A small glowing laptop screen is the only thing separating my reality from the extraordinary world of Celtic myths. A hazy blue tone on my face like a selkie’s underwater lit by the moonlight. Some incoherent raving to my roommate, praise in almost a different language for a culture I have no physical connection to.
My obsession with myths and legends started rather young, but specifically I remember dreaming about mermaids, watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I always wanted to be in the water, but would always grow tired of haplessly treading water via the infamous doggy-paddle, lacking the grace and silkiness that mermaids seemed to exhibit in films and books.
But I still wanted to be one.
I wanted to be one so bad, that sometimes in bed I’d tie my legs together with scarves and close my eyes imagining and hoping that I was one of those deep sea women. That I was diving beneath the depths, greeting the neighborhood fish, and finding the landlubber prince of my seven year old dreams. Dark haired Eric was a tough act to follow for my fellow second graders.
As I got older my interest in the myths grew darker and more velvety and suddenly the cartoonish desires of my childhood weren’t enough. I wanted more. Late one night at the age of seventeen, I stumbled upon photos and paintings of dark haired women, their faces barely above the surface of water. Their eyes as dark and gleaming as the night sky, their skin a soft and supple gray, and their hair splayed like tendrils across the surface of the water.
I was smitten.
The Irish selkies are a group of mythical folks who are seals when in the water with their seal coats on, but can take off their seal coats to be on land, but their curse is to always be torn between the sea and the land. Never fully a seal, never fully a human. I thought the imagery of a creature never satisfied with where it was until it left, a perpetual state of ‘the grass is always greener’, it was something relatable and intriguing.
The childhood I spent on lakes, rivers, and backyard swimming pools suddenly felt relevant. I was a selkie. I didn’t belong on the land, or on the sea. I didn’t belong in my home state of Wisconsin, nor did I belong in Washington. I found this movie at the turning point of my life, teetering between adolescence and adulthood, also having to make a choice. I was torn between where I was, and where I’d rather be.
I was a selkie.
I continually scour the internet for more information on selkies. The dark women of my dreams haunting me like sirens, like the sea itself was calling out to me. In college, I came across films from the 90’s, short stories and songs in a book from a dusty bookstore, a $500+ book on eBay that I couldn’t even dream of owning, all of which were only pushing and pulling me further and further into the next desperate google search, like the roll of a tide, until gratefully I arrived at Song of the Sea.
With beautiful 2d animation, and a captivating soundtrack, Song of the Sea was the quench to my thirst for the selkie myths, with the tender reminder of my mermaid cartoon roots. It is one of the few movies that I felt properly incorporated the myths and legends with the same level of mystery and mystique that I imagined myths with as a child. Gentle water color, soft and deep tones of the landscape, the musically lilting Irish accents. Everything about it filled me with the same curiosity and wonder I had as a child about Hans Christian Andersen stories.
Magic clinks through the movie like seashell chimes. It floats through the scenes, illustrated in delicate lace-like swirls. Beyond the watercolor animations, the soundtrack softly pushes and pulls you into the scenes of a young selkie Saoirse and her older brother Ben as they navigate the Irish countryside back to their home. They come across myths and legends who look like the adults in their life.
Still from the film, where the children’s father parallels the painting of Mac Lir on the children’s wall.
The adult characters in the film look like the myths the children and the viewers learn about. The frightening owl witch Macha looks like the children’s grandmother. The stony Mac Lir looks like their father who struggles with the loss of his wife and their mother. The Great Seanchaí, a myth whose hair holds stories and memories, and who also looks like the ferryman to the children’s island home.
In the legends of the film, and Ireland, Macha took Mac Lir’s emotions to free him of the sadness of losing his wife, but with every emotion she took, he turned more and more into stone, in the same way that the children’s grandmother didn’t want their father to be sad. Her love for him and her grandchildren is so overbearing that it hurts, but she only ever wanted to help her son.
The direct comparisons of the myths in the story to the children’s family is such a beautifully poignant way of showing them process their real grief and emotions. Ben uses the journey to discover the hidden love he had for his annoying sister, and to confront the loss of his mother. There comes a point for Saoirse, as it does for all selkies that she must choose between two very different worlds.
The imagination of children and the myths combine to make a film that captures such incredible feelings in myself of nostalgia for a life I never lived. The life I wish I had lived since I was younger, to stand as a myth on the edge of cliffs into the sea, begging to be in the water, or swimming in the dark depths staring up.
It was never as dark as the alluring selkie women that first peaked my interest, but Song of the Sea was the embodiment of the childlike wonder I’ll always hold towards the legends.
Song of the Sea combines the childhood longing I had for being something more than what I was, or what I was capable of. For truly being a sea creature, for being good at swimming without a life jacket, for being a living legend.
For being a selkie.