seal sticking its nose above the water surface

Short Story of the Day #4: “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar

I love stories about what happens after the curtain closes on the tales we know and love. The fourth Short Story of the Day, Sofia Samatar’s “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” does exactly that. This contemporary fantasy wells up with emotion where you least expect it, and I can’t wait for you to dive in.

What’s a Selkie?

If you aren’t familiar with selkies, you’re going to have a tough time with this one. Hailing from Celtic and Norse legend, selkies are magical seals who can shed their skins to walk around as humans. In a typical selkie story, a human man traps the selkie and forces her to marry him by stealing her seal skin and hiding it. Years later, when the skin turns up—as the result of her endless search for it, or an accidental discovery made by one of her children—the selkie puts it on and runs away, and is rarely seen on land again.

Selkie stories are part of a broader tradition of animal-wife tales. The animals in question are usually birds, often swans. Two prominent Japanese versions feature crane and fox spirits who assume human forms to marry mortal men, only to leave their husbands when they inevitably discover their wives’ true identities.

Why “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”?

I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to say that a lot of people take comfort in animal-wife stories like the ones above. Being trapped in a toxic relationship, the fallout of abuse, the inability to be who you truly are—these themes speak to us on a universal level.

But here, Sofia Samatar turns her attention, not to the wife who is finally free, but to her teenage daughter. The narrator of “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” is planning to run away, too, but with the girl she loves. Her mother’s abrupt exit changed the course of her life, and she’s fighting hard to get it back on track. She isn’t impartial; she’s angry and bitter.

More than that, she’s scared. Because what if Mona leaves her? Or, perhaps worse, what if she leaves Mona?

My favorite line:

And because we say it all the time, because it’s the kind of silly, ordinary thing you could call one of our “refrains,” or maybe because of the weed I’ve smoked, a whole bunch of days seem pressed together inside this moment, more than you could count.

Click here to read “Selkie Stories Are for Losers.”

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Image credit: Benjamin Farren on Pexels