The baby is here. Dr Death visits the new house every day. Mum and Dad say the baby will be fine, but they don’t seem certain themselves. Michael won’t talk to anybody about his concern for the baby. Instead, he stays home from school, and explores the new house.
It’s a strange place, full of dust and decay. Old Mr Myers seems to shadow every corner. There’s the toilet put in downstairs while Mr Myers was dying, and his takeaway menus.
Then there’s the shed, and Skellig. Is he a man? Is he real? Whatever he is, he refuses to move, even though the shed might fall on top of him. It’s like Skellig has given up on the world. It is like he has given in to decay.
Michael isn’t certain he can help Skellig. Then he meets Mina, a girl nothing like her peers, a girl who knows about blackbirds and owl pellets and William Blake. Strange but assertive, Mina insists on meeting Skellig.
Together the children learn about angels, and evolution, and lifting each other up. Together they learn about Persephone, who came back after months in the underworld.
I thought I knew Skellig. How wrong I was. Almond’s work is like fine wine – it is perfection first time around, and it improves with every reread.
Skellig came into my life shortly before my eleventh birthday. The book had been out for two years, and my primary school raved about it. We worked with it in literacy. I won a Year 6 Certificate for my poem about Skellig – a certificate I treasure equally with my degree. Our teacher read to us every evening, but she was too slow. When I opened my birthday presents, I found a copy of Skellig in my hands. I had talked about it so often, my Mum found me my own copy.
As my early reading of Northern Lights was about a girl running around with Arctic Bears, my first reading of Skellig was about a boy who finds a strange being in his shed. About 27 and 53.
My Name is Mina arrived, a prequel which added a new layer to the original text. It also turned Mina into a character I strongly related to. From the age of 13 I became largely self-taught. Intensely interested in the world, but different from my peers. At the same time, I reread Skellig, and told the then-owner of my favourite bookshop that Skellig was the most perfect text I had ever come across. She told me many school customers said the same. At this time I reread Skellig. Planning my Flashback Friday, I thought this would be sufficient. I chose to reread, but I thought I knew the text.
Somewhere along the way, the original text had muddled with the television interpretation, which I bought on DVD at the same time as my last reread. This brings out the baby’s story. Makes more of life and death, of the tension between father and son.
Five years is a long time. In those five years I have learned to read critically. Suddenly I can see why Mina’s mother is cutting a pomegranate, shortly before the baby comes home. Suddenly I understand this is Michael’s journey and Michael’s fear and anger.
Something else has happened.
In the past year, I have heard David Almond speak about his work. Twice. That has given me an insight no amount of textual analysis could uncover. I’m due to see him in concert with Katherine Tickell this Autumn. BOOK. BOOK. Almond is building on his interest in different art forms doing the same job. In children’s natural understanding that song and story and drama and visual art are one and the same thing. Read the scene in Ella Grey, where Ella gets out her old art box. That’s what this concert is about.)
I finished Skellig last night. This morning, I am reading Heaven’s Eyes. Next I will reread The Fire Eaters, or Kit’s Wilderness. Did I say read? I meant savour. Indulge in.
Have you read Skellig? Has hearing an author talk enriched your perception of their work?