Have you ever read up on the mythology of mermaids?
Or faeries? Not fairies. Faeries.
As a contemporary fantasy fiction writer, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Actually, as any kind of fantasy fiction writer, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. But most high and epic types do seem to follow – or at least know – their historical canon better than their more modern contemporaries do.
Unless you’re a purist in this area, that’s totally fine. This genre is exceptionally malleable just as long as you incorporate magic or myth as it’s currently understood today.
With that said, a little properly done research rarely hurt.
Read up on the mythology that inspired fantasy in the first place.
As a fantasy writer, your magic is entirely up to you, a rule that holds true when it comes to each subgenre, whether contemporary fantasy fiction or urban fantasy fiction. So you can create whole new critters and myths according to your writing whims.
As a contemporary fantasy author myself, I’m all about that route! I threw the fantasy rulebook out the window a while ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s not utterly riveting to read up on the legends that came before.
For example, did you know the mythology of mermaids traces back to a wide range of countries around the world, including across Africa and Asia? They weren’t only a European belief.
Admittedly, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find truly credible sources about the mythology of mermaids or anything else fantasy fiction-related. Truly credible sources are much more commonly associated with truly credible people and events. So that first mermaid memo is according to Wikipedia, not any well-respected journal or publication.
With that said, livescience.com does actually cite scholarly works and resources while delving into the subject, including in this paragraph:
C.J.S. Thompson, a former curator at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, notes in his book The Mystery and Lore of Monsters that “Traditions concerning creatures half-human and half-fish in form have existed for thousands of years, and the Babylonian deity Era or Oannes, the Fish-god ... is usually depicted as having a bearded head with a crown and a body like a man, but from the waist downwards he has the shape of a fish." Greek mythology contains stories of the god Triton, the merman messenger of the sea, and several modern religions including Hinduism and Candomble (an Afro-Brazilian belief) worship mermaid goddesses to this day.
Fascinating, right? Doesn’t it make you want to know more regardless of whether you’re a contemporary fantasy fiction writer or not – and regardless of whether you’ll ever actually use such information in a manuscript?
Just be warned that, if you start this research, you could find yourself captivated for quite a while when a search for the “mythology of mermaids” brings up 45,000 results on Google – and that’s if you put it in quotes.
“Mythology of faeries,” meanwhile, brings up 11,600 results, complete with the question, “Did you mean: mythology of fairies?”
(No. I didn't. But thank you.)
And “mythology of dragons” results in an even more time-consuming 110,000 hits.
Again, there’s absolutely no pressure for contemporary fantasy fiction writers to employ any of the research results they find. There’s no pressure for fantasy fiction writers across the board in that regard.
But delving into the mythology of mermaids or whatever your subject matter is could add new angles to your story. And even if it doesn't, you’re still almost guaranteed to have a lot of fun.