Judith Tarr | Tor.com
Tor.com content by

Judith Tarr

Mermaids in the Desert: Kim Antieau’s Church of the Old Mermaids

Every place has its own magic, and just about every place has its own mermaids, too. Even the desert, according to Kim Antieau and her friends and fellow storytellers. The Old Mermaids were born in the writers’ community in Tucson, Arizona in the early years of this century. They’re still there, and still welcoming writers and artists to their sanctuary.

The novel that started it all is a delightful combination of magic and realism—magical realism, just the way it should be. It gives you Tucson’s landscape and people as they really are, cactus, creosote, coyotes, and all. And it gives you magic that’s as real as a flash flood roaring and rolling down a dry wash.

Read More »

The Mermaid in the Tower: Aquamarine

I have a lifelong fondness for soppy kids’ movies. Yes, I like Disney movies, and Disney knockoffs, and kids’ movies, period. My inner editor may be making squawky noises, but I can’t make myself care. I love them anyway.

Not long after Aquamarine first came out, along about 2006, I happened across it on one of the primordial streaming channels. We had satellite TV then. Remember satellite TV?

Read More »

The Little Merman: F.T. Lukens’ In Deeper Waters

In most respects In Deeper Waters is a standard YA fantasy-romance. It’s secondary world with minimal worldbuilding. Fairytale/fantasy kingdom, familiar family dynamics, equally familiar styles of names and places. There’s a mildly rebellious prince, a mysterious love interest, a solid dollop of politics and a suitably nasty villain or three.

What makes it relevant to my interests is that the love interest is a merman. Rather than the usual heterosexual pair, the lovers are both male. They appear, as the story unfolds, to be bisexual, but their main interest is in each other.

Read More »

Yemoja’s Child: Natasha Bowen’s Skin of the Sea

The best fantasy builds on works that came before, weaves sources together in ways both new and traditional, and transforms them into something entirely the author’s own. In Skin of the Sea, Natasha Bowen engages explicitly with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. She takes the bones of the story—the seven mermaid sisters, the youngest with her rebellious spirit and her fascination with humans, the ruler of the seas whose commands she is bound to obey, and the price of resistance: both physical pain and literal dissolution into a drift of sea-foam—and gives them a whole new life and home in West Africa.

The result is a classic fantasy with a fresh and refreshing take on the original fairy tale.

Read More »

Taking the Mermaid Tale Above and Beyond: Rivers Solomon’s The Deep

Rivers Solomon’s The Deep is the prose portion of a collaboration with the band clipping, which in turn took its inspiration from another band, Drexciya. All of the collaborators openly acknowledge their debt to the ones who came before—which in its way is an echo of the song/novella itself. While the novella is a powerful piece on its own, it’s even more so in its full context.

Read More »

It’s No Fun To Be Alone: Communicating With Cryptids in The Shape of Water

I still have more Caribbean mermaids in the TBR pile. But a particular element from The Mermaid of Black Conch resonates with a well-known film. That’s what I’d like to talk about this week.

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2018. I avoided it because I am not the intended audience for films full of Deep Thoughts That Are Good For You, which was the impression I had from the reviews and commentaries. I also bounced off the disability narrative, for reasons partially summed up by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry in an article on this site.

Monique Roffey’s book features a deaf character who manages to open communications with the mermaid. She had language in her human life, but a millennium as a sea creature took away her memory of it. Reggie’s American Sign Language helps her find her way back to spoken language.

Read More »

I Dream the Curse and the Curse Dreams Me: Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch

I am a very hard sell on prose style. There are numerous authors whom I read for story and characters (and many of those are wonderful for both), but the prose makes my editor-fingers twitch. Others I can’t read at all: I bounce hard off the words.

But then there are the few in the perfect center. Story and characters—perfect. Prose—oh my.

Monique Roffey hits that center.

Read More »

Mermaids of the Caribbean: Lisbon Okafor’s Ten-Cent Daisy

Caribbean mermaids are the latest thing. I’ll be reading a written version or two, but this week I’m in the mood for another film. And here’s Lisbon Okafor’s luminous, somewhat mysterious amalgamation of California and the West Indies, dedicated to two women celebrated as “our mothers.”

