"Rescue Sirens"' Common Mermaid Myths September 07, 2015 22:07

From Jess: 

Long before the novel "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" was so much as outlined, I started developing the property by writing a lengthy reference document that laid out our mermaids' unique mythology, evolution and physiology, habitats, society, and their culture and traditions. I knew I wanted the "Rescue Sirens" series to take place within a fully-realized world, even though I hadn't nailed down the first book yet, and I loved all the thought I could put into building that world within this supplemental volume. I also knew it would come in handy when Chris and I started writing the first novel!

I wrote the document from the point of view of a modern mermaid researcher (who somehow knows waaayy too much) living within the world of "Rescue Sirens." It was important to me to distinguish "Rescue Sirens" from all the wonderful mermaid stories (books, movies, TV shows, etc.) that had preceded it, and the "Common Mermaid Myths" page of the reference document had a little good-natured fun with well-established versions of mermaid tales that we all know and love. "Rescue Sirens" plays by different rules than many mermaid properties, and this was an entertaining way for me to define them! I hope you enjoy this peek behind-the-scenes into my super-secret notebook.

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COMMON MERMAID MYTHS

Over the centuries, mermaids have inspired countless myths and legends. Some contain elements of truth, but a number of them are entirely false or based on misunderstandings. Here are just a handful:

Do mermaids lure sailors to their deaths?

Quite the opposite! As covered in the mermaids' own human creation myth (see "Human Origins"), mermaids are sworn to protect humans. They're responsible for saving sailors, not luring them to their deaths. Where the confusion lies is in the term "siren," which has, over the years, come to be synonymous with "mermaid," but originally referred to Greek creatures that were half woman, half bird. According to Homer, two Sirens lived on an island in the western sea between Aeaea and the rocks of Scylla, singing so sweetly that enchanted sailors piloted their ships into the rocks or even leapt overboard and drowned. The hero Odysseus saved himself and his crew by blocking their ears with wax and lashing himself to the mast to keep from steering the ship into the rocks when they sailed past the singing Sirens. Somehow, mermaids ended up with both the name "siren" and the undeserved bad reputation.

Do mermaids automatically transform into their tails when they get wet?

No. Despite popular media depicting mermaids on shore as existing at the mercy of water, unable to control changing from legs back to a tail if they fall in a swimming pool or get sprayed at a car wash, a conscious mermaid's transformation is entirely up to her. (See "Evolution & Physiology.") Any claim to the contrary is--well, just fantasy!

Can mermaids control the weather?

For seafaring humans, storms are a serious consideration, and many an ancient sailor would swear to you that a mermaid could call up a tempest or calm a hurricane depending on her mood. In reality, while they can sense a storm coming due to atmospheric changes that humans are unaware of, mermaids have no more control over the weather than any other marine species. That hasn't stopped some mermaids throughout history (such as Thessalonike of Macedon, an Atavist (see "Evolution & Physiology") and half-sister to Alexander the Great) from taking advantage of their very basic weather predicting abilities to give humans the impression that they were "causing" an oncoming squall if they were displeased. Mermaids have even incorporated this myth into their vernacular: a mermaid might be described as "summoning a storm" when she's particularly angry.

Aren't "mermaids" actually just manatees that lonely sailors mistook for women?

Although manatees (and their Australian relatives the dugongs) are classified as belonging to the scientific order Sirenia in an obvious nod to mermaids, they bear no relation to them, nor were these elephantine marine mammals the "real" source of past mermaid sightings. Even after being at sea for months, a sailor can definitely tell the difference between a manatee and a mermaid! Mermaids claim the ones who came up with that story are the manatees themselves -- but, as preposterous as the concept may be, it serves as effective cover to help keep the existence of mermaids a secret in today's world.