The selkie (pronounced "silky") is a seal who comes to land and sheds its skin to become a beautiful woman or a handsome man. Selkies are assigned several different origins. They might be magical animals who can turn into people, or sorcerers who turned into seals by magic, or humans cursed by a witch. Selkies are sometimes classified as part of the fairy kingdom, or are thought to be fallen angels. In any case, most selkies are depicted as being seals most of the time, living with other seals or other selkies. The animal shape is predominant, so long as they retain their powers. There are only a few tales about selkies who lived on land as humans most of the time and just turned into seals occasionally.

Legend has it that the female selkies were often captured by separating them from their magic skins. Without these skins, they lost their transformation powers and were trapped in human form. Once deprived of their powers, they were generally forced into marriage with human men, but they always wanted to return to the sea. Selkie legends based on this tradition are found in Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Canada. Other seal transformation legends based on different ideas are found in places such as Greece.

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Find out more about selkie legends by reading The People of the Sea by David Thomson, The Hidden Folk: Stories of Fairies, Dwarves, Selkies, and Other Secret Beings by Lise Lunge-Larsen and Tales of the Seal People: Scottish Folk Tales by Duncan Williamson.
Some noted selkie novels for young adults are The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley, Daughter of the Sea by Berlie Doherty and Seaward by Susan Cooper.

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