So. You might ask, “Why mermaids?” And while you are asking this question, most of you are picturing the Disney version of Ariel in your mind. Sweet, innocent, cartoon-ishly benign. Go ahead, admit it. She is the most famous mermaid of our times.
But mermaids aren’t so one-dimensional. After all, remember the sea witch, Ursula?
Throughout history, there have always been tales of mermaids. There are cave paintings of evil mermaids. Seriously. Over the centuries, mermaids have been closely associated with shipwrecks, drownings, storms and floods. Think of the syrens of Greek mythology, luring sailors to their deaths on the rocky shores.
In one popular Greek legend, the gods turn Alexander the Great’s sister into a mermaid. She lives in the Aegean Sea and when she encounters a ship she asks its sailors only one question: "Is King Alexander alive?" The proper answer is yes, saying "He lives and reigns and conquers the world." Placated, the mermaid calms the waters and wishes the ship farewell. Any other answer spurs her into a rage where she summons a storm, dooming the ship and its sailors.
Just a few hundred years ago, Christopher Columbus famously reported sighting mermaids in the Caribbean, saying they weren’t as beautiful as legend proclaimed. And just a few years ago, Johnny Depp befriended those same Caribbean mermaids as Jack Sparrow, in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Remember how scary those mermaids could be?
The main character of my series, fifteen-year-old Shea MacNamara, grew up in Oklahoma far away from any oceans, never thinking about mermaids. Raised by his emotionally distant father, he never knew the mom who left when he was a baby. Since Dad never even mentioned her, Shea figured it had been a surprise pregnancy, and that his dad had gotten “stuck” raising the unwanted child.
Shea never understood why his dad always seemed sad and isolated, urging Shea to keep his odd abilities secret. He’s never felt like he quite “fit in” with his classmates, but couldn’t figure out why. He endures the taunts of school bullies, developing a deep mistrust of authority but a strong sense of right and wrong. When a freak tornado destroys his farm and claims his father, Shea feels completely abandoned. A grandmother he’s never met arrives on the scene, and he’s forced to leave everything familiar to move back to Cape Cod, where his father was born and raised.
He meets a mysterious girl along the shores of the Atlantic – a girl with secrets, and who knows secrets about Shea as well. She introduces him to an undersea world which he never knew existed, and suddenly all the odd abilities he’s developed over the years make total sense. He also discovers that not all mermaids are beautiful and sweet, and that bullies and evil exist everywhere.
We readily accept that there are all sorts of vampires in literature – from the sparkly kind to the more grim and bloodthirsty versions. Why is it we think all mermaids should be sugary sweet?
Just as people come in all shades of good and evil, so should merfolk. It makes life under the sea that much more intriguing!