View Full Version : Mermaids as fairies? Yea or nay?

12-12-2011, 09:13 AM
Hey guys!

There seems to be a trend lately to treat "fairies" as a family or "kingdom" of creatures, as opposed to a species, including anything with remotely pointy ears, supernatural allure, and a possible tie to nature, making mermaids just one kind of fairy. I'm not sure I agree with this, though, of course, it's always good to see more mermaids in books, movies, and other media.

Still, with the Spiderwick Chronicles and Tithe/Valiant/Ironside and Kith/Kin/Kind treatment (Holly Black has some awesome ideas, but she really seems to like sinister, alien, inhuman depictions of mythical creatures) of mermaids as being just as manipulative and apathetic and averse to humanity as other fairies, I'm not sure that really captures the true essence of mers.

Mers are tauric beings (like centaurs and satyrs), with the upper body of a human (mostly) and the lower body of a fish (mostly), and like other tauric beings, are supposed to represent the balance and link between humanity and the animal or elemental sides of our natures (the constellation Sagittarius, for instance, is linked with the Tarot card Temperance, involving a blending of opposites and finding a middle path between extremes). As creatures of the water with the upper body of creatures of the land and air, Carl Jung would consider them symbols of emotion (water) linked with sensation (earth) and thought (air), possibly lacking only the intuition of fire. Most fairies traditionally are shown as fully human-looking, with the Victorians adding insect wings and the pointy ears and small size of traditional stories of elves mixed in. Their powers traditionally involve visual illusions and time and curses, not weather and music and sea animals like merfolk. Mers also feel a connection with humanity, even if they are separated from them and are more active in their stories, while Sidhe-style fairies traditionally imitate human cultures but try to distinguish themselves from "mere mortals," while more benevolent "godmother"-style fairies (like those in Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Peter Pan) tend to passively assist humans... Frank R. Stockton (who wrote the Lady and the Tiger) has a fairy character named Ting-A-Ling who goes off on adventures of his own, but he's the only example of a heroic fairy I can think of (while the most famous story of a mermaid, Anderson's, features her as the heroine).

I haven't read all the way through them, but I think Merfolk are considered Fairies in the Dresden Files as well, and they're a sub-category in Changeling: the Lost and Changeling: the Dreaming as well. I think that Merfolk are too distinct from fairies to really be included in the same category (and I'm not sure that Satyrs, Centaurs, Ogres, Trolls, Giants, Dwarves, etc. count as fairies, either). What do you think?

12-12-2011, 09:17 AM
I also suspect that mermaids get thrown in with fairies because the latter have wedged their own way into the modern minds as an alternative to the dark gritty modern fantasy of werewolves and vampires and witches and ghosts and demons, and merfolk (who are more fantastical than the other dark creatures) are kinda forced to be included under the mantle of "fairies" as a result.

12-12-2011, 01:51 PM
That's an interesting idea. I guess I haven't been reading enough recent fairy and mermaid related text to catch on to that. I hope they aren't turning into the same thing, because they don't feel the same. I'd never have called a centaur or a troll a fairy, why should a mermaid be one?
I feel like the nature of each is quite different. I like what you said about mers typically feeling more connected to people than fairies, who are sometimes far too interested in themselves more than anything else.

12-12-2011, 03:17 PM
Thanks ShyMer! And maybe my use of "fairy" as an overarching term is a bit too broad. You more often see merfolk and centaurs and satyrs and trolls described as "fae" or "fey", as in "fey species" or "the Fae".

Mermaid Sirena
12-12-2011, 03:48 PM
I have a lot of ways are cataloging mythic creatures and beings in my own mind, but I feel that to a point it does make sense to have all of the humanoid (fairies, Selkies, Elves, Brownies, ect.) and partial humanoid (mermaids, harpies, centaurs, ect.) beings under one umbrella word. I like the term Fae (not just because of the magazine) because it denotes other worldliness and how they are not human. Although it may seem to lean more towards Fairies it still seems like a good solid word. After all a words meaning now is not always what it used to be. But after that, no they are not the same and unless it's a mermaid with wings or a fairy with a tail I don't think they have much in common when it comes to classification.

Mermaid Sirena
12-12-2011, 03:51 PM
Ha just saw what you posted before I posted mine and after I refreshed the page ^_^

12-12-2011, 03:59 PM
I think I like the word Fae to describe that otherworldly quality as well, now that I think about it. I started to get a bit worried for a moment- I thought we were going somewhere I wouldn't have liked.

