[Victoria Film Festival ’15] Examining the Folklore behind Song of the Sea

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)


11am Feb 9
The Vic Theatre
Victoria, BC

3pm Feb 14
Star Cinema
Sidney, BC

With only a trailer to go by, this animation by the production house Cartoon Saloon, who produced Secret of Kells, will go far. It’s a guaranteed winner for its cultural aesthetic and expansion of a traditional mythic tradition about the Selkie, supernatural creatures found in Irish and Scottish folklore. They can transform from seal to human and vice versa. These beings are well-known to those living in the Orkney Islands, and their proliferation into Celtic popular culture can be found in many a piece of literature or found featured in a play.

On an island located west of Canada, there’s some Scottish tradition to be found. Some audiences may have been introduced to the lore about the Selkie during last year’s Victoria Fringe Festival by Voice Box Theatre Company’s low-budget Cirque du Soleil style performance, “Selkie Tales.” To have a follow-up of sorts as part of this year’s Victoria Film Festival’s Family Day Program is a blessing of the faeries.

To understand what these supernatural sea-faring folk are about means delving into what little documentation there is. In the surviving folklore, there is no agreement as to how often the selkie-folk were able to carry out the transformation. Some tales say it was once a year, usually Midsummer’s Eve, while others state it could be “every ninth night” or “every seventh stream.” (1)

They would be found dancing upon lonely stretches of moonlit shore or basking in the sun on outlying skerries and their encounters with mankind is rare. Just like in what was presented back in Voice Box’s show, the fisherman who marvelled at their beauty did more than take a female Selkie home to be his wife. He hid her seal coat and whilst she pined to return to the sea, she could not. Once the skin is shed, whoever holds it does not necessarily own their heart. Horrors can arrive, if the original lore is to be held, as these paranormal creature’s ire can be raised when one of their kin is kept away from their ocean homestead.


Another ballad, “The Great Selkie o’ Suleskerry,” is hauntingly sad. This one finds a mortal woman taking on a Selkie lover, and bearing a son. Some years later, this merman would come and ask to take their son to the sea so he can experience what his heritage is about. All the boy has to remember his mortal life was a golden chain. But when the woman remarries later, and her new husband is hunting for food, what he shoots is not without consequences. What he presented to her was that chain (2).

Song of the Sea may echo a bit of the melancholy that traditional folklore paints this world. Here, the older Ben (David Rawle) and younger Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) discover a magic that’s been lost to them. For years, their father Conor (Brendan Gleeson) has remained sad because of the loss of his wife. Details are uncertain as to why, but it’s a safe bet that because she belonged to the sea, that’s where she went home to than to stay in the mortal realm. The fact that Saoirse finds a ocarnia means he may hold the key to reawakening the magic within, and perhaps as family, together they can find peace. But grandma (Fionnula Flanagan) wants them to come closer to land. To make this movie an animated marvel for all ages to enjoy means that a happy ending is in store.

The trailer itself is visually gorgeous, and fans of Cartoon Saloon’s works will not come out disappointed.

(1) http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/selkiefolk
(2) http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/selkiefolk/sulesk.htm

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

2 thoughts on “[Victoria Film Festival ’15] Examining the Folklore behind Song of the Sea”

  1. I love this movie! The art is stunning and unique and the story was just lovely, so much more than what the brief movie blurbs and synopses were laying it out to be. I also enjoyed The Secret of Kells but found the pacing much better in this movie. I was rooting for this movie and The Tale of Princess Kaguya at the Oscars last year (alas for both) :)

  2. Can’t describe how much I loved this film :) It’s so beautiful to look at, as are the relationships between the characters, the scary lonely part when the children are sent away is very intense and I just cried buckets at the end. It’s just magical that children’s entertainment can be so good.

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