March 17, 2014

A St. Patrick's Day Fairy Tale News Report, by Nora Stasio

The Seal-Woman and The Mistress of All Evil (Song of the Sea and Maleficent)

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, our first story hails from the Emerald Isle.  

"Cartoon Saloon" is an  Irish animation studio that's best known for producing The Secret Of Kells in 2009. If you've never seen that lovely little picture, it tells the story of a young boy who befriends a forest spirit on his quest to complete the legendary "Book of Kells." A beautiful piece of animation, rich with the flavors of Ancient Ireland, it was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2010 Academy Awards.

        Image from the Book of Kells

Their next feature production is titled, "The Song of the Sea." Not much has been revealed about the plot, except that it centers on a selkie named Saoirse (pronounced SEER-sha).

Never heard of a selkie? It's a creature from medieval Irish and Scottish traditions. The selkies were said to be beautiful men and women who lived inside seal skins that they could don or shed as they pleased. Typically they'd live among the seals, appearing no different from the rest of the herd. But on occasion, a curious selkie might shed their skin and wander into town to interact with humans.

A typical selkie myth goes like this: A female sheds her seal skin and a human fisherman finds it and hides it away. This puts the selkie entirely at his mercy; she is forced to become his wife. In some stories, their love is mutual, or they grow to love each other. But because she is a creature of the sea, the selkie is never satisfied living a human's lifestyle, and longs to return from whence she came. She will either uncover her stolen sealskin while cleaning, or her child will happen to find it. The next day, the fisherman awakes to find that his wife and her seal skin have disappeared. Typically they never meet again, though sometimes the selkie will return to visit her children. 

"The Song of the Sea" is expected to be released in Ireland sometime this year. Check out the link below for the official trailer. I'm super excited!

In other news, have you seen the posters for the upcoming film Maleficent? Angelina Jolie has a striking appearance (quite literally) as the iconic Disney villain from 1959's Sleeping Beauty

This project is apparently a retelling ofSleeping Beauty's story (this time in live-action), told from Maleficent's point of view. We'll be following her progression from innocent young girl to cruel, conniving witch. According to the synopsis, the cause of her wickedness is a tragic back-story. (Sounds a little bit like "Wicked," by Gregory McGuire, if you ask me.) 

I was a bit perplexed when I first saw the ad. Obviously, "villain stories" are in vogue these days. From Breaking Bad to The Wolf of Wall Street to Despicable Me, we've been seeing a lot of anti-heroes and hearing classic stories told from a darker perspective. And it's an interesting trend. This just isn't something I expected from Disney, of all studios. 

Maleficient, to me, never seemed like Disney's most sympathetic character. In the first act of the 1959 film, she curses Princess Aurora with an early death, merely because she was jealous at not having been invited to the royal christening. She names her pet raven "Diablo," after the devil himself. At the film's climax, she literally calls herself, "the mistress of all evil," and summons, "all the powers of Hell," to aid her in defeating the heroic Prince. 

It seems like quite a daunting task to turn the vengeful hellion created by Disney into a very modern personification of the "misunderstood monster" trope, the type of character that audiences should feel bad for. But I'm keeping an open mind. Maybe Linda Woolverton's screenplay will blow us away, and we'll all leave the theater weeping for poor Maleficent's plight. The film opens May 30th, 2014.

Are you fond of "villain stories," or are you getting tired of trendy tropes likes these? Leave us a comment! Also, if you know any good Irish folktales, feel free to share!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Bio: Nora writes, "I have been a lover of creative writing and fairy tales for basically my entire life! I recently graduated Cum Laude from Rutgers where I completed a minor in English, with a focus in Creative Writing and Shakespeare (I majored in Psychology)."


  1. Yes, turning any of the Disney villains into likeable characters is a daunting task, but I'm happy that Disney is searching for new ways to present fairy tales; at least they try to keep fairy tales alive and in the minds and hearts of both children and adults.

  2. Maleficent is the one Disney villain who truly terrified me as a kid, I think not only because of her character but also because of the darkness of the animation surrounding her. And I always, always thought that her actions were completely unjustified and blown out of proportion, whereas even as a child I could somehow understand the jealousy of Snow White's stepmother or Cinderella's step family - I think that irrational villainy made her the scariest too. So, although it may be an unusual choice for Disney, if they were going to do it they certainly have given themselves the biggest challenge and you gotta admire that!

    'The Song of the Sea' excites me, I loved 'The Secret of Kells' and thought the animation was beautiful. Selkie tales are my favourites.

    Have you watched the film 'Ondine'? It's about a woman who appears in a fisherman's net, and he makes sense of this, and all the other things going on in his life, by believing she is a Selkie/Ondine.

    I also remember about 15 years ago watching a children's film about a Selkie boy that completely captivated me, but I cannot remember it's name :( If anybody has any ideas I'd love to hear from you!!!

  3. Selkie stories have attracted me for a long time. I loved the version in Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women who run with the Wolves. They are sad stories and yet so beautiful. I have told selkie stories to older children (10-12 yr old) who understand loss. My version has evolved to include a hopeful ending. I felt that the audiences I told to needed that hope.

  4. Cool news about Song of the Sea! The selkie film I remember is The Secret of Roan Inish (1994). I don't remember it being aimed at children, but there is a little boy who is selkie (I think).

    I think I am starting to feel like the whole villain perspective story has been done. What I've seen of Maleficent is very striking visually, but that's not the only thing that matters to me.

  5. I'm getting a bit bored with the "villain stories". They've been very in vogue ever since Gregory Maguire's book Wicked (which, I honestly didn't think was very good). It's just one of the handful of ways that people seem to want to re-spin folk and fairy tales. I'd rather see people make films and books based on tales that aren't so much in the public consciousness, but I may have to keep dreaming.