About this post
One of the best things about reading and writing Fantasy is the ability to create or learn about different beings that exist in a particular world and how they interact with that world, each other and the main storyline. Traditionally there are species that have existed from folklore and myths all over the world and travelled through fairy tales and into popular fiction and film. Although I don’t always write about fantasy species, I am fascinated by different fantasy beings and wanted to bring them into discussion on my blog.
Did Mermaids exist?
Mermaids are probably the most famous magical sea creatures told in folktales and legends. With many myths describing gods, goddess and nymphs who live, are born from or who control the sea, merfolk were the natural progression. The appearance and temperament of mermaids are very similar in different folklore over the world, suggesting a very strong belief in their existence.
Mermaids are described as having the top half of a beautiful maiden, from the waist up and the tail of a fish from the waist down. In early Celtic myths they were described as being huge in size, but more recent lore depicts them as a similar size to humans. They live underwater in a majestic world of great finery and are not able to live on land, although some traditions say they are able to temporarily assume human form in order to visit markets and fairs. They are known to carry a comb and mirror and are seen sitting on rocks by the sea, combing their long hair. Although mermaids are sea creatures they were also said to be found in freshwater streams and lakes.
What fascinates me about merfolk is their renowned dark nature. Not only do they cause shipwrecks and disasters, they lure young men under the sea, either to their death or to join them in their world.
In some traditions it was said that mermaids do not have souls and in order to obtain one they have to marry a mortal man. Other stories told of mermaids intentionally drowning humans in order to keep their souls in an undersea cage. In some instances mermaids were caught and held, and only offered freedom in return for granting wishes or providing hidden knowledge. However, in all accounts, mermaids never stick to their bargain or agreements and any wishes granted were often treacherous and risky.
How fascinating is that?! It suggests to me that, as much as we might humanise them, they lack humanity. They are creatures of the ocean that have no affinity for humankind. However, it was also said that Mermaids could give up their tails in order to marry a human man and such occurrences were frequently reported in folklore. The descendants of these marriages are still considered to be alive today in remote parts of the world, though the children of mermaid and human unions were considered cursed as they constantly hear the sea in their ears.
There’s been a surge in YA books that focus on telling stories based on merfolk characters, some of which have had massive sales and a growing following. I doubt the YA genre would represent the harsh, cold nature of the mermaids described here but I’m tempted to investigate a few to read. It could be an interesting area of fantasy entertainment, what do you think?
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