Skellig

Introduction

Skellig is a children's novel by the British author David Almond, published by Hodder in 1998. It was the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year and it won the Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's outstanding children's book by a British author.[3] In the US it was a runner up for the Michael L. Printz Award, which recognises one work of young adult fiction annually. Since publication, it has also been adapted into a play, an opera, and a film.

Delacorte Press published the first US edition in 1999.[2][4]

Plot

10-year-old Michael and his family have recently moved into a ruined house on Falconer Road. He and his parents are nervous, as his new baby sister was born earlier than expected and may not live because of a heart condition. When Michael goes into the garage, he finds a strange emaciated creature hidden amid all the boxes, debris and dead insects. Michael assumes that he is a homeless person, but decides to look after him and gives him food. The man is crotchety and arthritic, demanding aspirin, Chinese food menu order numbers 27 and 53 and brown ale. Michael hears a story that human shoulder blades are a vestige of angel wings.

Meanwhile, his friends from school become more and more distant as Michael stops attending school and spends less time with them. He meets a girl named Mina from across the road and over the course of the story they become really close. Mina is home-schooled. Nature, birds, drawing, the poems of William Blake and her relationship with Michael interest her. Often drawing or sculpting at home, she invites Michael to join in. She takes care of some baby birds who live in her garden and teaches Michael to hear their tiny sounds. Michael decides to introduce her to the strange creature. Michael's friends, Coot and Leaky, become skeptical about Michael and try to find out what he is hiding from them. Michael and Mina try to keep it a secret from them, and have to move "Skellig" plenty of times during the story.

Michael asks about arthritis and how to cure it, talking to doctors and patients in the hospital where his baby sister is being treated. Grace, an old woman, took a run through the hospital and came to see her. The creature whom Michael had moved from the garage—revealing a pair of wings at his shoulders—introduces himself as "Skellig" to Michael and Mina.

Michael's baby sister comes dangerously close to death, necessitating heart surgery. His mother goes to the hospital to stay with the baby and, that night, "dreams" of seeing Skellig come in, pick the baby up, and hold it high in the air, saving her. He subsequently moves from the garage after saying goodbye to Michael and Mina, answering their questions about his nature by saying that he is 'something,' combining aspects of human, owl and angel.

The baby, after a while establishing what she was going to be called, they settled on Joy, after thinking about calling it Persephone.

Characters
  • Micheal (protagonist)
  • Mina (Michael's friend)
  • Coot (Michael's friend)
  • Skellig (Main character) Andy Black
  • Joy (Michael's baby sister)
  • Mr. Batley (The Builder who knocked down Michael's garage)
  • Natley's (two santas little helpers)
  • Mr. Stone (Real estate agent that sells Michael's family the house)
  • Dr. Death (aka Dr. Dan, the doctor that comes to Michael's house to check up on the baby)
  • Rasputin (Michael's science teacher)
  • Mrs Dando (Michael's Form Teacher)
  • Grace (old women from hospital)
  • April Parison (nurse)

Origins

Almond has provided public answers to some frequent questions from his school visits. Among other points, "The book is set in my house and my garage. When we moved here, the garage was in the same condition as the garage in the book, and there really was a toilet in the dining room." As a boy he had a baby sister and he learned from his mother that "shoulder blades are where our wings used to be, when we were angels." When he wrote the book he didn't know what Michael would find in the garage. As of 2012, he claims he doesn't yet know what Skellig is and it's a mystery.[5]

Themes

Skellig is deliberately ambiguous about its title character.[6] The implication is that he is some kind of angel is obvious, but his general demeanor and attitude differ sharply from traditional ideas about angels.

The names "Skellig" and "Michael" are derived from the Skellig Islands off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland.[5] One of them is Skellig Michael Island; St Michael is also the name of an archangel. The short text brings in so many ideas that readers and critics report widely diverse interpretations of "what the book is about". Short speeches on art, love, health, life and death, evolution, nature, Blake, education and family share a common context.

Almond has acknowledged the influence of "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings", a short story by Gabriel García Márquez. Paul Latham compares the works in a research article, "Magical Realism and the Child Reader: The Case of David Almond's Skellig". Despite many similarities, he notes that Almond's child protagonists are much more caring and accepting than the close-minded and sometimes cruel adults in the Márquez story. Also, Mina and Michael keep Skellig a secret from the rest of human society. Thus the negative social commentary in Skellig, regarding medical institutions and other aspects of adult society, is not as harsh as in Márquez's story.[7]

Mina also teaches Michael about the archaeopteryx, a prehistoric bird from the dinosaur age. They learn about Persephone and the pomegranate tree, thus wanting to name the baby that. It also shows that Skellig produces owl pellets, suggesting that he is some kind of owl. All of this combined suggests that Skellig is some kind of modern archaeopteryx, a mix of owl, angel and relating to the story of Persephone.

