Skellig, heroes, and monsters-part 1

07Apr10

Skellig, by David Almond (Dell Yearling, New York, 1998), is a fantasy about a boy who finds a winged man dying in the decrepit garage of the family’s new house. I love this book, it’s one of my all-time favorites and I want to look at the book as a whole, then go back to my monster theme and look at who Skellig, the winged man, represents.

I should mention that it won the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award and the Carnegie Medal in 1998 and has been named one of the ten most important children’s novels of the past 70 years.

from Wikipedia

Michael saves Skellig, and winged man saves the Michael’s dying premature brother. This book is a hero’s journey in the sense of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces or Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. (Both books, of course, owing debts to Freud and Jung).

I’m going to start by basically breaking down the story into the stages of the hero’s journey over my next couple of posts.

Skellig opens with Michael’s statement, “I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon”, but we find ourselves moving back and forth in time, from the finding of the bird-man to the Ordinary World in which Michael has just moved into the new house. Mr. Stone, the real estate agent, asks Michael to see the garage as a hide-away for himself and his friends—a Call to Adventure which Michael refuses. Dr. Death is there, visiting Michael’s premature sister and representing the Shadow, though we don’t see him. Michael dares himself to go in the garage, which is forbidding, but is prevented by his mother. “Do you not think we’ve got more to worry about than stupid you getting crushed in a stupid garage?” She goes back to the stupid baby. Michael does go in the garage later that day and finds the man with the thin, pale face covered with cobwebs and dust.

“‘What do you want?’ he said.” Michael is silent. He repeats himself twice. Michael is silent. Michael hears his father’s call, and shuffles back out of the garage. He has again refused the call. That night, Michael sees the man in his bedroom, and hears him whispering “What do you want?”

Was it a dream? He cannot hear his sister, and must check to see if she is all right. Michael goes to school but keeps silent. At home, that afternoon, his father shows him some birds that had died and hardened. Michael goes back to the garage, and this time speaks to the man, who eats a dead bluebottle fly, but asks for an aspirin, and for 27 and 53. He feels the wings on the man’s back. Michael has Crossed the First Threshold. As he leaves the garage, he meets Mina (again a bird name), who will be both his Ally and Mentor. He has crossed to Act II, and will begin the stage of Tests, Allies and Enemies.

That night the family has take-out Chinese, and Michael realizes the meaning of the cryptic numbers the man gave him. Michael has passed the first Test. Mina begins to teach him, snapping at him for scaring the bird she’s drawing and mocking him for thinking a black bird is only black. That night, he brings aspirin and food to the man in the garage, and is rewarded with a brief conversation, in which he learns the man has Arthur-itis, and that it is turning him to stone, like the dead birds Michael’s father showed him. At school, Michael remembers his lesson from Mina, and draws a picture of the skeleton they studied. As promised, the picture triggers a question—what are shoulder blades for? His mother answers.

“[That is] where your wings will grow again one day.”

More tomorrow

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One Response to “Skellig, heroes, and monsters-part 1”

  1. Hi there! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post
    reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this.

    I will forward this write-up to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.
    Many thanks for sharing!


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