Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mermaid Influences

I've known Jozef for nigh upon 18 years and I learned something new about him the other day after reading his first blog post "My First Flippant Recollection" (Thursday 8 May 2008) where he so eloquently told us about falling in love with mermaids at the age of four after he spotted a beautiful mermaid statue in a shop. It made me reflect about the moment I came to embrace them too, and I was taken back to the time I got my first library card for the local library. I was eight years old and I was proud as punch. My sensible mother took me into the library on a Saturday morning and I would borrow the maximum number of books possible each time and consume them over the course of the week until my next library visit. 

One day, while I was browsing the mythology shelves devoted to the slightly older readers, I came across a collection of books by UK writer Ruth Manning Sanders and illustrator Robin Jacques one of which was the gorgeous sumptuous A Book of Mermaids. My love affair with mermaids began at that moment.  I borrowed that book at least three or four times a year after that, even into teenagehood, and read the stories over and over again. I also borrowed the rest of the collection, which included titles such as A Book of Giants, A Book of Charms and Changelings, A Book of Witches, A Book of Ghosts and Goblins, A Book of Dragons and many more. But I always returned to my mermaid stories, which were drawn from Wales, Denmark, Ireland, Scotland, India, America, Portugal, Germany, Italy and Arabia. I coveted those books but they were never my own, and they became an obsession that I think any collectors among you can relate.

In the late 80s I was working as a bookseller, and I decided to check if they were still in print. I tracked down about five of them and happily purchased them. However, the ones I really wanted such as the mermaid book had been out of print for many years. It was the time before the Internet so I got onto a local antiquarian book dealer who progressively over a period of about two years got me all the books on the list. All my hard earned cash went into paying for them, and they didn't come cheap – I paid in the vicinity of $200 for some of them. A Book of Mermaids was the last one to come in, and the dealer found two of them at the same time. I snatched them both up and Jozef bought the second one. I want you to see what I am raving about and why this book is so dear to me, so here is the book cover by Robin Jacques. The edition I have was published in 1967 by Methuen, London. If you are interested in them, then head to eBay.


Chris Otto said...

Excellent entry. I think there are many of us in our 30s through 50s who grew up on those wonderful Ruth Manning-Sanders, Robin Jacques fairy tale books. I have been chipping away for a couple years on writing the Wikipedia entry on Manning-Sanders that you linked to, and have been trying to track down all of her many, many books. She's a fascinating figure. And Jacques' work is brilliant. Congrats on all the books you've tracked down. I still have a few to go in the Manning-Sanders/Jacques "A Book of..." series, but I do, fortunately, have the mermaid book. That one, in particular, is usually very expensive when copies pop up on Amazon and eBay. ... All the best.

Julie said...

Thanks for taking the time out to comment, as well as for being the Wikipedia keeper of knowledge. As far as I am concerned, the Ruth Manning Sanders and Robin Jacques fairy tale books are treasures, that unfortunately may have been lost to the generations of children born in the 1980s and upwards. Your work will ensure they are not completely forgotten and perhaps bring them to the attention of an astute publisher out there who will reprint them again. Good luck with your book quest.