I’ve been holding off addressing nautical folklore and sea myths on my Mythical Monday posts, saving them for closer to the release of my contemporary romance/mystery TWELFTH SUN. I’m still on schedule for August having just wrapped my second round of content edits, but the pull of the sea is hard to resist 🙂
TWELFTH SUN is the name of a 19th Century schooner I invented. An artifact from the ship becomes the focal point of a treasure hunt in which my novel’s hero and heroine find themselves competing. Ship lore has always fascinated me, so it was fun to sprinkle a few tidbits and superstitions throughout the book. No mythical creatures, however, so I thought I’d share some of those my blog, starting with the mermaid.
We’ve all heard the speculation that ancient mariners mistook the manatee for a mermaid, a belief that has always left me scratching my head. Don’t get me wrong – – I love manatees. They’re graceful in the water and gentle, but a man would have to be seriously lonely or swilling too much rum to mistake a 1200 lb. aquatic mammal for a sea nymph. Can you imagine the disappointment when reality set in?
But let’s assume mermaids did exist. Disney put a lovely HEA spin on the story of the Little Mermaid. As a child, I remember the fairytale ending differently and was saddened the mermaid and her prince couldn’t be together. In the original rendition, mermaids lack a soul, becoming sea foam when they die unlike humans who live for eternity.
One day the Little Mermaid spies a ship in the distance and immediately falls in love with a handsome prince she sees onboard. A storm arrives and he is tossed into the sea, unconscious, at the mercy of the waves. The Little Mermaid saves him and takes him ashore, staying beside him until she sees a human girl approaching. She slips into the sea before the prince awakes. When he does recover, he finds the human girl at his side and mistakenly believes she has rescued him.
Days pass, but the Little Mermaid is unable to forget her prince. Desperate to be with him, she visits a sea witch who gives her a potion in exchange for her beautiful voice. The potion gives her legs but every step she takes is agony, as if she is walking on swords. The witch tells her she will gain a soul if the prince loves her and marries her. Through true love’s kiss she will become a human but, should he marry another, she will turn into sea foam at dawn of the next day.
In love with her prince, the Little Mermaid drinks the potion. She finds him at his palace, but now mute, is unable to tell him she loves him or that she saved him from the sea. He is kind and attentive, but his heart belongs to the girl he believes rescued him. Eventually, he marries her and the Little Mermaid’s heart is broken.
That night, her sisters bring her a knife from the witch. She has one final chance to save herself– kill the prince before dawn, and she can return to the sea as a mermaid. Unable to do it, the Little Mermaid throws herself into the sea at daybreak, expecting to become foam. Instead, she is welcomed by the Daughters of the Air and told she will be granted a soul after 300 years of helping others.
I’m sure a lesson lurks in there somewhere, but I much prefer the Disney ending with the Little Mermaid marrying her prince. Even as a kid, I was all about an HEA. I’m all for classics, but sometimes you have to wonder about the guys who were writing them.
That aside, not all mermaids were interested in romantic love, especially with a human. They had strong devoted meremen of their own. In certain legends mermaids behaved much like the sirens of Greek mythology who lured sailors to their doom with enchanted signing. In some tales they rescued men from storm-tossed seas, while in others they spirited them to their underwater kingdom, drowning them in the process. As with most mythical creatures, there is a touch of beguiling enchantment and a darker side to the mermaid legend.
Which do you prefer?