Whoo feels better :)

12-13-2011, 02:26 PM
I voted no, but I do see a kind of kinship between mer and fae. I see this also in the virtual world of Second Life, where both are common and often interact.

12-13-2011, 03:06 PM
I think Mer and Fae are in the same basic level of suspension of disbelief. What do I mean by that? All speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc) requires the audience to suspend their disbelief at some situation that goes against what we know to be real. How well an author, moviemaker or game designer (or performing mermaid) suspends disbelief ensures whether or not we accept it and continue to enjoy the story, or whether we get bogged down in the blatantly extraordinary features of the story.

However, in addition to how well a creator suspends disbelief, there's also different levels of disbelief that can be suspended, some of which are easier for us than others. Psychic powers, mastery of the martial arts to perform incredible feats, ghosts, genetic mutation, cryptids like the loch ness monster or bigfoot, aliens, technological advances, voodoo/wicca-style witchcraft, and the like are on one of the lowest levels, closest to what we accept as reality (think how many people believe in those things or their possibility). Next is the stuff that we accept in general, but I am not sure many of us actually believe to be true, like superheroes, demons, vampires, werewolves, spells and the classical image of sorcery are the next level up... we think that they might be true someday, or in some other existence, but not in our lives. Fairies and merfolk and elementals and dryads and centaurs and harpies and other creatures of myth (particularly humanoid ones) tend to fall into the next level, as do the classical image of angels (we tend to believe in the dark, evil, corrupting nature of demons more than we do the benevolent goodness of angels... and of God). Following those are truly spectacular mythical creatures like dragons phoenixes and gryphons and unicorns and chimerae... those things that very few of us actually believe in, and which would probably shake everything we held to be true if we were actually confronted with one.

Mermaid Miel
12-14-2011, 12:49 AM
Though I do note the tendency of some authors to group all mythical creatures under one heading, I dont agree with it either
I tend to see Fairies and Fae as seperate species... the Fae being the Humanoid Sidhe of the Irish tradition, while fairies are the tiny Insect-like creatures of the Victorian tradition.
I wonder if some bored fan has bothered to do a scientific Genus Map of the various (and numerous) Mythological creatures?

12-14-2011, 01:10 AM
Are you looking for a bestiary?

02-28-2012, 02:51 PM
for me i feel that mermaids are definatey apart of the faerie/fey umbrella. their capricious nature and personification of an element lend to the very definition of what it is to be fey. While you could argue that mermaids pre-date the idea of Fairies(the idea itself principally starting with the conversion to christianity and the old gods becoming nature spirits and 'tricksters') We would then have to dismiss trolls, giants, dryads, devas, and all manner of djinn as different species and types of creature
There is a new trend emerging where ordinary people are identifying as "changelings' that is, that they are in fact fairies born into the mortal world. This is sort of reminescent with our own slice of sub-culture here and while many of us are here for professional or craft related reasons i think we can all agree that we feel a call or affinity for the sea. Why else would we go to such great lengths to mimic a creature from mythology?

02-28-2012, 03:25 PM
Tough question!
I kinda lean both ways-- at least with different "mer"-type creatures. For instance, I see undines and selkies as more in the Faery vein. But mermaids and merrows I see as flesh and blood beasts, not spirits. I feel like undines especially have a non-specific body. Like they are spirits that are one with water. They can lose form, etc.
I wonder if maybe all beings belonging to water are all not "merfolk" but maybe both merfolk and faery reside in waters.
So I voted "some are some aren't"

Prince Calypso
02-28-2012, 03:35 PM
personally i think mermaids are part of the fairy family as are most magical creatures but lets remeber just like humans no one is purely one race or another

the magical races are as fallow

celestial (gods and goddesses, angels)
mortal (humans gorgoyles, etc)

then there's also the fact that fey are divided into two separate groups and both groups have a butt load of subspecies and such.

so i don't mermaids are purely one thing or they other.
they have god like qualities, fairy like qualities and human like qualities

Mermaid Photine
02-28-2012, 04:10 PM
I tend to think of faerie as both a specific species and a catch-all world for magical creatures. Before the Tudor period, Elf was used the same way. (Elves, Elfland, etc.) For some reason, it was changed to fae and now we have faerie and faerieworld.

03-13-2012, 04:54 PM
I've never thought of Mermaids as a form of fairy, I've always seen them as seperate beings :)