Sunday, August 15, 2010

Story Elements: Surfacing

Once upon a time, I was sifting through emails on an author loop when lo and behold! another author said, "I haven't seen a mermaid story in a long while." Which made me think, "Hmm. I haven't either."

So I began researching mermaids. I'd always loved Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid (even the Disneyized version). As I expected, mermaid lore and legends abound. I was surprised to learn how far-flung the legends are, from Japan to Ireland to Israel and Greece, and just about everywhere in between.

In Ireland, for example, mermaids are called The Fairy Mistress or Fairy Sweetheart, Leanan Sidhe, which translates to My Inspiration Faery. A dark, unearthly beauty, she's a Celtic muse who lives off the eastern coast of Ireland, sometimes coming to shore to find a new lover. Usually an artist of some type, whom she inspires to genius.

As early as 5000 BC, the Babylonians worshipped the god Oannes, who was half-man, half fish. Oannes was a force for good, light and life, representing the positive values connected with the sea.

In 1493, Columbus claimed to discover mermaids who "rose high out of the sea, but were not as beautiful as they are represented." Some argue they were simply dolphins, but who knows?

Pliny the Elder, in the first century A.D., believed in "Nereides." In the fifth century, descriptions of mermaids appeared in Physiologus: "a beast of the sea wonderfully shapen as a maid from the navel upward and a fish from the navel downward."

Bartholomew Angelicus wrote that mermaids charmed seamen with music. "But the truth is that they are strong whores," who lead men "to poverty and to mischief." She lulled a crew to sleep, kidnapped a sailor, and took him to "a dry place" for sex. If he refused, "she slayeth him and eateth his flesh."

Definitely not the Disney version.

Religious leaders condemned mermaids as "whores" and in Elizabethan times, the mermaid was used as a symbol of prostitution.

A surprisingly detailed account from 1900 describes a mermaid found dead in a stream: the upper part of the creature was "about the size of a well-fed child of three or four years of age, with an abnormally developed breast. The hair was long, dark and glossy, while the skin was white, soft and tender. The lower part of the body was like a salmon, but without the scales."

Much magic is associated with mermaids around the world. Able to grant wishes or heal, they're also generally vain - but mostly because they're gorgeous. According to Japanese legend, eating the flesh of a mermaid will bestow immortality.

A few things were clear: these "women of the deep" live a long long time (no one's sure exactly how long, of course), are beautiful enough to lure any man to a watery grave, and can sometimes be lured themselves by a handsome guy with a great singing voice.

To place the story in a contemporary setting, the handsome guy would be the lead singer/guitarist in an indie rock band.

So the mermaid, of course, would love rock music.

I also came across the Weeki Wachee Springs amusement park, where women perform as mermaids. What better place for a modern mermaid to surface without too much notice?

Surfacing was also an opportunity to showcase some of the music that I love. Inadvertently, of course, with no copyright violations. :)

And because Elvis has ties to Weeki Wachee Springs - he once visited there, and this photo supposedly hangs on the wall there - he also has a small part to play in Surfacing. His charisma, stunning looks and amazing singing voice would of course make any mermaid fall in love.

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