Germanic myth, and the European fascination with the South Seas, involving both romance and plunder.
Seán Virgo’s mysterious, haunting story is complemented by Javier Serrano’s extraordinary and stunningly beautiful illustrations.