Robin: Invisibility or some shapeshifting glamour, flight or at the very least the ability to move quickly – these are the gifts the folk of Faerie need to travel safely among the human masses. None of these are available to the mermaid stranded on land. She must rely on unchancy human kindness, and bide her time until she can be back in her element.

In Ragboy, also called Ragboy, Rats and the Surging Sea, which is set in a British port in the nineteenth century, the injured mermaid Luiulia (Ooli for short) is rescued by a kind poor boy called Silas who works collecting rags and bones for factories. He lives with his grandfather, who is also charmed by Ooli and welcomes her as part of the family. He calls her “the lass”. They feed her and look after her until she is quite well again, and she decides to repay their generosity by helping the boy find lots of fish which he can sell off a barrow.

That might have been the end of the story if this had been a picture book for littlies, but unfortunately… Jasper Dredge and his son Albert enjoy making Silas’s life a misery, and, suspicious of the fish, they spy on him at the beach. When they discover the mermaid, they think only of sideshows and profit, and promptly kidnap her. Silas has to go into some very unsavoury parts indeed to rescue her, and even then the vile pair will not give up. Silas has to talk Ooli out of using her mermaid siren powers to drown them in the sewer (which they do richly deserve, but she is not at heart that sort of mermaid so he was probably right).

It really is quite hard to read about the nasty things that Jasper and Albert do, and even though Silas’s cheery sailor friends intervene, and Silas and his grandfather end up sailing into the sunset, the unpleasantness takes a while to fade. These are just the sort of characters which should persuade mermaids to avoid the land altogether.

Advertisements