Like most women who are children of the 80s and early 90s, I loved The Little Mermaid. It’s a captivating tale—the ocean, curiosity, forbidden land, and love. I sang Ariel’s songs and played Little Mermaid with my friends (though I always had to be Eric because my hair was the darkest and shortest). I spent twenty-five years of my life near the ocean, years as a swimmer, and still say I want to be a mermaid when I grow up. It’s no wonder this was the first fairy tale to capture my heart with its themes of wonder, love, and sacrifice.
But Disney’s tale leaves me wanting, as does Han Christian Anderson’s original tale. The mermaid falls in love with the prince just from watching him. Then she rescues him and decides she’ll leave her whole world for the chance he’ll fall in love with her. In the movie, she only has three days to make him fall in love with her—while she’s mute and he doesn’t remember he owes her his life. There’s another woman in both tales that complicates the task. Disney goes for the sea witch, Anderson, a betrothal with a princess who found him on the shore after the storm. And then, you know the rest of the story. One gets a happy ending, the other not so much.
Fairy Tale Meet Myth
The Sea and All Its Stars, my current work-in-progress, was birthed out of this idea. What would happen if a retelling of “The Little Mermaid” was stretched and expanded? For years, I’d jot down ideas in a little journal–lines characters would say in my head, setting ideas, the way clothes felt heavy in the water, ways to make the fairy tale story less rushed and more realistic. But I knew I didn’t want my story to be a play by play of “The Little Mermaid,” because that feels too boring and expected.. I wanted to write an inspired telling, not just a re-telling.
I wondered, How can I make this more believable? How do I divorce a generation from what we know of the The Little Mermaid movie to see and believe in a new tale? We homeschool and at the time we were working through Ancient Greece in history. We were reading the tales of man and the gods, the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, the secrets, vows, and curses when it struck me–Greek mythology would be a great co-conspirator for mermaids. Greece became the perfect background for my story.
As I ruminated on Ancient Greece, ideas began to form on how the story would work. How the gods and goddesses might intervene, what Greek tales might be co-conspirators with “The Little Mermaid.” Ideas began to take a coherent shape, rather than a messy notebook of ideas.
This Story Needs Roots
So while I had a general backdrop–Greece, I didn’t have a specific place or time period, but I knew I wanted to root my story in time and place.
As I continued researching here and there I came across a line from the ancients that referred to Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea, and his daughters the Nereids (where we get our idea of mermaids from) who lived in a castle at the bottom of the sea in the Aegean near Chios, Greece. Next I went to handy Google Maps to see where that was. I turned on the satellite image to see the coastlines and dropped that little yellow figure to virtually explore the islands of the easter Aegean. For my setting, I needed an island big enough to be lively, but with a small islet. I’d do this off and on, imagining bits and pieces of the story taking place in my head, when I came across this little island Samos and its islet Samiopoula.
As I pulled up travel sites and scoured Pinterest and YouTube, I fell more and more in love with Samos. It seemed that what I had imagined for my story already existed in reality–beautiful beaches, mountains, Greek culture, ancient ruins. It was all there.
Now, what time is it?
Once again, homeschooling came to the rescue. As we studied the early Middle Ages, we spent some time on the Byzantine Empire. It is this neat era of history we don’t really hear much about, but is considered to be what held western culture & society together during the fall of Rome and the rise of western Europe from rough tribes and clans to established kingdoms. What made the discovery even more serendipitous is during the Byzantine era, Samos was a theme of the Byzantine navy, meaning it was an important area providing ships and troops for the navy.
Can writing research get any more perfect?
The Byzantine era also fit because I wanted a time period where the old world and the new world blended together. Where there was still vast knowledge and influence of the ancient Greeks and mythology, especially the physical world, but where it was no longer the primary influence. Samos is considered the birthplace of the goddess Hera and the Heraion was the largest temple of worship to the goddess in the Ancient Greek world. Sounds like the perfect time for the gods to come back for some vengeance.
You’ve Just Met–what do you think?
So, meet my historical fantasy fiction (Did you know that was even a genre? It is.) project, The Sea and All Its Stars.
Thaleia has grown bored with her life under the sea, where she serves as a nereid in the Sea King’s court. She begins to chart her own course, as she pushes the boundaries of the gods, venturing into the world above, where her path crosses with the mortal Leander. When Poseidon sets his eyes on her as his next wife, she knows she must flee or be chained to the volatile god forever. When she upsets Poseidon’s plan by saving the life of a mortal and attempting escape, Thaleia’s existence is in danger.
Making a vow that will cost her more than she realizes, Thaleia makes her way to the world above. As she falls in love with the land, as well as Leander, the mortal she saved, the waters below stir in revenge. The choices the young lovers make will bring tempests of their own, revealing the secrets of gods and man, and mysteries of the past that may be safer kept hidden. Thaleia and Leander must chart their own course, suffer the consequences, and decide whether their love is worth upsetting the peace between the gods and mortals.
I’m finishing up the first draft this March (Lord willing) and spending the rest of the year in the revision process and more research.
Interested in following along for the journey?
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