Prequel

Hodder published Almond's 300-page prequel to Skellig late in 2010, My Name is Mina (ISBN 978-0-340-99725-3). It was one four books on the 2011 Guardian Award shortlist[8] and one of eight on the 2012 Carnegie shortlist.[9] Both The Guardian and the Carnegie panel recommend Mina for readers age nine and up. According to children's book editor Julia Eccleshare, "Almond promotes and celebrates freedom for children and their thinking in this lyrical book about growing up."[8]

Delacorte published the US edition in 2011. According to the summary, "Creative, intelligent, nine-year-old Mina keeps a journal in her own disorderly way that reveals how her mind is growing into something extraordinary, especially after she begins homeschooling under the direction of her widowed mother."[10][11]

Adaptations

2003 play

Skellig was adapted into a play in 2003 directed by Trevor Nunn who thought it was important to follow the book's example of not revealing Skellig's exact nature. The play was later performed by Playbox Theatre Company in 2008.[12] In March 2011 the play was performed at the New Victory Theater, New York by The Birmingham Stage Company who previously toured the UK with their production, from 2008 in London and Birmingham. The BSC founder and manager Neal Foster played Skellig.[13][14]

2008 opera

Skellig has been adapted into a contemporary opera with music by American composer Tod Machover and libretto by David Almond himself. The opera was staged at The Sage Gateshead from 4 November to 19 December 2008, with orchestration by the Northern Sinfonia.[15] The Opera starred Omar Ebrahim as Skellig with Sophie Daneman and Paul Keohone as Michael's parents.

2009 film

Skellig, produced by Feel Films, was part of Sky 1's plan to invest £10 million in producing three new high-definition dramas.[16] Filming started on 2 September 2008 in Caerphilly in Wales.[17] Cast members included Oscar-nominee Tim Roth in the title role and Bill Milner as Michael Cooper with Skye Bennett as Mina, Kelly Macdonald and John Simm as Michael's parents (Louise 'Lou' and Steve Cooper).[18] The screenplay was written by Irena Brignull and filming was directed by Annabel Jankel.[17] The first showing of Skellig on Sky 1 was on 12 April 2009.

See also References
  1. ^ Skellig title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 12 June 2014. ISFDB has not catalogued the prequel My Name is Mina.
  2. ^ a b "Skellig" (first U.S. edition). Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  3. ^ (Carnegie Winner 1998). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  4. ^ "Formats and Editions of Skellig". WorldCat. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Schools: Information". David Almond. Archived from the original on 12 September 2010.  Confirmed 24 November 2012.
  6. ^ Berman, Matt. "Common Sense Review". Common Sense Media. Retrieved 12 February 2008. 
  7. ^ Latham, Don (2 January 2006). "Magical Realism and the Child Reader: The Case of David Almond's Skellig". The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children's Books. The Looking Glass. 10.1. Archived from the original on 25 March 2008. Retrieved 21 February 2008. 
  8. ^ a b Eccleshare, Julia (30 September 2011). "Guardian children's fiction prize: the shortlist". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  9. ^ 2012 Awards: Carnegie shortlisted books Archived 22 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine.. CILIP. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  10. ^ "My name is Mina" (first U.S. edition). LCC record. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  11. ^ "Formats and Editions of My name is Mina". WorldCat. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  12. ^ Cripps, Charlotte; l (26 November 2003). "The creature in the garage". The Independent.co.uk. Retrieved 15 September 2008. 
  13. ^ Page on the play at www.newvictory.org. Archived 25 September 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "Skellig" (reviews). The Birmingham Stage Company. Review dates 2008 to 2011(?).
  15. ^ Whetstone, David (13 November 2008). "Skellig, the opera, The Sage". Journal Live. Retrieved 9 December 2008. 
  16. ^ West, Dave (19 March 2008). "Sky One sets three major HD series". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2 September 2008. 
  17. ^ a b Holmwood, Leigh (2 September 2008). "Tim Roth to don wings as Skellig". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 September 2008. 
  18. ^ Fletcher, Alex (2 September 2008). "Tim Roth confirmed for 'Skellig' cast". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2 September 2008. 
External links
  • Skellig in libraries (WorldCat catalog) —immediately, first US edition
  • Skellig on Sky1, Easter 2009: cast interviews and behind the scenes exclusives
  • "Risk and Resilience, Knowledge and Imagination: The Enlightenment of David Almond's Skellig", Elizabeth Bullen and Elizabeth Parsons, Children's Literature 35 (2007) 127–44
  • Reviews and discussions of the ideas in Skellig
  • Skellig at Common Sense Media
Awards
Preceded by River Boy Carnegie Medal recipient 1998 Succeeded by Postcards from No Man's Land

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