mer-magic and the age of aquarius (sort of)

I probably don't need to tell you this, dear reader (or you could probably guess) but Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid is far and away my most favorite fairy tale of all time. Its perfect combination of merfolk, melancholy, and magic speaks directly to my own heart. Mermaids are of course a popular fantastical subject these days (I hear they're the new vampires?) and especially so as we leave Capricorn, the sea-goat, and enter into Aquarius (whose true sign is a water-bearer, not a mermaid, but still). And I'm not alone, because these days, they're everywhere. Only I feel that, within popular representation, their whimsical beauty often eclipses the tragic duality so necessary to their mystical essence. Like any time they appear in a disney movie, for example, looking for the most part like a bunch of dallas cowboy cheerleaders. 

Fantasia, 1940; Peter Pan, 1953; The Little Mermaid, 1989; Pirates of the Carribean, 2013

Pretty sexy alright. Mer-babe is of course one of the best looks there is, and everyone knows it. These girls at Wildfox are like the coked-out coed version of the disney model, but its basically all the same.

Oh, that hair! I do love a good wildfox editorial, and they certainly dig the mermaid vibe pretty hard--I only wish I liked any of the clothes! Like I said, it's a little too college-girl for me, both sartorially and symbolically. Tomoharu Katsumata's 1975 animated take on the original fairy tale gets much closer to the idea. Have you ever seen it? If not, the resolution is terrible, but you can watch the whole thing on youtube.

"you'll never come of age if you don't stop playing around with that naughty little dolphin"

"there's no boy as handsome as this in all the sea"

"the moon is the general of the night"

Compared to 'ariel' and 'flounder,' I think I prefer  'merina' and 'fritz', onomastically speaking--so Gossip Girl, right? While the sea witch is like a villian on sailor moon--queen beryl, for example. In fact, looking back, this must have been the first in a long line of sugar-pop animes (including sailor moon) that I ever watched, thus cementing my love for the genre. I'm fairly certain that the Disney film relies heavily on this earlier version's intepretation, which, because it remains faithful to the original tale, is the more tragic and hence more beautiful of the two. After all, fairy tale endings may be what you want as a four year old girl, but all in all I think stories about mermaids ought to make you feel the way you do when you stare out to sea: calm yet restless, simultaneously overwhelmed by beauty and sadness. But even though she turns to foam at the end, I still think Merina's depiction is a little too sugary to get it right; beautiful, yes, but not especially bewitching. Of course they must be beautiful, but mermaids should have a something of the sinister or grotesque about them, alien creatures that they are. The pre-rephaelites were a little more successful in capturing the haunted quality I'm trying to describe: 


A Mermaid, John William Waterhouse, 1901;  The Sea Maidens, Evelyn De Morgan, 1885; The Fisherman and the Syren, Frederick Leighton, 1856

But I think this recent W Magazine editorial by Tim Walker is the best. Kristen McMenamy's blood shot eyes and bleach blonde hair are so unsettling, and succeed in making her appear alternately alluring and repulsive, which is the whole point.

That pearl nose ring makes me feel funny--I hate it but I want it badly. It's just all so captivating! I certainly don't mean to go on and on about it, but it's a subject, or a symbol, that I will always find enthralling. I feel like myths of mermaids the ocean in general are especially resonant because of our biological memories of the sea; we miss it and we want to go back, but because we don't know it anymore, we are rightly terrified by it. The only ones who've managed to return are the marine mamals that were mistaken for mermaids in the first place. Is that irony? I've even sometimes wondered if our ocean origins are at the root of our Eden myths--the paradisiacal birth place from which we were cast out, and to which we long to return, despite the knowledge that we no longer belong there. Do you know what I mean, do you feel the same way?

 Let's all get nose rings!!

1 comment:

  1. I used to have a nose ring. I took it out when I moved to Pittsburgh. I do not love the pearl one — disturbing!

    I love the ocean, and I'm a beach girl, but I don't know how to swim. That's one of the truly ridiculous failures of my life.

    Did you see the story about the amputee who got a prosthetic mermaid tail? Here's a link to one of the stories. It happened years ago, but I only recently saw it referenced somewhere: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/AheadoftheCurve/story?id=7067260&page=1

    Also, Sailor Moon was my childhood obsession.