The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature, Vol 4, No 3 (2000)

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Seaweed Soup: The Secret (Ingredients) of Roan Inish

Kathryn Graham

Abstract


Hailed as a ground-breaking work of "Irish magical realism," John Sayles's recent film The Secret of Roan Inish won wide critical acclaim. The Secret of Roan Inish is the third title under which the Rosalie Fry children's book (on which it was based) has appeared. First published in Britain in 1957 as Child of the Western Isles, it was renamed The Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry for Dutton's American edition of 1959.

Behind the changes to the title and the intriguing visual relations between book and film lies another metamorphosis. The best-kept secret of Roan Inish is that the palpably Irish tale became Irish only when John Sayles filmed it. The novel is set on the western coast of Scotland and was written by a Canadian-born woman who lived most of her life in a Welsh cottage. But Sayles' transformative art is entirely true to Fry's spirit and to the shared heritage of these two Celtic countries. Like the film, the novel appropriates, assimilates, displaces and echoes other texts. Blurring the bounds between a precisely rendered real world and a realm of myth and natural magic, both Sayles and Fry blend original materials and earlier texts into what one might call a narrative soup.

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680