by Esme Addison
Lately, I’ve been discussing my new book A Spell For Trouble, because… well, it’s coming out soon. (May 12th! Wherever books are sold!) and the number one question I get is…
So, why mermaids?”
Okay, let’s back up a bit. I’ve written a cozy mystery set on the beach in North Carolina (sounds normal so far, yes?). The main character, Alex Daniels has just left the big city and a stressful job for the normalcy of a small town and the love and support of her last remaining family (Hallmark, anyone?). Still basic cozy mystery fare, right? And… they own an herbal apothecary. So cozy! I know that’s what your thinking…
Wait for it.
There are… mermaids.
What the what?
Yes! Mermaids! How awesome is that? Wait, why you ask are there mermaids?
I am so glad you asked! Because that gives me the opportunity to share my inspiration for this series.
Like most countries, Poland has a rich cultural and literary history full of myths, fables, folklore and fairytales. I did a deep dive into Polish folklore, with the explicit plan to find an idea for my Polish family cozy. I wanted something interesting and fun – and if it could be something never done before – all the better. When I discovered that Warsaw has a mermaid on their coat of arms since at least 1390 AD, I had to find out why.
So first, let’s get our terminology correct. In Poland, mermaids are called syrenka or syrena, obviously derived from Greek mythology’s sirens. However, according to lore, Warswaw’s mermaid is more mermaid, less luring-sailors-to-their watery-grave siren. And this mermaid has been the symbol for Warsaw for a very long time.
Except when she wasn’t.
A mythological being has been on Warsaw’s coat of arms since 1390. Not a mermaid, but an animal with bird’s legs and a torso covered with dragon scales – a griffin actually (and that’s a whole other story!). The seal of 1459 had feminine characteristics, a bird torso, human hands, a fishtail, and bird legs and claws. The first appearance of a mermaid dates from 1622.
There are many different legends about the mermaid of Warsaw and I have read them all. After doing endless hours of research and cross-referencing similar myths in other countries (basically, every country and culture has some sort of mermaid mythology) I selected one that resonated with me the most. And that is the story used in the Enchanted Bay series, and the one I will share with you here.
Once upon a time, there were two mermaids, sisters. Swimming in the Baltic Sea they parted ways at Gdańsk, with one swimming to Copenhagen (immortalized in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, The Little Mermaid), and the other to Poland’s Vistula River.
The Vistula river is long, the longest in Poland and after days of languidly swimming down the waterway, the mermaid found an area that she loved and wanted to make her new home. This area, then only a village would eventually become Warsaw.
She spent her days sunning herself on large rocks in the river and sometimes on its banks. She amused herself by singing songs of her people and, because she was kind and compassionate, releasing fish from nets whenever she heard their cries for help.
One day a small group of fishermen discovered who was releasing their fish from its nets, and they conspired to sneak upon her and trap her in a net, just as they would their fish. But once they were close enough to see her face and form, and hear her lovely voice, they decided to let her be.
A few more days passed, and eventually, a local fish market owner noticed that the fishermen weren’t bringing in fish for him to sell. He discovered for himself, for the mermaid was easily seen on the banks of the river. The market owner riled up the fishermen, telling them that she was evil, a danger to the villagers and that she must be imprisoned. The market owner caught the mermaid and kept her in a prison with a plan to take her on tour for curiosity seekers.
The mermaid cried for her freedom day and night. And just as she had freed fish from their net, she hoped someone would hear her pleas and liberate her. A few days passed and a young fisherman heard her crying. He asked his friends to help free here and they released her from her prison.
After her rescue, she was so grateful to the kind men that she promised to help the people of the city whenever they needed it. From then on, because she was just as loyal and protective of those she loved, as she was kind and caring, she carried a sword and shield with her ever ready to protect the city of Warsaw and its people.
That is the myth of the mermaid of Warsaw. From that humble story over a thousand years old, her statue is placed all of the city to this day, you can buy mugs, t-shirts and all sorts of tchotchkes with her image on it. You can find her image engraved on the city’s architecture and inside government buildings. And you can read about her in my mystery, A Spell For Trouble.
The first story in the series is… not as mermaid-tastic as you might think or want (the publisher asked me to tone down the mermaid elements. I know! Right???) So, this mermaid’s descendants are… water witches with powers of healing and command of water and other fun stuff. But don’t fret, the myth of this mermaid is central to the store. And there’s much more mermaid-magic to come!
Oh. And there’s a mystery. So, a cozy mystery with paranormal elements, a beach setting, herbal remedies and lots of Polish food. Basically exactly what I wanted to create when I set out to write this novel.