We’re giving away a copy of Erika’s latest novel, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR today. Simply leave a comment on this post to enter.
The Little Mermaid. Splash.
What is it about mermaids that we women can’t get enough of them?
By all accounts, they shouldn’t command the affection they do. After all, the tailed-maidens of the silver screen bear little resemblance to their literary counterparts. Unlike the angelic Ariel from Disney’s A Little Mermaid, the mermaid in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale on which the movie was based suffered terribly for her devotion to her human beloved. And hers is hardly the only mermaid tale to include tragedy and despair. In many myths, mermaids seek a human mate only to be doomed to perish unloved.
And yet, for all of the mischievous and manipulative—even murderous—tendencies of mermaids in lore, they remain iconic and indisputably compelling to so many women.
I should know. When I was looking for inspiration for a new novel, I had only to come across a 19th century mosaic of a sea captain and the mermaid he left his wife for before the fantasy took shape in—and hold of—my imagination. It was only when I began doing research for The Mermaid Collector that I discovered just how complex and contradictory the mermaid myth is. Are they cold-blooded hunters, amused by luring their lovers to their watery deaths—or are they fragile and misunderstood half-maidens, desperate for love from men they cannot have?
Maybe it is that same duality that compels us as women to find them fascinating. In some cases we can condemn them for their representation of a male fantasy, a woman whose only goal in life is to belong to a man and who (as in the case of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid) will endure disfigurement to win one’s approval and love. In other cases, mermaids signify a woman of independence and feminine power. Regardless of their sometimes-devious natures, they are mysterious, cunning—and they drive men to such a degree of infatuation, those men are willing to drown to possess them.
In The Mermaid Collector, the mermaids are elusive but yet forever present; characters from a local legend that have defined a town and its residents for over a century. To many of the female residents of Cradle Harbor, especially the heroine Tess Patterson, the mermaids symbolize life’s magic, the promise of dreams and the power of fantasy. It would seem a curious passion considering these mermaids are believed to have lured four male residents to their deaths in 1888—yet their purported act has inspired an annual Mermaid Festival that draws a tremendous crowd every summer, and fills the town with an undeniable enchantment.
In some ways, Tess Patterson herself is a bit like that little mermaid, determined at the story’s beginning to win the affections of a man who can’t love her the way she needs to be loved, willing to sacrifice most everything of meaning to secure that love.
Could it be that like the residents of Cradle Harbor, we as women can’t make up our minds on the subject either?
Whoever said we had to?
Erika Marks is a native New Englander who was raised in Maine and has worked as an illustrator, cake decorator, art director and carpenter. She lives and writes in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, a native New Orleanian, and their two daughters. THE MERMAID COLLECTOR is her second novel after LITTLE GALE GUMBO.