Jane Yolen &
Shulamith Oppenheim,
The Fish Prince & Other Stories:
Mermen Folk Tales

(Interlink, 2001)

From Denmark to Disney, mermaids have latched firmly onto their share of popular mythology. But what of their male counterparts? Mermen are less common in folk literature, but surely they have stories to tell.

Jane Yolen and Shulamith Oppenheim dive deeply into their watery heritage in The Fish Prince & Other Stories, a slim volume detailing the often forgotten segment of folklore. Divided into chapters by geographic region, the book provides concise descriptions of the many broad variations on the merman myth, punctuated by brief recountings of several brief myths designed to flesh out the characters and give each its own ethnic identity.

The book carefully explains the differences between fossegrimen (spirits living in Norwegian waterfalls) and vodyani (Slavic beings living at the bottom of lakes and rivers), the Scottish selchies and Irish merrows, kappas of Japan and the dogir of northern Sudan. It delves into various water gods, such as Poseidon (Greek), Deva (Indian) and Unktahe (Dakota).

The Fish Prince & Other Stories is more of a resource than a storybook -- there are more defining entries than actual tales. But there are enough stories to keep the book from being classified as a cryptozoological encyclopedia. It's a fun, educational read, shining its light on an overlooked segment of the world's diverse cultural folklore.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 15 February 2002

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