Great Silkie of Sule Skerry, The [Child 113]

DESCRIPTION: A lady mourns that she knows not her son's father. He appears at her bedside, revealing that he is a silkie. He prophesies that she shall marry a "gunner," who will shoot both him and her son.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1852
KEYWORDS: selkie seduction
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Hebr))
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Child 113, "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" (1 text)
Bronson 113, "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" (1 version, though only the fifth stanza is proper to the tune)
BronsonSinging 113, "The Great Silkoe of Sule Skerry" (1 version)
Leach, pp. 321-323, "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" (2 texts)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 59-60, "The Great Selchie of Shool Skerrie" (1 text)
OBB 31, "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 27, "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's (#1)}
PBB 74, "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry"; 75, "Sealchie Song" (1 text)
Hodgart, p. 69, "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 219, "The Great Silkie" (1 text)
DT 113, SILKIE1* SILKIE2*

Roud #197
RECORDINGS:
Art Thieme, "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" (on Thieme06)
NOTES: The tune to which this ballad is most often sung nowadays was composed by James Waters in the late 1950s. It was also used by Pete Seeger as the melody for his setting of Nazim Hikmet's poem about Hiroshima, "I Come and Stand at Every Door." -PJS
The fullest collection of texts and tunes for this piece is probably that of Alan Bruford, who in "The Grey Silkie" (originally published in Scottish Studies 18, 1974; also available in E. B. Lyle, ed., Ballad Studies) prints, in tolerably incomprehensible form, eight texts or fragments and two tunes.
Bruford also discusses the relationship of the song to "The Play o de Lathie Odivere" (best known now perhaps in Gordon Bok's adaption "The Play of the Lady Odivere"), having much to say, and little of it good, about this piece first published by Walter Traill Dennison in The Scottish Antiquary in 1894. Bruford doesn't quite say so, but it appears that he believes Dennison's piece to be a forgery built upon a small core of traditional material.
According to Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition, a Norton Critical Edition, Norton, 2001, p. 51, "The motif of a young hero who is compelled to wear an animal skin is an ancient one and made its first literary appearance in Sanskrit in the Pancatantra, a collection if Indian didactic fables and stories, about 300 C.E. In 'The Enchanted Brahmin's Son,' a father burns the snakeskin of his son to preserve his humanity. This particular motif is found in numerous folktales. Generally speaking, however, it is a young woman or her parents who burn the animal skin to set a young man free." Zipes goes on to list many more "Beastly Born Heroes," although his list does not appear to include the seal folk. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
File: C113

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