Mermaid Magic and Caribbean Manatee Musings


Perhaps it’s because I grew up at the seaside, maybe it’s because I was born in Lübeck and the Hanseatic League is coursing through my veins or maybe it’s because my maternal grandfather was allegedly a fisherman…my affinity with all things maritime knows apparently no bounds and my fascination with creatures of the deep sea and stories surrounding the sea has been life-long.

My WP friend Michelle Barber of LoonyLiterature is always asking questions about writing – how do we create our stories and how do our approaches to the work in hand differ – so I’ll try to explain a little over the next few posts how I approach my writing.

This group of three West Indian manatees (Tric...

Having established yesterday that I’m a fluttermole – Michelle is a butterfly writer, flitting from subject, genre and age group to the next, while I’m a combination of a mole (digging myself into a WIP) and a fluttering butterfly (being able to start several WIP at once and see all of them through in mole-like fashion) – I approach all new writing projects in the same way.

It starts with an interesting snippet I pick up in a newspaper, a magazine, on telly or overhearing a conversation on a bus or reading something in a history book – hey presto, a kernel of an idea is born. Then I do lots of research, which usually throws up some interesting combinations or juxtapositions.

At school we had to learn a lot about German legends like the Niebelungen – Siegfried, flirty Valkyrie Brünhilde, dwarves, treasures and lusty dragons – and among them were the stories about Loreley, a mermaid type woman who sat on a rock overlooking the Rhine River, luring fishermen and sailors to their doom with her beautiful singing.

English: Sankt Goarshausen with "Katz&quo...

English: Sankt Goarshausen with “Katz” castle, UNESCO World Heritage Site Upper Middle Rhine, Germany. Deutsch: Sankt Goarshausen mit Burg Katz, UNESCO Welterbe Oberes Mittelrheintal, Deutschland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There she sat on a rocky perch in Sankt Goarshausen, combing her long golden hair. Not her fault that love-sick sailors couldn’t get enough of her lovely singing. Men are simply the weaker sex – the latter being the operative word. Innocent Loreley did nothing wrong – it was all in men’s heads and trousers that caused the drownings, the crashed boats, the wailing, the hue and cry.

Incidentally, today’s visitors to Sankt Goarshausen can’t get enough of music either – a famous open air music venue regularly stages rock and pop concerts here. However, as far as I know, there have been no more crashed boats or drownings owing to lovely music getting out of hand.

Close to the little town of Sankt Goarshausen are two castles, Katz and Maus (cat and mouse), which also overlook the Rhine River…no doubt they’ll get their write-up over at Maria Thermann’s blog!  What an amazing setting! You can see it all from the river, when you take the Loreley Ferry, before hopping off and taking to the “hills” on a trekking tour on the Rhein Burgen Wanderweg, which is a romantic trail running through the forested hills alongside the Rhine embankments. The ferries are very touristy, but it’s worth it, the place is gorgeous; sometimes you meet nice people on board, too – or so I’m told; I only met grumpy, smelly pensioners.

English: Rhine valley at Sankt Goarshausen, UN...

English: Rhine valley at Sankt Goarshausen, UNESCO World Heritage Site Upper Middle Rhine, Germany. Deutsch: Das Rheintal bei Sankt Goarshausen, UNESCO Welterbe Oberes Mittelrheintal, Deutschland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1824 Heinrich Heine, one of my favourite German language poets, wrote a lovely Loreley poem (Die Lore-ley), which became so popular that in 1837 composer Friedrich Silcher put it to music. Today it represents one of the most famous “Rhine” songs that you can hear up and down the river in taverns, cafes, on ferries and wherever there’s a captive audience. Willow‘s dad Dylan would clap his hands over his ears and groan.

A West Indian Manatee, a member of Order Siren...

While Loreley combs her golden tresses and sailors perish, the manatee, an animal resembling most closely a plump mermaid in need of a crash diet, is also fighting for survival. The sea cow, member of the family Trichechidea, genus Trichechus, is an endangered species. As one of the largest surviving members of aquatic mammals, the sea cow has cousins among the Amazonian manatees, the West Indian manatees and the West African manatees.

They can grow up to 4 metres in length and weigh as much as 590 kg (1,300 pounds of proud blubber). Spending most of their day and night sleeping and just being active for 20 minutes at a time, the manatee is not what you might call a creature living in the fast lane.

FLORIDA MANATEE

Willow the Vampire would obviously not come across a manatee in rural Stinkforthshire, but with the usual weird leap of imagination that fluttermoles like myself are capable of, I’m plotting a story, where Willow meets mermaids and manatees for a healthy discussion about endangered species.

Willow may be pre-destined to bite humans and feed on them, but manatee are an entirely different matter – so are other magical beings like mermaids. Both species are off the vampire menu as far as Willow and her family are concerned.

It is thought that manatee or the order of Sirenia evolved from land-dwelling mammals some 60 million years ago – which begs the question, what did mermaids evolve from? What came first, the fish or the girl?

Manatee are vegetarian plant eaters with a stomach similar to that of a horse. Mermaids are presumably not veggies, but live off seafood. Manatee are very intelligent and understand complex tasks – very similar to dolphins; this suggests to me a story line where Willow and manatee discuss with mermaid not just who eats whom but also who destroys habitats and who should rebuild them.

Mermaids on the other hand have never struck me as very brainy – the one in the fairy tale gives up her mermaid existence of freedom for the sake of a faithless princeling – how dumb is that?

English: Location of Katz castle above Sankt G...

English: Location of Katz castle above Sankt Goarshausen and the river Rhine with Loreley rock in background (Germany). Deutsch: Lage der Burg Katz über Sankt Goarshausen und dem Rhein, im Hintergrund der Loreley-Felsen. Français : Le Rhin et le château du Katz, à Saint-Goarshausen en Rhénanie-Palatinat. Le rocher de la Lorelei est en arrière-plan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: manatee Français : lamantin

I mean, giving up magical swimming powers for a MAN? That’s like Buffy the vampire slayer giving up her slayer powers for an earthworm or Morgause and Morgana suddenly deciding that Merlin is just too dishy and they’ll give up black witchy-woo stuff for good. Must be the prolonged effect of salt water on the brain…and they say a fishy diet makes you more brainy!

Willow the Vampire will have to go on a trip – outside her beloved Stinkforthshire she’ll be like a “fish out of water”, perhaps putting her little more in touch with the creatures that dwell in a sphere so utterly different from her own.

I’m thinking of sending Willow to the Caribbean Sea, where the West Indian manatee is at home – along with pirates, who also reported mermaid sightings on many occasions in the past.

Dylan Band (aged 401), Willow’s vampire father, is pursuing a career in music and of late, he and his band The Other’s Blood, are having some considerable success. What could be better than taking a little holiday – with sun for Willow during the day and Caribbean music venues for Dad Dylan at night? As a fully paid-up member of the vampire fraternity, Dylan cannot go out during the sunshine hours, but Willow, being a Child of Light, can do so.

The castle Katz from Patersberg and a part of ...

The castle Katz from Patersberg and a part of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. In the background the Loreley rock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, it’s off for a little calypso, mento, reggae and salsa for Dad Dylan and mermaids and manatees for daughter Willow – can’t wait to let my fluttermole spirit loose on this latest story!

There you have it, dear readers: manatees, vampires, priates, Loreley, mermaids, Caribbean music and Sankt Goarshausen all in the same post. Michelle, is this a fluttermole writer’s brain or what?

(source of pictures Wikipedia, source of animation; heathersanimations.com)

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