Using Folklore in Writing Fantasy by Sandra Saidak
“I guess I’ve always known about the shapeshifting seals called selkies. I’d heard at least a couple of old ballads, and even seen one printed up in a Beauty and the Beast fanzine. But when I began writing the story which eventually became The Seal Queen, I knew that selkies weren’t quite what I was looking for. I knew I needed some kind of animal shapeshifter, and since the book was going to take place on the southern coast of Ireland, seals certainly made the most sense.
It was while sitting in a Barnes and Noble with a hot chocolate and a copy of The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures by John and Caitlin Matthews, (a wonderful book, which I could not possibly have afforded at the time) that I discovered the roane. While similar to selkies, and just as likely to have their fur stolen and forced to become the wife of some fisherman, these gentle creatures were much more like what I was looking for.
I searched for more information, but could only find one folktale involving the roane, which I will briefly paraphrase here:
A seal trapper lost his knife while attempting to kill a bull-seal. That night, a stranger came to his door, asking to purchase a large number of seal skins. The trapper gathered together a sizable bundle, and while loading them onto the stranger’s horse, found himself pulled onto the horse behind the stranger, who at once rode them to the edge of a cliff—then over it, into the sea.
The trapper found himself in the sea cave of the roane. he stranger, who was actually a roane in human form, was now a seal. Gathered in the cave was a sorrowing group of roane, who surrounded an injured bull-seal. One of them, in human form, held a knife, and asked the trapper if it was his. Terrified, the trapper could only nod. Then, to his amazement, the roane handed him his knife and told him the seal could be saved if the trapper would draw a circle around the wound with the knife, smooth it with his hand, and pray for it to be healed.
The trapper did so, and before his eyes the wound closed and soon disappeared. The trapper swore an oath never to harm another seal and was taken home.
As soon as I read the story, I knew two things: these were the creatures I was looking for, and this tale would appear in my novel. So far, all I had of that novel was a scene in which a pregnant woman was fleeing an abusive situation, and then arriving on an enchanted beach where she could finally feel safe. There, she would begin to discover her own strength and resourcefulness. The themes I saw in the folktale—forgiveness, hope, redemption and healing magic—resonated so strongly that I knew this one little story would shape my entire novel. You can find my version of the tale in Chapter 22 of The Seal Queen.”
The Seal Queen’s Cover Blurb: “Drawing on Irish folklore, The Seal Queen tells the story of Briah, an escaped slave who finds sanctuary, for herself and her unborn child, on an enchanted beach. There her life is filled with contented solitude, the joys of motherhood, and even the possibility of love with a merman whose song haunts her dreams.
But Briah’s magical world is shaken when she discovers that her son is the long-awaited savior and future king of the roane (shape-shifting seals, and gentler cousins of the selkies). Briah wants to help these magical creatures, but is unwilling to see her son become a pawn in their deadly schemes. When faced with the choice between sending her child to battle his diabolical father or allowing the roane to be exterminated, Briah insists on finding a third option.”
Find out more about Sandra Saidak by visiting her on Facebook (Sandra Saidak) and checking out her website: http://sandrasaidak.com/
Her books can be purchased on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sandra-Saidak/e/B006C1QZR8/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 Including not only The Seal Queen, but also Sandra’s prehistoric fiction series, Kalie’s Journey, beginning with Daughter of theGoddess Lands, an epic set in the late Neolithic Age and continued in Shadow of the Horsemen. And a story set in the Kalie universe can be found in Sandra’s short story collection, In the Balance.
Thanks again to Sandra Saidak for her guest post. Watch Whimsical Words for more guests, blogs from me, and Readers & Writers Recipes. Have a magical day! – Vonnie