by Kathleen Bridge
One of my favorite things about writing is doing research. In my By the Sea Mysteries, I’ve resurrected the Indialantic by the Sea Hotel from the ashes and made it the family-run hotel and emporium at the center of my series. An easy task, seeing the hotel actually existed on a barrier island in Melbourne Beach, Florida. I found late 1920s postcards at local antique shops, photos, and historical documents and books about the Indialantic by the Sea. But what I didn’t expect to find when writing my latest book, Evil by the Sea, were numerous historical references to those mythical creatures we call mermaids and mermen.
In Evil by the Sea, I created a fictional Mystical Merfest centered on folklore that a young mermaid named Meribel saved dozens of Spanish sailors by dragging them to shore after a hurricane destroyed their treasure-laden fleet. The story of Meribel was from my writer’s imagination, but the 1715 shipwrecks are historical fact, as evidenced by the gold and silver still being washed ashore today.
Curious about the origin of merfolk, I was surprised to find references to them in an antique book from my own collection: The Water World, copyright 1885 by Prof. J.W Van Dervoort.
In my research, I found that even Shakespeare mentions mermaids in Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 3— “It was thought she was a woman, and was turned into a cold fish, for she would not exchange flesh with one that loved her.”
A Babylonian god in the fourth century BCE, named Oannes, was described as half-human, half-fish. He supposedly left the ocean every morning, learned from man’s wisdom, then returned to the sea at night. Based on statues and drawings that were found of Oannes with his fish suit, some believe he might have been a visitor from another galaxy.
In ancient Assyria there was a goddess named Atargatis who changed herself into a mermaid as a punishment for accidentally killing her human lover. And in one of my favorite childhood stories Peter and Wendy (Peter Pan), J. M. Barrie mentions them in chapter 8, Mermaids’ Lagoon: “Wendy’s lasting regrets that all the time she was on the island she never had a civil word from one of them. When she stole softly to the edge of the lagoon she might see them by the score, especially on Marooners’ Rock, where they loved to bask, combing out their hair in a lazy way that quite irritated her; or she might even swim, on tiptoe as it were, to within a yard of them, but then they saw her and dived, probably splashing her with their tails, not by accident, but intentionally.”
In 1836, Hans Christian Andersen published the fairy tale The Little Mermaid. Only in Andersen’s tale the Little Mermaid and the prince don’t end up living happily ever after like in Disney’s cartoon version. Andersen’s, The Little Mermaid, was more of a cautionary moral tale about being happy with the way you were, and not coveting how other people lived. Personally, I like the happy romantic ending in Disney’s version—must be the cozy mystery writer in me.
Around the same time that Andersen’s The Little Mermaid came out, P.T. Barnum put on a mermaid display under glass. He attached the head, arms, and torso of a monkey to the tail of a fish. People came from all over to see his Little Mermaid. No thank you! Once again, I defer to Disney.
When Christopher Columbus set out to sea in 1492, sailing the oceans blue, he had his own mermaid sighting. Scientists today think what he probably saw was a playful manatee or sea cow. Manatees have large bald heads and hands with finger-like swimming paws. There are plenty of manatees in East Central Florida—loving, friendly creatures—but when you get up close, there’s no mistaking them for a mermaid.
What do you think? Are mermaids and mermen real? What can it hurt to suspend reality and believe? Isn’t that what we do every time we pick up a good book of fiction? As Tinkerbell said, “All you need is faith, trust, and a little pixie dust…”
Liz Holt is bewitched, bothered, and bewildered when a wicked killer objects to a wiccan wedding . . .
Island life can get pretty weird. Wiccan weddings, psychic brides, mermaid parades, eccentric parrots . . . Novelist Liz Holt has gotten used to it since moving back to the barrier island of Melbourne Beach, Florida, and once again working in her family’s hotel and emporium, the Indialantic by the Sea. But one thing she’ll never get used to is murder.
Groom-to-be and leader of the Sunshine Wiccan Society, white warlock Julian Rhodes is poisoned at his rehearsal dinner on the hotel’s sightseeing cruiser. His psychic bride, Dorian Starwood, never saw it coming. An old friend of Liz’s great-aunt Amelia, the celebrity psychic engages Liz to find out who intended to kill her intended. With her Macaw, Barnacle Bob, squawking “Pop Goes the Weasel” at Dorian’s pet ferret, and the streets teeming with mermaids in tails, Liz has got to wade through the weirdness and cast a wide net for the killer—before she’s the next one to sleep with the fishes . . .