Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Secret History of Mermaids

The Secret History of Mermaids

Ari Berk
Illustrator:   Wayne Anderson  , Matt Dangler , Virginia Lee , Gary Chalk 
Novelty Book
For ages 9 and up
Candlewick Press, 2009   ISBN: 978-0763645151

For centuries the Order of the Golden Quill has been collecting information about fairies, hobgoblins, giants, and the merfolk. For centuries they have been keeping this information a secret, but they now appreciate that perhaps the time has come to tell the world about these magical creatures. The world’s oceans are terribly polluted due to human behavior and fish populations have been affected. As a result, tensions between humans and the merfolk is on the rise. The hope is that if we humans better understand the merfolk, if we better appreciate their culture, language, traditions, history, and “their unparalleled understanding of the deep,” then we will be more willing to treat them with the respect and compassion that they deserve. If we all -humans and magical creatures and beings alike - read this book, then perhaps we can build bridges of understanding and peace between us.

   The creators of this book begin by talking about the origins of the merfolk. There are many stories about how the merfolk came into being. The first mermaid mentioned by ancient humans was Atargatis. It is said that her children swam to all the seas of the world and their descendants became the mermaids, nereids, finfolk, sea morgans and other sea peoples.

  Next we learn about the many forms that the merfolk take. Traditionally the merfolk are depicted as having a torso and head that is humanlike and the tail of a fish. In the main this is an accurate description of the merfolk, but species of merfolk  have adapted to their environments and have changed over time so that there are many singular differences between them. Some of them really do look very human from the waist up, while others barely resemble humans at all.

   Like humans, many of the merfolk live in villages or towns, and their underwater settlements do resemble those of humans. Other merfolk prefer to inhabit underwater caves and crevasses.

   Though merfolk often have close relationships with animals such as eels and dolphins, they prefer not to interact with humans. This is understandable, as humans often seek to capture, imprison and display merfolk. However, the merfolk do trade with other races, in particular with dwarves and elves, who give them blue and green gems, getting pearls, coral and even songs in return.

   The merfolk are skilled in the arts of magic. They create powerful spells and make magical objects such as mirrors and caps that occasionally fall into human hands. It is not wise to tamper with merfolk-made magical items. They can cause a great deal of harm when they are in the hands of individuals who do not understand them.

   The author of this excellent volume also tell us about Good Folk of the Ocean Community, Seal Folk, Merfolk Artifacts, Songs of the Sea, and much more.

   People who want to better understand the merfolk are going to be delighted with this beautifully presented and information-packed volume. There are annotated illustrations and diagrams on every spread, and some sections include maps and interactive elements such as mini books and fold out pages.