Friday, September 02, 2005

Troll Mill - Katherine Langrish

I managed to continue my habit of reading a book a day by reading Katherine Langrish's Troll Mill yesterday. It's a good sequel to Troll Fell which I Blogged after I read it. Three years have passed since the events recorded in Troll Fell and this book concentrates less on the eponymous Trolls and more on Selkies, or Seal Folk. I confess that I hadn't really come across any references to these legendary/mythological (there's some disagreement as to which they are) creatures, so I looked them up, as is my wont. Selkies are creatures from Scottish and Irish mythology which can transform themselves from seals into humans. Selkie is simply the Orcadian word for seal, but stories exist that say that Selkies can become human by shedding their seal skins, and can then revert to their seal form by putting the skins back on. As a general rule Selkie stories are romantic tragedies: a human and a selkie fall in love, but after a while the selkie becomes restless, and chooses to return to the sea. Sometimes the human will not know that their lover is a selkie, and wakes to find them gone. But sometimes the human hides the selkie's skin, thereby preventing them from returning to their seal form.

It is this version of the romantic tragedy of the Selkies that Langrish deploys: Peer Ulfsson's friend Bjorn found a Selkie woman seven years earlier and he "captured" her (it's not as simple as that, but I'm not going to give away the whole story !) Now "Kersten", as Bjorn named her, having had a baby, has decided to return to the sea and her original mate. At the beginning of the story, Peer is returning from a fishing trip with Bjorn and he meets Kersten rushing down to the sea carrying her baby. She asks Peer if his friend Hilde's mother (Gudrun) is still breast feeding her own baby and then without waiting for an answer, thrusts Ran into Peer's arms and races towards the shore. Kersten throws herself into the sea and Peer takes the baby home. Much of the remainder of the book is giving over to discussing whether Kersten really was a Selkie and if she was, whether Bjorn had held her against her will. At the same time, Peer is infatuated with Hilde and longs to do something to win her interest as she prefers Bjorn's brother Arne to Peer. He comes up with a plan, to restore Troll Mill, which has lain decaying since his Uncles were turned into trolls and to become the Miller. Unfortunately the mill is already being used by others, as Peer discovers, and his ownership is disputed... I'm not going to spoil the entire novel for you, by telling you who wins the ownership contest or how, so I will just say that I enjoyed this sequel, and I recommend it. Like Troll Fell, Troll Mill is rich in atmosphere and the characters are well-drawn and believable.


Anonymous said...

The Folk Keeper, my blog namesake, is related to this discussion, but I won't say exactly how 'cause that would be giving away too much...if I haven't already! Susan Cooper also has a neat selkie book, I forget the name though.

Michele said...

I'll see if I can track them down... I've got "Sea of Trolls" to read yet - but it's a massively thick, heavy hardback, which means suffering backache for days whilst I read it, or waiting until I can start it on a weekend !