The People of the Sea

Dr Hannah Boast (University of Birmingham)
The People of the Sea: Selkies in Scottish and Irish Folk Tales

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 20 February 2019
5.00 – 6.30 pm
Room NTC.2.05

The selkie has enjoyed a revival of interest in popular culture following the release of the 2014 animated film Song of the Sea. This session will focus on David Thomson’s neglected but enchanting The People of the Sea (1954), which recounts Thomson’s journey around the Scottish Isles and the west of Ireland in search of selkie folklore. Travelling in the late 1940s, Thomson encounters a world in flux, with the arrival of council houses, sanitary officers, television, and the new materials of paraffin and rubber rendering the seal-killing trade obsolete. Yet, as Thomson finds, selkie stories quietly persist. This talk examines the insights these stories might offer into economic transitions, understandings of human-nonhuman relationships, and the symbolism of water in myth and folklore.

Hannah Boast is Teaching Fellow in Contemporary and Postcolonial Literature at University of Birmingham. Her book Hydrofictions: Water, Power and Politics in Israeli and Palestinian Literature will be published in 2020 by Edinburgh University Press, and she is working on a new project called World Literature and Water Crisis.

References: David Thomson, The People of the Sea (London: Canongate, 2011).

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