Book Talk: Beauty and darkness mix in mermaid tale

Thu Mar 3, 2011 5:48am EST
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - A princess, hidden away in a convent. A mermaid, saving a handsome stranger. The prince they both come to love.

This triangle underlies author Carolyn Turgeon's "Mermaid," an edgy new look at the Hans Christian Anderson's "Little Mermaid" that contains as well sacrifice, the threat of war, and the uneasy friendship of two women drawn together in spite of themselves.

The book is Turgeon's second look at folktales now more widely known in their lighter Disney versions. Her previous novel was a modern take on "Cinderella," including a fairy godmother who wanted to go to the ball too -- with far-ranging consequences.

Turgeon spoke with Reuters about her book, mermaids, and the old, dark versions of tales that are "in our blood and bones."

Q: How did you decide to write this book?

A: I'm attracted to fairy tales and that mixing of darkness with the magical, sparkly, beautiful part of them. I wanted to do something with the original Little Mermaid story but I didn't really know how to approach it. The Anderson version is really dark, depressing and weird. It's beautiful, I really love it. But unlike Cinderella, where it was easy to go in and look at the dark side of the story because it's clearly there but not really at the forefront, the Little Mermaid is such a weird, dark story I didn't really know what to do with it.

I imagined the princess, if she was stuck in a convent or something, which she seems to be in the original, and if she was missing her princess life. She'd be out in the garden looking out over the ocean and then, what if she witnessed that moment when the mermaid rescues the prince and brings him to shore. So I thought about that moment, and I could just see it and smell it and taste it, just standing there in that bitter cold, looking over that ocean and then seeing this miraculous thing happen. I thought about the weird dynamic that would be there, her looking at this gorgeous, strange, kind of grotesque but amazing mermaid, and the almost drowned man in her arms, and the mermaid having a bit of radiance and love in her face as she's looking over the man. How the princess would stand there and be attracted to the prince, but mostly through the gaze of the mermaid. All that yearning and longing going on between the mermaid and the princess, who sort of want to be each other. Then I had a way into the story and it just kind of unraveled from there.

Q: Was it fairly quick from then?   Continued...