The Satyr and the Selkie

by Erin on March 20, 2012

Yesterday, in Story of the Selkie, I shared writer Catherynne M. Valente’s tale of a pair of mythological creatures who fall in love. This relationship was between a female Satyr a male Selkie in the book The Orphans Tales: In the Night Garden. Now, I really enjoyed Valente’s intriguing interpretation, as unconventional as it is, so today I wanted to take a closer look at these two figures from myth and folklore, respectively.

I am familiar with satyrs from Greek mythology. According to ancient artists and authors, satyrs are commonly depicted as humanoids with certain animal features - indeed, often a satyr will be portrayed with the legs of a goat. And in my mind at least, these beings were relentlessly male. So needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Eshkol, the satyr in the story, was female. Actually, I think that Valente’s satyrs may be a clever conflation of the Classical goat-men and dryads. You remember dryads, don’t you? Those hauntingly lovely female nature spirits who frolic in forests? Yep, that’s how I would describe dryads.

That being said, let’s turn our attention to selkies, shall we? Selkies are creatures that populate the imaginations and folklore of people who live near the sea. This only makes sense, as selkies are seals in one of their forms. And in the other? Well, Valente’s story reveals that selkies also have a human guise. This human half appears when the selkie sheds its skin in order to walk on land.

Combining the two disparate characters demonstrates the author’s creativity and innovative approach to handling mythology. Indeed, I adore the way that Catherynne M. Valente has dusted off these mythological creatures and brought them to life in the form of a pair of figures in her remarkable book.

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