When visiting Copenhagen several years ago, my eagerness to see Edvard Eriksen’s The Little Mermaid statue typified, I’m sure, the excitement of thousands before me. While the statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous character ultimately disappointed, the charm of mermaids, or “fish-tailed aquatic humanoids”, undeniably holds a particularly durable and prominent place in contemporary culture. From the title alone you will know if this book is for you: the siren-call of all things mermaid is felt strongly by many, as evidenced by their continued ubiquity around the world. However, while you may think mermaids are as simple as those in Disney films or after-school teen dramas, the visual, linguistic and sociological variations in the representation of merfolk is, as I have learned, fascinatingly complex. Taking the reader on a maritime journey, Hayward covers the innocence of waif-like Ariel, the seduction of villainous sirens, and even the crypto-scientific framing of real-world mermaid hoaxes. Thematic chapters explore early filmic representations – the tropes of hair, vocality and nudity; the dichotomy of the chaste mermaid and the sexually explicit “transformative mermaid”; and the lesser-known realm of mermen. Making a Splash is a fantastical read for all mer-fans seeking to unpack and justify the otherworldly allure of a favourite folklore fixture.
Philip Hayward is an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.