Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Mermaids

Chimerical beings, human above the waist and fish below (although there is a famous painting by René Magritte of a "reversed mermaid"); mermen are of lesser importance (but see Selkies). Mermaids' role in Folklore is that of sea-dwelling equivalents of Fairies and Undines – they often replace Birds in fairy-bride stories about fisherfolk – but their fondness for seductive singing and reputation as Omens of disaster link them to Sirens and to the Lorelei. Two fine versions of the mermaid-bride motif are Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" (1837) and Oscar Wilde's "The Fisherman and his Soul" (1891); another effective 19th-century image is contained in "The Forsaken Merman" (1849) by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888). The Sea Lady (1902) by H G Wells and "The Floating Café" (1936) by Margery Lawrence are Femme-Fatale stories reflecting the more sinister element of the folkloristic tradition, but Loona, A Strange Tail (1931) by Norman Walker, "Nothing in the Rules" (1939) by L Sprague de Camp, Peabody's Mermaid (1946) by Guy and Constance Jones and "Mr Margate's Mermaid" (1955) by Robert Bloch are much lighter; the jokes deployed in the movie version of the Joneses' novel, Mr Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) set the pattern for subsequent mermaid movies like Splash! (1984). Theodore Sturgeon's "A Touch of Strange" (1958) and Ray Bradbury's "The Shoreline at Sunset" (1959) are effective sentimental parables, while The Merman's Children (1979) by Poul Anderson is a fine epic novel which restores all the gravity of the folkloristic tradition in a striking account of the inexorable Thinning of the realm of Faerie; Mermaid's Song (1989) by Alida Van Gores attempts something similar in its account of conflict between the "merra" and the "mogs". "The Whimpus" (1933) by Tod Robbins (1888-1949) is an amusing account of a strange fish with mermaid-like attributes, and "The Malaysian Mer" (1982) by Jane Yolen describes an unusually lively example of the fake mermaids which sailors used to mock up by stitching together the relevant parts of monkeys and fish. A good theme anthology is Mermaids! (1985) ed Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann. [BS]

see also: The Little Mermaid (1989).

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.