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The Mermaid Summer

August 3, 2019

I am in the mood for a new writing project, so have decided to work on a wee series​​ about bits and pieces of culture, art and literature that have inspired and influenced me through the years. Many of them have made their way into The Silver Moon Storybook in one guise or another - there being very little in the world that's actually brand new, I am self-aware enough to understand that there's a real mishmash of influences at play in my work. 

 

First up is The Mermaid Summer by Mollie Hunter, which was one of my favourite books as a child. I was a very introverted, underconfident child; never felt "good enough" and was constantly on high alert for the next criticism or telling-off that was coming my way. The Mermaid Summer provided me with perfect escapism (plus an early prototype of The Sea Queen) being about a secure, confident girl Anna who with the help of her brother Jon, her Grandfather Eric, an old sailor and the local wise woman, outwits a fascinating but vain and capricious mermaid who threatens the safety of their Shetland village. 

 

I was always very self-contained and counter-dependent, so related *so hard* to the main character Anna and her realisation that it was for her to step up and solve the village's mermaid issue. As an adult I can see how that step up mentality has filtered through into my own approach to life - I have often been afraid of facing up to hard truths which has led to resistance and (sometimes very painful) denial, but in the end I find that living in the lie is ultimately more painful than the process of letting it go. This stood me in good stead for letting go of an *extremely* toxic relationship in my mid twenties. 

 

The other thread in this book that fascinated me was the dangerous mermaid. I think I borrowed the book from the library in the wake of Disney's sanitised, shell-breasted Little Mermaid, which in all fairness was another piece of pop culture that mirrored my experiences - controlling father figures (who ultimately just want to keep you safe) and giving up your voice so that a man will love you - sound familiar...? But ultimately Ariel was an innocuous, innocent ingenue with an unlikely determined streak; the mermaid in Mollie Hunter's book is a more complex creature altogether.

 

All vanity, vengefulness and entitlement, she is probably the exact *opposite* of Ariel, which came as a bit of a shock when I first read the book. I should have found her repellent - she does threaten to kill an entire village of Shetland Islanders after all, but in fact I found her utterly compelling. Who was this creature that felt she could demand, expect and control? Surely women - even mystical half-fish women - couldn't behave like that? And sure enough, no she couldn't - but it wasn't the menfolk who outsmarted her, it was a young woman who was smart enough to recognise power play and abuse for what it was, and then brave enough to face it down. As feminist fairytales go, The Mermaid Summer is right up there for me. 

 

Interestingly enough, it was Anna's own Grandfather Eric who originally pissed the mermaid off to the point that she became dangerous, then fucked off travelling round the world leaving Anna to clear up his mess. He had the best of intentions of course - the mermaid threatened to destroy his family and everyone he loved if he didn't exit stage left - but I can't help drawing a wry parallel between his behaviour and the pattern I notice in real life where women are forced to take responsibility for the often dangerous consequences of oblivious men's behaviour. If you noticed the #MeToo movement at all, then you will have a rough idea of what I'm talking about. 

 

Thankfully Mollie Hunter offers Granda Eric a redemption arc, whereby he is given the opportunity to learn to trust his intuition, and importantly to trust that Anna is equipped to handle the mermaid in his absence; his outcome is a new humility and gratitude as he comes to understand just how much danger he put his family in by angering the mermaid in the first place. There is perhaps an argument to be made that a mermaid of that nature was an accident waiting to happen, and if it hadn't been Eric it would have been someone else, but the lessons were probably important to learn nonetheless. 

 

Then again, Anna doesn't defeat the mermaid all by herself either; she quickly learns that she has to trust those around her to have her back, as she can't do it alone. Ultimately it takes Anna and her brother Jon (to whom the power of calling the mermaid "belongs" via a conch shell) to set aside their sibling spats and bring the mermaid down, acting on some cryptic advice from a few wise elders and Anna's own intuition. It's a book of human frailty but ultimately of equality too, with the male and female characters owning their strengths, addressing their weaknesses, and working together instead of arguing with each other. One of the recent reviews on the recent blog tour for Silver Moon talked about how it was "a book of quiet feminine strength." I'm thinking maybe this book might be where some of that came from... 

 

Watch this space for more chat on cultural stuff that I have found powerful and learned interesting things from. Next up will be the joyfully feminist campfest of a life metaphor that is the movie Labyrinth. Here is a delicious Goblin King GIF to keep you going. *smoulder*

 

 

 

 

 

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