The Mermaid’s Mirror: The Legend of Melusina

Mermaid mythology has been around for centuries, and L.K. Madigan does a great job of weaving it into her latest novel, The Mermaid’s Mirror. After its main character, Lena, discovers she is half mermaid, she seeks out her mother, who she’s always known as Lucy. Her full name is Melusina — a mythical water creature that first appeared in literature in 1382.

Here’s the real dish on the legend of Melusina.

Also called Melusine, her story has a number of variations but they all follow a basic outline: Melusine is a water fairy (or nixie) in a forest in France, and one day, a handsome young man comes crashing through the woods near her sacred fountain. She spends the night talking to him —  Raymond of Poitiers — and by morning, they are betrothed.

With one condition.

He can never see her on a Saturday.

They marry and have a number of deformed but successful children. She builds castles and fortresses, towns and churches, all in a night, as if by magic. They are very comfortable and happy … until Raymond’s brother pays a visit and puts a bug in his ear about what Melusine is doing on Saturdays. He spies on her through a crack in the door and sees her at her bath —

He was horrified to see that she had the body and tail of a serpent from her waist down. He said nothing until the day that their son, Geoffrey … attacked a monastery and killed one hundred monks, including one of his brothers. Raymond accused Melusine of contaminating his line with her serpent nature, thus revealing that he had broken his promise to her.

She turns into a 15-foot serpent, circles the castle three times, wailing the whole time, and flees. According to the legend, she would return at night to visit her children, then vanish. Melusine would also appear at the castle, wailing, whenever a count of Lusignan was about to die or a new one born. A number of her children went on to be royal rulers.

For a list of literary and cultural references, see Wikipedia’s entry.

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