Skellig Characters
by David Almond

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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Skellig is an enigma, a timeless being with no beginning or end. Skellig appears to be part human and part angel, capable of working miracles. He has a worn and beaten exterior. Almond named him after a group of islands off the coast of Ireland called the Skelligs, one of which happens to be named Skellig Michael, or Great Skellig, and hosted a monastery in the twelfth century dedicated to St. Michael, the archangel and patron saint of high places. Almond mentions on his Web site that the term skell is a slang term for a homeless person, a fact he did not know until after the book was published.

When—or how, or why—he came to sit in the corner of the crumbling garage is never mentioned. He apparently left his nest occasionally when the previous tenant was alive because he knew the previous tenant loved to order take-out from the Chinese restaurant around the corner, numbers 27 and 53 in particular, and Skellig would scavenge the remains from the trash bin. When Michael discovers Skellig, he can barely move. He is covered with dirt, dead bluebottles, and cobwebs. His skeletal appearance and white face make Michael believe he has discovered a dead man until Skellig shifts and speaks in a hoarse, croaking voice, giving his name as "Arthur Itis" in reference to the pain in his joints. Skellig's clothes consist of a tattered black suit that matches his dusty dark hair. When Michael tries to move him, he feels strange bumps on Skellig's shoulder blades where wings would be if Skellig were a bird—or an angel.

As Michael and Mina take care of Skellig, feeding him the Chinese take-out numbers 27 and 53, aspirin for the arthritis pain, cod liver oil capsules to lubricate his joints, and, most important, begin to believe in him and love him, his health improves. He stops calling himself Mr. Nobody, Mr. Had Enough, and starts taking interest in the world around him. The owls living in Mina's abandoned attic feed him as if he were one of their owlets, and his similarity to the owls is further enhanced by the owl pellets Mina finds in the old garage and the attic. When soaked in water, the pellets open up to reveal the skeletal system and skin of various creatures. Mina explains to Michael that owls swallow their prey whole and then regurgitate the inedible parts in a pellet. As Skellig grows stronger, he transforms into a being of unearthly beauty and wonder before flying off into the realm of memory and imagination.

Ten-year-old Michael is a solemn boy forced by circumstance to grow up faster than his friends, Leakey and Coot. While his friends embody the joy and live-for-themoment attitude of youth, Michael lives for the future, for the day his sister comes home from the hospital and never has to go back. At night, he sneaks into his parents' bedroom, where the baby's crib is kept, to listen to her breathe and reassures himself with a touch of her black hair or soft skin that she still lives. He adores this little being so much he imagines her heart beating securely and safely next to his as he wills her to live so their family will remain whole. As a result, he loses interest in school, and even in his beloved football, since how can they compare to the possibility that his sister might die?

The first crack in his composure occurs when he finds Skellig. He identifies Skellig's frail body with his sister's, and since he cannot help his sister, he transfers his need to be needed to Skellig. He also worries he is losing his mind since no one else has seen Skellig, but Mina's ability to see Skellig reassures him and opens his imagination. Mina is a balance for Michael emotionally and intellectually, and he is comfortable showing his emotions around her since she understands. Michael's openness about his emotions is a refreshing counterpoint to current views that disparage men or boys for showing any emotions other than anger. Mina challenges him to view the beauty of nature surrounding him by showing him her attic with its rare owls and owlets. Michael learns to...

(The entire section is 1,390 words.)