View Full Version : Mermen/mermaid rules and books

09-12-2004, 08:30 PM
I am interested in gathering information about mermen culture. Does anybody know of any good books that explore this theme, or even any general facts on them that are common throughout fantasy books these days? For example, do mermen breathe underwater? What do they eat? Do they sleep?


09-13-2004, 02:57 AM
Joan, my only knowledge of mermaids comes from _The Little Mermaid_, and that's the Disney version. (;

My one thought, though, would be to find the Hans Christian Anderson original version... The one thing that comes to mind is that when the mermaid dies at the end, she turns into sea foam...

Chunk posted a link in one of these other threads about a mythic encyclopedia.. It might cover mermaids, I'm not sure.

Ah, here's the link: www.pantheon.org/main/search.html (http://www.pantheon.org/main/search.html) . I checked it out briefly, it does cover mermaids but really only as a textbook definition. I'm sure Google could unlock some more sources for you. I did a quick search under "mermaid sources," and the very first site might help you... It has lots of legends, including Anderson's..

09-13-2004, 03:13 AM
I say gather all the background material you can and then make up your own mer culture. (Maybe that's what you were going to do anyway.)

I know I came up with some interesting stuff at one point... but it's mine, and I'm keeping it to myself in case I want to use it. :p

09-13-2004, 03:20 AM
Interesting link, Mac - good starting point.

Yes, I am going to build off of the existing - I was just curious to know if there was any real widespread "factual" knowledge on the subject which "everyone knows" that I would need to be aware of. For example, the vampire genre is very well developed and you'd want to be up on the nuances and habits popularized by modern writers when working in that genre. But it seems to me the merworld is not quite as well established at this point.

Which is cool :)

Lori Basiewicz
09-13-2004, 03:26 AM
In sailing myths, weren't they thought to lead ships and sailors to their doom?

09-13-2004, 04:05 AM
Those are sirens. There IS a difference, just don't ask me what it is... (; I think, though, they might not have any relation to being fish.... Who remembers the Odyssey? I can't...

I also thought about sirens, Joan, which could be really interesting for you to research as well. Also, selkies. Those are women who turn into seals. While they might not relate to anything you're writing directly, some of the incorporate myths could give you some ideas.

Edit: It was driving me crazy, so I looked it up: Sirens (from Greek myth) have the head of a female, but a body of a bird.

09-13-2004, 04:07 AM
This is from The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference compiled by Writer's Digest, p. 164.


"Water-breathing races have appeared in a variety of legends. The Greeks had their sea nymphs, the Nereids. Triton, the son of Poseidon and the Nereid Amphitrite, had the tail of a fish. In fact, his name became a generic term to describe men with the body of a man and the tail of a fish. More commonly, these legends developed into the tales of mermaids and mermen, whose chief characteristics as a race is their half-fish forms and their ability to live underwater but not on land. Mermaids sometimes had a reputation for mischief if not disaster. Though some mermaids gave up their tails to join men on land, there are also stories of mermaids dragging mortal men beneath the waves to join them. Other times, mermaids caused shipwrecks, especially if one had fallen in love with a sailor. Hans Christian Anderson's "Little Mermaid" is probably the most famous tale of merfolk. In his classic story, the little mermaid trades her voice for legs and the chance to win a mortal husband. Of course, the original tale does not have the happy ending the Disney version put on it."

So according to this they breathe water. And unless they have magic performed on them, they can not live on land. However, I am currently re-reading Piers Anthony's Xanth series and his Siren is a mermaid who has the ability to trade her fin for legs at her whim.

Many stories show mermaids partially in water and partially out which would make me think their gills are in their tails, but I have never really read it mentioned particularly. Then they are often seen lounging on reefs or large rocks in lakes. This to me would seem to mean that they can breathe both in air and water.

I am not sure you can "go against the grain" with merfolk. Heck, maybe I just confused the issue more lol.

Lori Basiewicz
09-13-2004, 04:55 AM
Katie Mac, Sirens, of Greek myth, would sing songs which would lure men to their dooms, but in more generalized sailor myths/legends/tall tales, mermaids were a sign of bad luck and would just cause general havoc with ships and sailors.

There are some scholarly types that think manatees are the origin of mermaids. But that isn't really the question and I am now off-topic.

09-13-2004, 05:00 AM
Gotcha, Lori. I didn't know about that particular mermaid lore.

But I did know the manatee bit... I thought about bringing it up... Did you know Columbus thought he saw a mermaid?.. heh heh.. off topic..

09-13-2004, 05:03 AM
I just made up my own. Yep, I have merpeople in my finished book. But, like another poster said, it's mine and you can't have it :)

It's really original actually, and as soon as one of the three publishers who are reading it get off their butts and show me the money, then y'all can read it for yourselves.

Lori Basiewicz
09-13-2004, 05:04 AM
No, I didn't, but it doesn't surprise me overmuch. Do you have any links to that bit of data or know where I could look it up in a text so I could read up on it?

09-13-2004, 05:10 AM
Lori, I did a project in... oh, the fourth grade I think it was... on manatees (they're my favorite... so cute!!)... and that is one piece of data that has remained in my head for all these years. I know it was in a book though (and an elementary school level one at that)..

I'll see what I can find!

09-13-2004, 05:20 AM
Here, Lori, I just did a Google search and got some info:

Columbus (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&q=christopher+columbus+%2B+mermaids)

The second one looks pretty good; it includes some of Columbus' journal entires.

09-13-2004, 07:22 AM
Mermaids do sometimes wreck ships, but they're more interested in getting their hands on individual sailors, and pulling them down. There are traditions all over about beautiful girls singing in order to wreck ships (like the Lorrelei on the Rhine) which are sometimes believed to go back to a literal technique used by communities that lured ships to be wrecked, in order to plunder them (a kind of land-based piracy).

09-13-2004, 04:39 PM
Here is a good source for any mythical creatures: www.pantheon.org/articles/m/mermaid.html (http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/mermaid.html)

09-13-2004, 07:16 PM
Mac said:

Also, selkies. Those are women who turn into seals.

One slight correction. Selkies can be men or women. I don't remember the exact source right off-hand, but Selkies do come in both genders. I think what I'm thinking of may be called "The Selkie King" or something like that. I'll look later and see if I can find it.


09-13-2004, 07:26 PM
Most of the old tales were about selkie wives -- but there are both. From EM:

The shy Selkies are marine creatures in the shape of a seal. They can be found near the islands of Orkney and Shetland. A female can shed her skin and come ashore as a beautiful woman. When a man finds the skin, he can force the Selkie to be a good, if somewhat sad, wife. Should she ever recover the skin, she will immediately return to sea, leaving her husband behind. The male Selkies are responsible for storms and also for the sinking of ships, which is their way of avenging the hunting of seals.

09-14-2004, 06:49 PM
I've put some books on hold at the library, so hopefully will get some interesting ideas from there too. Thanks to everyone who posted links and ref stuff :)

09-15-2004, 07:04 AM
There's a well-known Scottish ballad called The Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie, which is about a male silkie/selkie that leaves a mortal woman with a son, then takes the son and prophesies that the woman will marry a man who'll kill both him and his son. Nice and cheerful.