Week Eight – A Stranger Came Ashore


   The Great Selkie, or a seal at the Toronto Zoo? Who can say.

“There was a certain Robbie Henderson living in Black Ness at that time – a lad of twelve years old, according to all accounts – and he was the person most concerned in the mystery of this stranger, Finn Learson.”

There are a few things that come to mind when I think of my grade five teacher Miss Millest. Sand from the outback that she showed us during our geography unit on Australia. The incredible video series about kids who make a newspaper and then battle an alien, which in terms of amazing videos at school was rivaled only by Telefrancais. And the story of Finn Learson.

I may not have all the details about that video series right, because I certainly didn’t remember the story of Finn Learson too clearly. I was sure it was set on the Canadian east coast, rather than the Shetland Islands – to be fair there are a lot of similarities between the two places. I also remember being shocked – SHOCKED – the moment I realized that Finn Learson was indeed the Great Selkie.

I know, spoiler alert. But I don’t understand how I didn’t see that coming, even as a ten-year-old. There are countless hints, from the first line of the book: “It was a while ago, in the days when they used to tell stories about creatures called the Selkie Folk.” Maybe I was more of a clueless child than I realized. Or maybe it’s a case where everything is clearer in hindsight, and reading the book again while already knowing the ending made it much easier to pick up on the signs…but seriously, so clear.

Basically Finn Learson arrives after a storm, supposedly as a shipwreck survivor, and stays with the Hendersons. The grandfather recognizes him as the Great Selkie, come to seek a girl with golden hair to take to his underwater palace. That girl would be Elspeth Henderson and after her grandfather dies it’s up to Robbie to stop her from being charmed away under the sea.

This is one book I’ve (re)read that I certainly feel is better suited for children. While the folklore and the lifestyle of the Shetlands still holds some intrigue, the plot is too predictable and the story doesn’t hold the same tension and magic a second time through.

In the end this book made me concerned about just how oblivious I was as a child, and wish that the twist was a bit more of a, well…twist. When it comes to foreshadowing sometimes less is more. But little Andrea loved it. So kids of the world, get reading while you’re young enough to be mystified.

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