People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend

People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend

by David Thomson
     
 

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A magical book about an ancient legend-that the seal was once human, and can sometimes resume human form-and about the Celtic fishing families who still tell it, sing it, believe it.

The People of the Sea is an incomparable evocation of the pagan Celtic world, where even today magic coexists with reality, and where ancient traditions, beliefs, and ways of life

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Overview

A magical book about an ancient legend-that the seal was once human, and can sometimes resume human form-and about the Celtic fishing families who still tell it, sing it, believe it.

The People of the Sea is an incomparable evocation of the pagan Celtic world, where even today magic coexists with reality, and where ancient traditions, beliefs, and ways of life somehow endure. The late David Thomson, a Scotsman raised among fishermen and storytellers, was obsessed from childhood by the Celtic seal legend-the large body of stories and songs surrounding the gray Atlantic seal-and the dream-like hold that his own encounters with seals had on him. In the early 1950s he took a journey to seek the legend out-in the Hebrides, on the east coast of Scotland, on the west coast of Ireland, in the Shetlands and the Orkney Islands. He gives us here the fruit of his search as he found it-in bar conversations, in chance meetings on the beach, at a country dance, in a crofter's kitchen-and he also tells us something of the men, women, and children from whom he heard the stories. The result is an unclassifiable masterpiece, a book that his friend Seamus Heaney, in an introduction written especially for this edition, calls "a poetic achievement," a work of "intuitive understanding, perfect grace, and perfect pitch."

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Editorial Reviews

Atlantic Monthly
A nonesuch of a book that should raise the sights of any reader who relished, for example, Bruce Chatwin's 'In Patagonia.
Peter Davison
A nonesuch of a book. It carries the smell of the seaweed, the scratchiness of the crofters' life, the bitterness of their beer, and its very sound is music.
The Boston Sunday Globe
It is, indeed, a strange and beautiful book . . . a paean to a vanishing world of dangerous and wondrous enchantment.
Thomas Flanagan
A masterpiece.
Library Journal - Library Journal
Originally published in 1954, this acclaimed recounting of an ancient legend was the first work of prolific Scottish scholar Thomson (1914-88). In this pioneering work, based on field research and extensive oral narratives, he explores the enduring Celtic legend of the "selchie," or great Atlantic gray seal. An eloquent introduction to this first American edition (after three in England) by the esteemed poet Seamus Heaney illuminates this masterpiece as an unrivaled achievement that "recovers and revives" the ageless trope of humans captured between animals and angels. Thomson documents birth legends from fisherfolk and raconteurs, who tell of this great sea mammal, its supernatural powers, and its profound impact upon the locals. Critically acclaimed in earlier editions, this compact work affords a poetic view of the selchie myth, embracing its rich and ancient Celtic essence while collecting the heretofore neglected lore of selected enclaves nestled in the Hebrides, the Shetlands, and the Orkney Islands. Aimed at scholars of cultural history, folklore, and Scottish studies, this volume will be welcome in all folklore collections concentrating on anthropology, regional lore, and the lore of the sea.--Richard K. Burns, MSLS, Hatboro, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Thompson's (1914-88) classic account of his journeys through the coasts and islands of western Scotland and Ireland gathering tales of the seals and of the people they interact with and apparently sometimes become. The effort and volume were an outgrowth of the Scotsman's documentary series on animal folklore for the BBC; is was the first of his ten books. For this fifth edition, Irish poet Seamus Heaney provides an introduction. The vivid illustrations and haunting music remain with the reader for decades, though neither are actually in the book. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780862415501
Publisher:
Canongate Books
Publication date:
09/28/1996
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.02(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.56(d)
Age Range:
13 - 15 Years

What People are saying about this

Thomas Flanagan
A masterpiece, a book about an ancient way of life sustained by courage, courtesy, and above all, story.
Richard Adams Carey
Strange and wonderful and beautifully written . . . A neglected masterpiece . . . and a seminal text for this writer.
—(Richard Adams Carey,author of Against the Tide: The Fate of the New England Firsherman)
Gavin Maxwell
Recalls some splendid cave drawing, telling as much of man as of beast, and leaving us in awe of each.

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