Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Penguin Book Of Mermaids edited by Cristina Bacchilega and Marie Alohalani Brown

I can’t resist a book that covers folklore (or as this one says Literature/Mythology) and haven’t been resisting this one for a good few weeks now. It’s the perfect book for dipping in and out of. It’s also the perfect blend of scholarship and entertainment to be a really useful thing to have around, and if you want more than that, a third of its selections are published in English for the first time.

Sections cover ‘Water Deities and Sirens from Olden Times’, Mermaids and Other Merbeings in Europe’, ‘Literary Tales’, and ‘Merfolk and Water Spirits Across Cultures’. Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ is the longest pieces in the book, most other entries being between a couple of paragraphs to a couple of page, and entries are comprehensively introduced. 

To have a book about Mermaids handy for bath time reading seems a bit self consciously affected, but it’s been perfect for picking up for the 5 - 10 minutes that I prefer. It’s a great bus book for the same reason, and reading through it in fits and starts like this has given me plenty of time to think about some of the stories.

Some were already familiar, some are interesting as curiosities or glimpses into other times and cultures (if that sounds patronising it’s not how I mean it) other stories are haunting enough to have got right under my skin. These have mostly been from the ‘Literary Tales’ section, specifically I’m thinking of Kurahashi Yumiko’s A Mermaid’s Tears, and Genevieve Valentine’s Abyssus Abyssum Invocat. 

Neither were writers that I was familiar with, Kurahashi Yumiko has been compared to Angela Carter for her subject matter and erotic content, but the introduction also points out that she was much more conservative in her position on women and sexual politics than Carter. Either way I’d like to read more of her work, although a quick look at amazon suggests that’s she’s not been translated. I’ll look out for Genevieve Valentine too who should be easier to find. 

As I’ve said, I can never resist books like this (not that I try very hard) and they’re generally satisfying, but this one is genuinely something more. A proper treasure chest full of material to explore that I’ve found really inspiring. Mostly my interest is in tracing links between different traditions as well as how they diverge. This collection makes me wish that I could write fiction. 


  1. Oooh, tempted....

    Maybe you should try your hand at fiction, if you have the time? I mean, like a lot of crafts, you can learn how to do it (though as I am finding that doesn't necessarily mean that the end product is particularly great!).

    1. The book is excellent. I've long had a mild ambition to see if I could write a decent Mills & Boon style romance. I like the rules and formulas of the romance genre and imagine it could be fun to try and produce something within them. Otherwise I think I'm much more of a reader than a writer. I don't think I have the necessary disapline for it, never mind the talent.

  2. This sounds wonderful! The variety and the new translations are irresistible, and I already love Genevieve Valentine's tart fantasy stories. There are more on her website here: (I also love her red carpet fashion posts, which unpick the politics as well as the designs of the dresses - the Met Gala Catholic Imagination one is outstanding).

    1. Thank you for the link, that's going to be my afternoon treat!