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Selkie Women

By Theodora Goss

I had a sort of incomplete revelation the other day about selkies.

An incomplete revelation is where I realize something, but I’m not entirely sure what I’ve realized, how it works. But I generally know what it has to do with. In this case, it has to do with the otherness of the magical animal women in folk and fairy tales. It has to do with another way of looking at them.

It occurred to me that there have always been selkie women: women who did not seem to belong to this world, because they did not fit into prevailing notions of what women were supposed to be. And if you did not fit into those notions, in some sense you weren’t a woman. Weren’t even quite human. The magical animal woman is, or can be, a metaphor for those sorts of women. Perhaps my thinking on this issue was influenced by having just read John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman, because Sarah Woodruff is one of those women. She is presented as not quite human, which could be seen as a problem with Fowles’ characterization. Or it could be seen as something else, the fact that certain women are perceived as otherworldly, are not understood, precisely because they cannot be understood according to prevailing codes.

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