Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Lady and the Merman, by Jane Yolen

This story is a fairy tale in a number of ways. It begins with an unnamed father and mother receiving an unwanted child into the world; because the father does not want the child, the mother dies soon after. This is true in many fairy tales, where the mother dies/is killed and the child is left to be raised by the father only. It also follows the course of many fairy tales in that the child (named Borne) is ignored by her remaining parent and is forced to live life almost entirely alone. Borne ends up lamenting her failed relationship with her father while on the beach, and she happens to see a merman. This is another very fairy tale-esque feature of this story: the magical creature, and the hope for a 'happily ever after' ending. Borne cries to the merman, requesting him to "come up and be [her] love". However, the merman doesn't appear until the very end of the story. When he does, the jumps up on her rock and motions out to sea, suggesting that she follow him to some unknown kingdom of merpeople. If this was a traditional fairy tale, the ending from here would be clear: the unloved girl would join the merman and they would live happily forever under the sea. However, Jane Yolen takes the story in an entirely different and decidedly non-fairy tale direction: Borne jumps into the ocean to follow the merman, and promptly drowns.

This story has the fairy tale elements such as the dead mother, familial issues, and magical creatures, yet the ending gives it a much more modern twist (the story was written in 1976). The ending implies that the merman is all an object of deluded fantasy, and Borne kills herself out of depression at never having a true relationship with her father.

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