There are so many different Mythology and Mythological Beings recorded. Some are very popular and well known, others not so much. There are many similar beings, yet different depending on the culture it’s based in. The definition of Myth covers about anything in the Urban Fantasy/Fantasy realm to me.
This week we have:
Fantasy author Alyx (A.M.) Dellamonica
Talking of Mermaids.
Under the skin of the sea
I am right now, as part of the book I'm working on, considering the nature of mermaids. A lot of the familiar stories about these creatures, be they folktales, folktale inspired Disneyage like The Little Mermaid or the more ancient legends--sirens tempting Odysseus, for example--have this strong land versus sea element. Mermaids either want to become human and walk on land or they are actively seeking ships and drowning sailors.
There's an undercurrent there, too, where 'water' in this case represents femininity and 'land' tends to be more masculine. The sirens are women tempting men to their doom. The little mermaid is looking for the love of a nice solid two-legged fellow. Mermaids are girls: slippery, unreliable, dangerous, and ruled by tempestuous passions.
These can be great stories in all their various versions, but a lot of them ignore what I see as the one of the other incredibly cool things about merfolk. They can swim underwater! To heck with land and humans and legs and walking. The oceans, an alien world that is both as close as the nearest beach and as inaccessible as the Moon, is their playground. I'm not saying that if I had the run of everything under the surface of the sea that I'd never pop up, look at the boats, marvel at the trees and the birds and think about what I couldn't have. But come on! The oceans are amazing.
What I have realized, though, as I work on my current novel is that most of the characters on it are, in fact, people. Air-breathing, land-walking people. And so any and all of my sea creatures are still going to need, by definition, to interact with them.
There are merfolk of both genders on Stormwrack, a world that is the setting for both "Among theSilvering Herd" (http://www.tor.com/stories/
On Stormwrack, mythical creatures like centaurs and dryads and mermaids aren't separately evolved species. Nor are they spin-offs or children of deities like (to name one) the Syrian goddess Atargatis. They begin as transformed humans: spells take an ordinary, and often damaged, person and make them over into what is essentially another form of life.
Within Stormwrack's largely seagoing culture, mermaids do interact with air-breathing humans. They work as salvagers and in ocean rescue. They're also in intelligence--who better to track the movements of ships and goods between the various island nations?
But it's a weird life, and some of them become very alienated from sailors and landlubbers. I can imagine that a lot of them would go AWOL and set up little rogue communities. With so much ocean to hide in their communities are all but impossible to find--unless you're also a mermaid, of course.
Mmmm, now I need to write a mermaid city story. But before I get anywhere near that, here's a passage I've been playing with, about that initial transformation from human to merbeing.
One of the spellscribes tossed Challa a pearl the size of a dime. She shined it with a soft rag, showing it to the boy, who examined it solemnly before nodding approval.
"Let us begin." Challa tossed the pearl into the deep tank holding the bluefish.
The scribes began to chip letters into the stone table. The kid rolled off the couch.He's paraplegic, Sophie realized when the blanket fell away and he dragged his withered lower body, using arm strength, to the pool containing the fish and the pearl.
"It can be hard to watch," Challa said. Maybe Sophie's face had shown some horror, or she'd made a noise. "We're young when we change. It makes the intention easier to bear. But to watch a child do this . . ."
"Was he paralyzed at birth?"
"Yes. Many nations expose their imperfect young, but children with this particular trouble--the Fleet takes them at birth. I myself was in an accident at age two. I had to apply for the transformation."
"This boy had no choice?"
"He could have refused the pearl." The old mermaid shrugged. "We fashion the otherwise unfit. I'd rather have had my life asea than none at all."
By now the boy had reached the edge of the pool. With a practiced move, he rolled his feet into the water.
The bluefish struck, rising up out of the tank and glomming onto the boy's barely-submerged feet, driving itself up his legs, devouring.
Sophie cried out a little. The child's eyes were swimming with tears, but he clenched his jaw----brave little guy!----and actually pushed down, shoving himself into the fish's gullet.
The bluefish was distended now, stretched. Sophie could see the shape of the child's legs, the fish sleeved over them, like a rubber suit, not a living thing. With a final thrash, it gulped itself over the boy's waist and bit--really bit--down. Curls of blood swirled in the pool. The weight of the fish tipped the boy off the edge of the pool. He treaded water for all he was worth.
The merman in the adjacent pool uncoiled, catching the boy's hands. He checked the edge of the bluefish's lips--the punctures left by the teeth. He had a look to see that the boy's belly button remained exposed, and folded the fish's lips upward at his pelvis. Sophie was reminded of her mother, straightening a dress on Sophie's school picture day.But Mooom, I want to wear my soccer uniform...
They murmured together, man and boy, checking everything. The boy was pale, and she was struck again by his bravery.
When they seemed to agree that the fit of the fish was correct, the merman took a small curved knife and cut into the bluefish's head, scooping out its brain and killing it instantly.
"Big breath," he said.
The kid sucked air. Then, turning awkwardly in the water, his paralyzed legs weighted with forty-odd pounds of dead fish, he dove, making for the pearl at the bottom of the tank.
He didn't come up.
"Here is where our nerve most commonly breaks," Challa said. "To wait, until breath fails, to take the mouth of the sea . . ."
"If he tries to rise before the spines join and the gills move up--" Challa drew her fingers over her own throat, then Sophie's. "We'll hold him under."
"If he fails now, he bleeds to death of his wounds."
Sophie braced herself, but the boy transformed in a single liquid shudder. Nearly invisible gills slashed their way into his throat, pink and fresh and healthy, and the dead weight of the fish on his spine writhed, tightened. Movement and vitality extended in both directions, until the tip of its tail was a live thing and there was no transition anymore, no difference between boy and fish.
A single creature now, he powered up, bursting into the waiting embrace of the merman with a gush of water from his mouth that turned into a triumphant crow as they hugged.
There's a lot missing from the myth in this short fragment: no singing, no homicidal intent, and certainly no longing for land. It's a beginning, and I can't say yet what might happen to this merboy, or whether he'll ever meet a girl, legged, fishtailed or otherwise.
This kind of human-to-waterbeing transformation isn't unique to me, or even to fantasy. Peter Watts creates the high-tech water-breathing 'Rifters' in his remarkable novel Starfish. (http://www.rifters.com/real/
STARFISH.htm) Rifters work at a geothermal power station on the floor of a deep sea rift called the Channer Vent, and have been fitted with adaptations to allow them to survive in a deep pressure environment.
The possibilities in merfolks, in other words, are endless. This is the fun, for me as a writer, in these ancient stories. It's in playing with them, finding variations, and seeing if I can make something that is both familiar and shiny new.
You can find Alyx Dellamonica:
Site: A.M. Dellamonica
Live Journal: A.M. Dellamonica
Alyx also wrote: