Monday, July 25, 2011
Merfolk Flash Vikings!
The 1973 collection of Sword & Sorcery novelettes pictured above was a real find that I devoured so quickly there was no updating my book trophy section at the bottom of the page. I skipped the Leiber story, since I've read the last two books of his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series in the past year. The other three are quite enjoyable. In particular I learned two lessons. First, there is not now nor has there ever been enough Jack Vance in my life. (The Lyonesse books are good, but I need those Dying Earth books!) Second, I am not the first person to have thought about the mythopoeic match-up of vikings and merfolk. (Which reminds me, when am I ever going to find out what they did with mermaids in On Stranger Tides? Don't tell me!)
Leave it to Poul Anderson, a trailblazer in many ways, to have put merfolk and vikings together when I was a toddler, long before I was dreaming up the World of Ygg in "The Merman's Children." Anderson is fascinated in the transition of the Norse from pagan to Christian, and he sets the story in a time where the characters are struggling with categories in terms of the old gods (devils) and the Christian God.
The old bishop in the story tells his archdeacon that "They lack souls, yes, like other beasts, but they do not imperil salvation as might the denizens of an elf-hill." The archdeacon goes on to share the reports he has of them. "This is not a hideous race with fish tails, my lord. Save that they have broad, webbed feet and big, slanting eyes, and the men among them are beardless, and some have green or blue hair -- on the whole, they look like beautiful humans." No men of Innsmouth, these. They are not even like classic mermaids, but are closer to human form, in spite of their lack of a soul (an assertion that, as you might guess, turns out to be more problematic than the initial confident assertion would lead one to believe).
The root of the trouble is this: the birth of children part-human and part-merfolk have given rise to an unusual degree of commerce between merfolk and the sea-faring rustics of his coastal diocese. The former are part of the mystery of the sea and a disappearing, if not anti-Christian, world. The description works well for the merfolk of Ygg, but the sense of their antiquity I plan to have coming from their connection to the Atlantis and classical world analogues, which is both a whispered past and a glorious, begrudged present. I still haven't found a copy of FS!#2, but I did just find a copy of #4, which has another merfolk story in it. Huzzah! More inspiration may yet break forth from Poul Anderson.
Folks with an interest in Ygg will have noticed that my posting of material for it has slowed as the hopes of a S&W play-by-post set there have been delayed. I'm not giving up on it, but the production will continue at a slow pace until circumstances change. Tangentially, I admit that I was a little surprised that the solid popularity of my bonnacon post did not rub off on the rumor table that I created for it. (Scroll down to Rumor Table A.) What, I used the d30 and everything!
As always, thanks for dropping in for Mythopoeic Monday!