Mermaid of Zennor
Mermaids are the essence of any sea faring adventure.
This can be seen in all kinds of media. From the pages
of books to ballads, films and paintings. I grew up with
films like Jason and the Argonauts and in recent years
the Peter Pan adaptions that have come to the screen.
The Mermaid of Zennor sounds like a title for such an
adventure. It is a locally grown story in Cornwall. For
once this mermaid is seen in a positive light. She doesn’t
lure sailors to a water grave. Attracted to humans and
pulled by an inner force to visit the world of men.
Zennor is a fishing village on the Cornish coast near
St Ives Just 4 miles away, And yet it feels but feels
more like ten miles.
Today we can easily access the village by car or bus
less than half n hr from Penzance along windy country
lanes. Two hundred years ago the Journey would have
taken much longer on horse back or by carriage. And
if on foot the journey would have been less attractive.
Zennor’s location to the rest of England is remote even
by todays standards of travel. Although in holiday times
it may appear to be quite the opposite.
When the original mermaid story was penned the sense
of being on the edge of the world and far from society
to the outsider visiting the area would have been like
visiting a foreign land.
Those working the land, going to sea or mining for tin
with the danger’s associated with these places and activities where challenges for all in the community both old and young male and female. For women especially they faced early deaths with the dangers of childbirth. The spiritual and the supernatural world would be very evident and close by. Even one making incursions into the other as people faced the challenges of everyday life. It could literally be a fight for life, the sense of right and wrong, good and evil, dark and light, Angels and demons, witches, magic, fairy folk and the people of the sea would always be there and old beliefs butted up against the immovable teaching of the. If something went wrong the supernatural made sense, and some times superseded reason. It may be God’s will or it might be a dark force at work. Simla beliefs are still held by people today across every faith group. Good versus evil. In researching and thinking about how this story came about, what society and communities believed, I have had to reflect on my own faith and belief in the supernatural and that of colleagues and friends. Belief and faith shape us into the people we are and how that sits in a society that is calls itself secular. What is evident today people will label themselves has 'spiritual'. And unlike the middle ages it is a ‘stylish’ or in thing to be delving, playing or claiming to be pagan in some form.
So has a Christian approaching a six hundred year old folk story that mixes ‘Christian’ elements and belief in creatures from the supernatural world of what I would call myth has had a challenge for me. For me there is a clear line dividing my personal belief and that of those villagers. The edges of belief are blurred for them and boundaries easily crossed.
Out of the shadows of time I have attempted to re-interpret the story with a sympathetic ear. Taking a position that also allows me to inject my own experience into the centre of this story.
Maid of the Sea
based on the Mermaid of Zennor
The main area of interest has been the work of William Morris. And in particular Kelmscott Press.
Morris In collaboration with Emery Walker, and life long friend the great Edward Burne-Jones created limited addition books, Including what was possibly the greatest of his works the Chaucer and its decorative boarders
(Sample of Morris's work to the right and the Chauser below, Font and boarder by Morris and illustration by Burn-Jones )
I have attempted to give the characters a voice. To allow the character to come alive and tell their own story.
Below is a selection of drawings, layouts for my own boarder designs which are far less intricate than the works of Morris. However I hope I can even in a small way pay homage to the master designer and artist.
Bottrell's original Story
The Story as told by William Bottrell the west of Cornwalls folklorist is relatively short. The Parish have published it on there website.
You can read “The Mermaid of Zennor by following the link
It can also be downloaded on the ‘Project Gutenberg’. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/41761/41761-h/41761-h.htm
Bottrell story has inspired ballads, poems, and children’s stories since he publicised it in the mid 1800s. The story begins with a carving on the end of a pew in the Church building in Zennor. The bench dates back to Tudor times. It is of a Mermaid. The question was asked by Bottrill, along with myself "why is it there." And did the carving inspire the tale or was it to commemorate an event?
It is my intension to create a book that draws some of its inspiration from William Morris who it has been argued is the father of the modern 'small Press'. Morris was looking back to the beginning and advent of printing so I look back to him through his eyes to the medieval world. Which inspired the arts and crafts movement of the 19 century In England and out to the rest of the western world.
The Maid of the Sea: is based upon the story penned by William Bottrell. A short story indeed.
Page 1 Verse 1
Page 2 Vs 2
First steps in designing a font.
Morris made fonts for his limited books.
Unlike the master,Rather than do an entire alphabet, Just the first letters will be developed. For now. Heres a first attempt.