The appeal of Skellig lies in the commonality of the setting and characters. Michael could be any boy; his school, any school; his friends, anyone's friends; his home and neighborhood, anyone's home and neighborhood; his hopes and fears, anyone's.
Skellig opens in a shabby house on Falconer Road in a town that could be anywhere in England. The house is a fixer-upper purchased as a new beginning for Michael, his parents, and his baby sister who is born prematurely. The house has a toilet installed in the dining room since the previous tenant, an elderly man, did not have the energy to venture far to the bathroom. At the edge of the property is a crumbling garage Michael is warned to stay away from until it can be inspected. It is crammed full of discarded bits of previous tenants' lives, cobwebs, dust, and the corpses of mice, bluebottle flies, and spiders. Almond based Michael's house on his own home that has a garage on the property separate from the house, and a toilet was in the dining room when his family moved in. Even the name of the street, Falconer, reflects the overall flight and bird motif used throughout the novel.
The decay of Michael's new home and the garage is echoed in a nearby building owned by Mina, a new neighbor of Michael's age who received the building as a bequest from a relative. Mina has plans to repair her inheritance, plans in turn echoed by Michael's family's work on their house. The attic of Mina's house acts as an aerie (an elevated, secluded nest or dwelling) for a pair of rare owls, and later becomes an aerie for Skellig when the children move him from the unsafe garage.
Michael's school is mentioned rarely, with more attention paid to his efforts on the football field than on his assignments. Even his teachers are referred to primarily by nicknames such as Rasputin and the Yeti. Slightly more attention is paid to Mina's house, with its warm, welcoming kitchen where Mina's mother welcomes Michael for a short stay when his father is called to the hospital unexpectedly. Michael is fascinated by Mina's "classroom," the room where she sketches pictures of birds and Skellig.
The hospital is a cold, barren place to Michael, who calls his sister's doctor by the nickname Dr. Death for his cold hands and cadaverous appearance. He hates the plastic box the baby is kept in, and the impersonal tubes attached to her body. Her fragility is all the more apparent as she lays with her pale, soft skin and fine, black head of hair exposed to the eyes of the doctors and nurses.
Skellig is both a name and all-encompassing title filled with hidden meanings. Almond rejects the label of fantasy for his work, finding it closer to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Magical realism takes an ordinary slice of reality and infuses it with the supernatural. Other examples of magical realism are Charles de Lint's Newford series and Orson Scott Card's Tales of Alvin Maker.
Almond delivers the magic in Michael's reality with a seemingly limitless amount of flight and bird imagery. From the name of the road Michael's new home is on, Falconer, to Mina's endless discussions of the colors of the local birds, the owls, and the archaeopteryx, to Skellig's appearance and eventual flight, to the final three feathers Skellig leaves for the children, the literary motif is subtle yet solid, imbuing the novel with continuity and presence.
(The entire section contains 1431 words.)
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