David Almond’s Skellig is a book that many British adults will remember from their childhood. This acclaimed story about two polar opposite ten-year-olds who happen upon an angel is very hard not to fall in love with.
*CONTENT WARNING: Past the quote, this article will contain mentions of depression and suicidal ideation. Please do not read if you are particularly sensitive to such topics.*
*SPOILER ALERT: This article will also contain plot points directly from the book.*
When I first experienced Skellig, it was in a classroom. It’s not the most adventurous setting, but it works. Picture this, it’s September, it’s raining; a teacher, fresh out of university is reading a book to her very first class… Some of her kids are half heartedly paying attention, some are playing hangman, but there are a few listening intently and that is exactly why she got her PGCE. If you have been a bookworm since childhood, maybe you can relate. Before high school, other children might not yet have learnt to be cruel, but you already feel like you’re not like them. When the teacher reads you a story, you hang onto every single word because each one is a new building block contributing to a new world in your head. I re-read the book so many times in the library at lunchtime, and after hearing the tale, I was no longer afraid of dark spaces because I was always sure I would find Skellig there. This is what Skellig meant to me. Now, however, Skellig means something else.
The narrative of this article was pre-planned, it was supposed to follow the story of a young girl who loves reading, but there’s more… You see, I was ready to read Skellig and maybe pick out a few quotes and laugh at lines like “bollocks” and “those are tits” because I had read this book before, in fact I’d read it dozens of times. But I honestly never expected it to leave more of an impact on me now than it did over ten years ago. First of all, as soon as I opened it, I couldn’t remember it being so… straightforward. When we think of children’s literature we always assume it’s fluffy and nice, but because adults always seem to sugar-coat serious things, so books provide a space to be frank and open. Yes, there is a beauty in the way Roald Dahl presents the world to children, but even that has a sense of underlying truth about it that only comes with the genre. Long story short – don’t underestimate the power of children’s fiction.
The odd thing about reading a book you read as a child as an adult is that the world already exists somewhere inside your dusty old mind, and there is nothing quite like the imagination of a child. I’d never be able to conjure up such vivid images reading fantasy now as I did then, but Skellig helped unlock a part of my brain that I thought was long dead. I can still feel the wisps of Skellig’s feathers and I can feel the baby’s heartbeat alongside my own. I wasn’t just reading a book, I was reading my past self.
Of course, these were slight revelations, but it wasn’t the biggest epiphany I had while re-reading Skellig as an adult. That happened about halfway in. I can pinpoint the exact moment my internal organs collapsed. Dramatic? Yes. Justified? Also yes.