You know what’s cool?
Like many women of my generation, my love for – and fascination with – mermaids doubtlessly debuted with the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989. (Except that I was one at the time, so more like, my love/fascination started whenever I had enough cognitive functioning to understand the movie.)
Now there’s something light and bubbly (ha!) about mermaids. They’re pretty! They live in cool underwater castles! They fall in love with strapping sailors!
But. Don’t be fooled.
Mermaids are monsters.
And they are scary as sin.
I think it’s fairly common knowledge that the original fairytale, by Hans Christian Andersen, is dark. And we mean dark. I’ll get around to that in a minute.
Because you know what really opened my eyes to the scary potential of mermaids?
There are tons of scary things in Neverland, such as pirates, and alligators, and clocks.
But the mermaids? Exist on a whole ‘nother plane of scary. I think I read Peter Pan when I was a cynical and jaded world-weary fifteen-year-old, but the mermaids in that book still give me nightmares.
Here’s how mermaids work in Peter Pan – they share some traits with sirens. They sing to you in an alluring fashion, you lean in to hear what they’re saying – and then they grab you and haul you down into the water. The mermaids are quite clear about their intent to drown you, at least at the point that they’re drowning you.
One of the reasons I love the 2003 Peter Pan (and there are many reasons) is that they kept the book’s original vision of mermaids intact:
I haven’t seen Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. To be honest, I checked out of that franchise after the incoherent second movie. But, I was excited to see a healthy splattering of mermaids-as-murderers in this trailer (mermaids starting at 1:14):
Now, something I noticed in that trailer is that at the same time some mermaids are dragging sailors into the deep, there’s also apparently a nicer mermaid who (of course!) falls in love with an earnest, handsome sailor. Of course. Like I said, I haven’t seen On Stranger Tides, so I can’t speak to how that particular plot-line plays out, but it’s important to emphasize that even when we make mermaids sympathetic love interests, that doesn’t mean the story is going to be all bubbles and reflected rainbows.
A thesis paper this ain’t. I borrowed heavily from Wikipedia to get the low-down on the whole Hans Christian Anderson version of the fairytale. It’s actually pretty close to the Disney movie, except oh so much more violent. For example, the Sea Witch doesn’t just take her voice – she takes her tongue. Oh, and while the mermaid has legs now, walking on her legs gives her a stabbing pain not unlike walking on sharp swords. Did we mention that she will never, ever be able to return to the sea? And that if her prince marries another woman, the mermaid will disintegrate into seafoam? (There’s a bunch of interesting stuff about the fact that she will only gain a “soul” if she wins his affection – this story is not exactly the feminist empowerment of the century.)
So what happens to the little mermaid who must win her prince’s love lest her soulless self turn into sea foam and effectively die?
WARNING SPOILERS AHOY
— The prince marries another woman and the soulless mermaid turns into sea foam and effectively dies.
YAY HAPPY ENDINGS
In a previous post about the inherent awesomeness of Susan Calvin, I mentioned patterns of meaning and symbolism that seem to occur over and over in science fiction and fantasy tropes. Now, I’m not saying that sf&f is a bunch of cliches - on the contrary, I think you have to look at a lot of science fiction and fantasy as a conversation – for example, dystopian worlds tend to represent whatever that particular author finds most terrifying about humanity, but dystopian worlds are all so different from each other and yet sometimes strikingly similar. And I think people that stand outside science fiction and fantasy genre fiction seem to think that the allure for fans is that they’re doing the same thing all the time, but actually the allure is that writers are constantly doing wild riffs on the same beat, and we’re all interested to see how this writer is going to do things differently.
Okay, so I digress. A lot.
Mermaids fascinate me because I can’t shrink them down to a single meaning. How much do Peter Pan‘s mermaids have to do with Disney’s Ariel? Not a whole heck of a lot.
When you look at something like mermaids, it’s not unhelpful to consider closely why they’re called mermaids. Does the diverse representation of women have anything to do with the diverse representation of mermaids?
Okay, okay, I know there are supposedly mermen, but the root of the whole mythology is very much rooted in the maid bit, and I don’t think it’s completely accidental that a narrative such as Peter Pan – which casts adulthood as scary and bad – would cast grown women as scary fish people that eat you. Grown-up men get to be pirates, grown-up women get to be mermaids.
Nor do I think it’s an accident that a narrative such as Disney’s A Little Mermaid would create a character like Ariel, who is clearly meant to be a sympathetic role model for young female viewers. You can agree or disagree as to whether she was an empowering role model, but that was clearly the intent.
