This week I read the book “Skellig” by David Almond: an intriguing read set somewhere in England, the home of David Almond. Regardless of where the setting of this book took place, it was an outstanding Printz Award Honor book, and a winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award. The book housed a multitude of themes, both for young adults and adults. The strength of this book, for me, was the complex story. This was unequivocally not a simple, coming of age tale, but it is that too. I’ll do my best trying to explain the significance of this story.
Do you ever wonder how a science teacher, or any teacher for that matter, can juggle the concept of evolution without losing the complexities of the human spirit, and the inexplicable? Well this book is a guiding force for such a question. In the story a young Michael (ten years old) has moved into a new neighborhood, amidst his parents nurturing his new baby sister. The baby is not healthy, hospital trips abound. But while all of this is going on Michael discovers Skellig in the dilapidated garage of the new house. Skellig could be a decaying person, or he could be an apparition, or imagined in Michael’s mind. It makes no matter either way, because Skellig can communicate with Michael, he or whatever he is, is real. Michael begins to nurture the cynic, Skellig, back to health. Naturally he has to tell someone about this thing, and that someone is Mina. Mina is a neighborhood girl who is home schooled, and whom has an affection for birds and the poet, William Blake. The two pair up and move Skellig out of the back of the garage and into an old house down the alley (a home that will be inherited in the future by Mina once she comes of age). There, they continue to nurse Skellig. The owls among the attic also bring food for Skellig. Michael discovers that Skellig has wings, but Skellig never discloses where he is from. In the end, Skellig flies to the local hospital and saves Michael’s new baby sister (unknown of course). Throughout the main story of providing Skellig with life, Mina shows Michael how to tune his senses to the natural world, how to study and learn through getting your hands dirty, and how to recognize the beautiful and the brutal of the world.
So what does all this mean? Because on the surface this just seems like a strange plot, unfathomable. To best explain it I would say that Skellig is at once a symbol of natural resiliency and a symbol of the compassionate nature of the human spirit. On one hand, there is the Skellig that emerges from the dark (his wings grow, evolution), but on the other hand there is the Skellig that captures the minds of Michael and Mina. That Skellig is the ultimate question of what is the unknown. Is he a religious symbol? Is he a ghost or an apparition? It brings about the important question of how did we get here? Was it simple evolution, or are there external powers that work their magic on the universe. Skellig is at once both. I don’t know what Skellig is, and there is great imaginative beauty in that. It leaves it up to the reader to fix their mind on the characteristics they want Skellig to possess. Even the author of the book, David Almond, doesn’t know who Skellig is, and he tells us why in this interview.
If I could deliver fan mail to the author I would say the following: “I appreciate the mystery of your novel. Rather than delivering the cut and dry themes of young adult literature, you have delivered, to me, more important questions from an apparition, than any certainties could hope to offer. I love the poetic nature of life that you deliver, while at the same time love the theories of evolution that I see in your work.”