It is in part about mothers’ love for their children—whether biological or otherwise. It’s also about home, what the word means and where. And it’s about what humans do to those who are different.

Read More »

Just a Frothy Little Bubble: Splash Tackles the Mermaid Genre

After the Nordic darkness of The Merman’s Children, I’m in the mood for something light and frothy and not very complicated. Which is pretty much the definition of the Eighties romcom, Splash. Even the title is straightforward, one syllable, no muss or fuss. It anticipates the one-word-moniker trend in everything from restaurants to tv shows by decades. (I am still quite put out to have to call good old Masterpiece Theatre just Masterpiece. I mean. Come on.)

Splash is so Eighties. The hair. The chunky sweaters. The sexism. Upskirting as a running gag, haw haw. It will be a long time before Me Too becomes a thing.

It’s still a cute film, even with the winceworthy parts.

Read More »

Mortal and Immortal (Mer)Folk: Poul Anderson’s The Merman’s Children

I first read the component parts of this novel when it was new, or nearly so, in sections, in Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords Anthologies. I still own the paperback of the collected stories, which were published as a novel in 1979.

Poul Anderson was one of my favorites then, for both science fiction and fantasy. He was impressively prolific and could pretty much do it all, from space opera to swords and sorcery, and he was a solid hand at historical fantasy, too. His novella, “The Queen of Air and Darkness,” showed me how fantasy and science fiction could combine into a seamless and lyrical whole. I loved The Broken Sword and The High Crusade and Fire Time.

The Merman’s Children wasn’t one of my great favorites, but some of it came back to me as I reread it. Supposedly it’s based on a Danish ballad, Agnete and the Merman, and not on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. And yet it’s interesting to see how they seem to set up a dialogue on the one theme that persistently gets dropped from adaptations of Andersen: the question of merfolk and immortal souls.

Read More »

Two Versions of a Classic Fairy Tale: Disneyfying The Little Mermaid

I’m a bit skeptical about the recent Disney trend toward rebooting animated classics as live-action films. I understand that CGI and effects have advanced tremendously, and the animated versions have been around for a generation or two or even three. The older ones can use some serious updating, culturally as well as technically. Still, they are favorites, and it’s hard to accept a new take on what one’s loved for, like, forever. Which in the case of The Little Mermaid, is long enough that good lord, it can’t be that old. 1989!

To further muddy the waters, the live-action version got caught in the middle of the latest round of culture wars. Even before it was released, the announcement that the role of Ariel had been cast with a Black actress caused no end of furor.

If anything, that made me more interested in it rather than less…

Read More »

Souls and Sacrifice: Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid

The heart of mermaid lore in the West is one of the great fairy tales, as told by Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Mermaid. She is much beloved in Europe; her statue in Copenhagen is a point of pilgrimage for travelers to Denmark.

It’s been a long, long time since I read the original. My memory of it is a little warped by the Disneyfied versions (which I will talk about in the next article or two). I remembered it as a tragedy of a mermaid who gave up everything for a prince who didn’t even know what she’d done, or why she did it.

Read More »

Immortal Fascination: The Lore and Legend of the Mermaid

When I was researching and reading about selkies, I kept coming across references to them as mermaids. Margo Lanagan in The Brides of Rollrock Island does not actually call her seal-women selkies; but she does use the word mermaid. Other tales and authors have done the same.

The word means “sea-girl” or “sea-maid,” which is accurate enough for a creature whose native form is an aquatic mammal. But when I think of mermaids, I default to a somewhat different creature: the woman with the fish’s tail. Unlike the selkie, she doesn’t take two disparate forms, entirely seal or entirely human. She’s both at once.

Read More »

The Seal Witch’s Revenge: Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island

Margo Lanagan is not an easy author. Her books are beautifully written, densely constructed, and often rather dark. Her selkie novel, titled Sea Hearts outside of the US, takes the legend and the folklore and does very interesting things with it.

It takes a little while to figure out how to get into the story. Seven viewpoints weave in and out, and the first one is one of the last chronologically. But the writing pulled me in, and after all I was there for the selkies.

Read More »

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.