Deep Water Columbine: The stories about Buffy the Vampire Slayer quite naturally deal mostly with blood-sucking vampires and demons from sundry hell-dimensions, and rarely mention the natural creatures of our own dear dimension. Also naturally, they tend towards the tenebrous, not to mention the grisly, gory and generally icky. This book, it must be said, is quite similar in that regard, but it does have one rather more charming element – the selkie girl lost on the beach. Selkies, of course, are seal-people; seals most of the time, they can shed their skins to become virtually indistinguishable from humans.

Buffy’s friend Willow is an ELF – not one of us, but a member of the Emergency Local Force – and as such is helping out sea birds and other creatures caught in a massive oil spill when she sees a little girl crying and hugging an oil-soaked ‘coat’. Experienced in the weird, Willow recognises her as not quite human and takes her to the school library, where she and Giles work on spells to clean the oil from the sealskin, as they guess chemicals might affect its transformative magic. Oddly enough the library is the centre of Slayer activities, though of course handy with the books for research – it is the Celtic mythology section that proves most use in this case. The little girl, whom they decide to call Ariel after the little mermaid in the film, even speaks a sort of Gaelic, though communication is difficult at best. Nonetheless, the team do decide that the folkloric suggestions that selkies are harmless, gentle creatures are most likely right.

Rumours that the Sunnydale vampires are being harassed, even savaged, by creatures from the sea, not to mention the appearance of half-eaten human corpses, makes Buffy wonder. The appearance of Dr. Lee, who was once married to a selkie and has reasons of his own for mistrusting them, adds to the worry.

It is not selkies to blame though, but a disgruntled band of merrows. These merrows are described as green-skinned and seaweed-haired, sea-dwelling but with legs, and as having a pronounced if generally frustrated taste for human flesh. Apparently the tribe used to attack boats and drown sailors, but modern boats are just too hard to sink. Annoyed by human poisoning of the sea, the oil being just the latest example, they decide to do a bit of invading of their own. The malefic influence of the Sunnydale Hellmouth is probably at work too.

The Slayer’s team, taking the little selkie girl home, almost gets caught in the middle of a big battle between merrows and vampires, “alpha predators” fighting over territory. In the end the merrows are driven back into the sea and Ariel makes it back to her family, and all is (relatively) normal in Sunnydale again.

Robin: There are tales about mermaids drowning sailors, though usually inadvertently while being playful, and certainly not for eating. “Merrows” are usually believed to be very similar to mermaids, and I never heard they had legs instead of tails, though certainly there are some underwater beings who do.

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