And I definitely don’t think it’s an accident that the mermaid (or the siren) myth started from sailors who wouldn’t allow women on a ship because it was bad luck.
But let none of this psycho-literature babble distract you from the real message of this post.
Which is that mermaids are freaking cool.
This lady knows where the party’s at
Also, no joke, right now I’m listening to the Little Things album by Toby Lightman.
Guess what lyrics came on as I was finishing this post?
‘Cause you know the tide ain’t rolling in for you
The tide ain’t rolling in for me
Are you gonna sink?
Or are you gonna swim?
From the song The River
The mermaids are singing to me!
***Now with dates!
- In regards to the Yes Gay YA debacle: Seanan McGuire has a great post about why it’s important to use fiction (to which I would add, especially YA fiction) to normalize LGTB characters. McGuire writes, “What I want is heist books and con men where it’s Mike and Dan, not Mike and Dawn.” Go. Read this article. Do it now.
- Kait Nolan posted an amazing video with hot men. This trend of putting hot, well-dressed young men in music videos? I like it.
- Couple io9 links this week. First link – Ender’s Game movie? TOO AWESOME TO HANDLE.
- Second link – interesting response to DC’s treatment of Starfire.
- To be honest, I’m torn. Should seven year old girls be reading those particular comics anyway? Absolutely not. And although I know Starfire as the awesomesauce alien on Teen Titans, I must admit that the new Starfire is actually more like the old Starfire, leaving the Teen Titans Starfire as some kind of awkward middle child.
- But. Do I like what DC is doing with Starfire?
- Speaking of DC comics. Scott Snyder, the current writer of Batman (and American Vampire woot!), was on Twitter answering questions and giving writing advice. You can find all the information compiled here. I’m grateful to the person who did the compiling, but it is very text block-y, which is unfortunate, because there are some real gems in there, especially when he talks about treating writing as a learnable skill. So please give it a look even if it makes your eyes hurt at first.
- I was fortunate enough to have Scott Snyder as a writing professor, and more than any other writing professor he de-mystified the process. There’s this trend in the writing world to worship concepts such as inspiration and talent and unique voices and all that stuff. But Scott Snyder talks about writing in concrete terms, presenting it as a skill that you can learn, just like how you can learn to lay bricks or practice medicine. That’s an important message in a writing culture that tries to sell us this, “Either you have talent, or you don’t,” philosophy, which honestly? Is probably responsible for making a lot of people quit.
- To be honest, I spent waaaay too much time this week obsessively reading and researching Occupy Wall Street. I think it’s a lot more meaningful and interesting than people are giving it credit for, although there are certainly things that I don’t agree with. More than anything though, I think it’s EXTREMELY INTERESTING to compare coverage of Occupy Wall Street to coverage of the Tea Party.
- But I digress. I’m not here to talk politics.
- No, I’m here to show you funny videos about politics.
- Check out John Stewart’s awesome use of Detective Stabler to comment on the infamous pepper spray incident.
- And, Colbert’s coverage of Occupy Wall Street.
- Finally, on a political note: please visit this tumblr for a taste of why dismissing this movement as “bored trust fund babies studying humanities” is incredibly minimizing and short-sighted.
Posting was a bit weird for me this week, but things should return to normal next week. On Monday, I’m posting my ROW 80 goals. Do you know about ROW 80? You should. And on Tuesday, I’ll be joining Monsterfest and posting about mermaids. Because mermaids are cool. Do you know about Sommer Leigh’s Monsterfest? You should.
And now I bring you the Awesomest Puppy in the World:
I’m participating in them! Well, two. Maybe should participate in them too, no?
Who is the most memorable scientist character to you? What’s so special about him?
What scientists – dead, alive or fictional – made a difference in your life?
Is there a scientist you admire? What has he discovered or what is he working on?
During the month of October, my League of Monstrologists will take on the task of compiling an informal Field Guide of the Weird on their favorite monsters.
We all have at least one fictional other that haunts our closets and underbed spaces. The reason we avoid basements, attics, and graveyards. Everybody’s got their favorite – zombies, vampires, werewolves, mermaids, Bigfoot, Nessie, Cthulhu, demons, Martians, ghosts, goblins, gremlins, the clown from IT…
The monster world is full of the interesting, the weird, and the really scary. And it’s finally time to celebrate all that they bring to the dark corners of our imaginations.
I hope you’ll join me in some of these awesome blogfests! By which I mean two. Two awesome blogfests!