All About Mermaids: Myths, Legends & Pop Culture

I may have mentioned once or twice already that part of what makes me so excited about our October Book of the Month — The Mermaid’s Mirror by L.K. Madigan — is that it’s a YA book about mermaids. MERMAIDS. I love mermaids. I heart them. So today’s post is all about mermaids — and exploring them beyond the context of The Mermaid’s Mirror.

Mermaid Myths & Legends:

Stories about mermaids (or sirens) date back thousands of years, going as far back as 1000 B.C., and appear in a variety of cultures. Mermaids are referenced in stores from ancient Assyria and later in Syria, the sirens of Greek mythology, and the sea people in the One Thousand and One Nights.

Traditionally, mermaids and sirens are known for their beautiful singing voices and for enchanting people, distracting them from their work. Often, mermaids or sirens were blamed for causing shipwrecks and for drowning humans (especially men). Besides the term “mermaid” and “siren,” they are also referred to as water fairies, water nymphs or selkies (which are creatures who transform from seals to humans).

Mermaids in Art & Literature:

Perhaps the most well-known mermaid story is of course the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Little Mermaid — which, in its original telling, is far more macabre than the Disney adaptation (which I’ll mention later on, and which I much prefer. I’ll take the singing crab and happily ever after, thank you very much).

In the original version, the little mermaid trades her ability to speak with the sea witch in order to have legs (which is a painful process). But when she meets her prince, they don’t fall in love and the prince marries someone else. At this point, the little mermaid is given a chance to turn back into a mermaid if she kills the prince. Instead, her love for him is too strong and she throws herself into the sea, expecting to become sea foam. But because her love is so true and pure, she is transformed into a spirit of the air.

The little mermaid from this fairy tale is famously depicted in a bronze statue in Copenhagen’s harbor.

Of course, mermaids do appear in other works of literature. They are mentioned in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. We’ll have more on other contemporary novels featuring mermaids later this month.

Mermaids in Pop Culture:

As I’ve mentioned several times already, perhaps the most well-known mermaid today is The Little Mermaid — and the most well-known telling is Disney’s The Little Mermaid, featuring the red-haired Ariel, her friend Flounder, the singing crab Sebastian, an obnoxious seagull named Scuttle and the tentacled sea witch Ursula.

But here are several other famous movies featuring mermaids:

Mr. Peabody & the Mermaid


Lady in the Water


The Thirteenth Year

Mermaids also appear in the Australian tween TV show H2O, about three teen girls who turn into mermaids after coming into possession of magic necklaces. The show Ocean Girl, while not about mermaids, also featured a girl who could swim in the ocean and talk to a humpback whale.

Here are some clips & trailers from some of the above-mentioned films:

FUN FACT! Did you know that animators had a hard time convincing Disney animators to make Ariel a redhead? Originally they wanted her to be blonde, because Splash with Darryl Hannah had just recently been released and they thought all mermaids should be blonde. Silly Disney executives … good thing the animators finally convinced them, right?!

And do you know what did the trick? The animators argued that it would be easier to color the mermaid’s red hair in shadow than if she had blonde (yellow) hair. Brilliant!

For the comments: What other mermaid stories, myths, legends, etc. can you think of? Any other pop culture references?

7 thoughts on “All About Mermaids: Myths, Legends & Pop Culture

Add yours

  1. this was a good article, must i have to be stupid and correct you on the topic of the show H2O:Just Add Water. They actually became mermaids by jumping into the moon pool on a full moon, which changed them into mermaids. 🙂
    sorry I know this is a really old article, but I found it while searching the internet. 🙂

  2. i always wanted to be a mermaid when i was young as i still do. But this article should have more facts instead of movies, art & literature. They should talk about their powers, or how the are born (theroires). I am so in love with them, you just can’t find any proper facts about them. BTW, H20 is rubbish

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