Skellig is a children’s novel by the British author David Almond, published by Hodder in 1998. It was the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year and it won the Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year’s outstanding children’s book by a British author. In the US it was a runner up for the Michael L. Printz Award, which recognises one work of young adult fiction annually. Since publication, it has also been adapted into a play, an opera, and a film. In 2010, a prequel entitled My Name is Mina was published, written by David Almond himself.
Delacorte Press published the first US edition in 1999.
10-year-old Michael and his family have recently moved into a house. He and his parents are nervous, as his new baby sister was born earlier than expected and may not live because of a heart condition. When Michael goes into the garage, he finds a strange emaciated creature hidden amid all the boxes, debris and dead insects. Michael assumes that he is a homeless person, but decides to look after him and gives him food. The man is crotchety and arthritic, demanding aspirin, Chinese food menu order numbers 27 and 53 and brown ale. Michael hears a story that human shoulder blades are a vestige of angel wings.
Meanwhile, his friends from school become more and more distant as Michael stops attending school and spends less time with them. He meets a girl named Mina from across the road and over the course of the story they become close. Mina is home-schooled and enjoys nature, birds, drawing and the poems of William Blake. Often drawing or sculpting at home, she invites Michael to join in. She takes care of some baby birds who live in her garden and teaches Michael to hear their tiny sounds. Michael decides to introduce her to the strange creature. Michael’s friends, Coot and Leaky, become skeptical about Michael and try to find out what he is hiding from them. Michael and Mina try to keep it a secret from them, and have to move “Skellig” to a safer space.
Michael asks about arthritis and how to cure it, talking to doctors and patients in the hospital where his baby sister is being treated. Grace, an old woman, took a run through the hospital and came to see her. The creature whom Michael had moved from the garage—revealing a pair of wings at his shoulders—introduces himself as “Skellig” to Michael and Mina.
Michael’s baby sister comes dangerously close to death, necessitating heart surgery. His mother goes to the hospital to stay with the baby and, that night, “dreams” of seeing Skellig come in, pick the baby up, and hold it high in the air, saving her. He subsequently moves from the garage after saying goodbye to Michael and Mina, answering their questions about his nature by saying that he is ‘something,’ combining aspects of human, owl and angel.
The family struggles with deciding on a name for the baby. After considering calling her Persephone, they settle on Joy.
- Michael (Main Character)
- Mina (Michael’s friend and main character)
- Leakey (Michael’s friend)
- Coot (Michael’s friend)
- Skellig (Main character)
- Joy (Michael’s baby sister)
- Mr. Batley (Michael’s teacher)
- Mr. Stone (Real estate agent that sells Michael’s family the house)
- Dr. Death (aka Dr. Dan, the doctor that comes to Michael’s house to check up on the baby)
- Rasputin (Michael’s science teacher)
- Grace (Old woman from hospital)
- Whisper (Mina’s cat)
- Dr. MacNabola (A cocky but friendly Dr who Michael talks to in order to figure more about arthritis)
Skellig is deliberately ambiguous about its title character. Almond has provided public answers to some frequent questions from his school visits. The names “Skellig” and “Michael” are derived from the Skellig Islands off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. One of them is Skellig Michael Island; St Michael is also the name of an archangel.
Almond has acknowledged the influence of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings“, a short story by Gabriel García Márquez. Paul Latham compares the works in a research article, “Magical Realism and the Child Reader: The Case of David Almond’s Skellig“. Despite many similarities, he notes that Almond’s child protagonists are much more caring and accepting than the closed-minded and sometimes cruel adults in the Márquez story. Also, Mina and Michael keep Skellig a secret from the rest of human society. Thus the negative social commentary in Skellig, regarding medical institutions and other aspects of adult society, is not as harsh as in Márquez’s story.