In the three verse tales in this illustrated children’s book, a mermaid finds love on land, a crippled swan becomes whole, and a butterfly explains why the sky is blue.
The title story concerns a mer-maiden with a human heart who listens avidly to fairy tales told on shore. She’s inspired to dream “of love and romance, though not the human kind” and prays to Neptune for a magical companion, and also for “Appendages…Phalanges! So divine” to replace her fins. On a stormy night, Poseidon provokes Neptune, who raises a powerful storm that tangles the mermaid in seaweed. An angelic “master” is also summoned; he flies across the cosmos and transforms the mermaid into a human woman. In “The Swan Who Lived,” the narrator dreams of a swan with maimed wings. She’s cured by a prince who performs a healing song and dance, and she realizes that God helped to mend her broken heart. In “The Butterfly,” the title character sees God at work painting the sky blue; she’s allowed to watch so that “The secret may spread to souls who believe / At the dawn of a day, God may be seen.” Debut author Wagner employs AABB alexandrines in the first story, ballad meter in the second (the rhyme scheme varies), and AABB iambic tetrameter in the third. Some lines scan well, but too many seem bumpy. The verses’ lush imagery and the tales’ yearning for connection, healing, and the divine, emphasized by flowery language, will appeal to romantics. The internal logic of the stories sometimes falters, however. For example, if the mermaid doesn’t want human romance, why does she need human legs and to live on land? How does an angel become a “master” in this tale, when they’re traditionally portrayed as servants? Why are Poseidon and Neptune—different names for the same deity—opposed? As with the meter, the wording can be clumsy: “My eyes alighted a butterfly.” The uncredited illustrations are crudely drawn, as well. Suggested questions and activities appear at the end of the book, which draw on the poems’ subject matter.
Uneven tales of romantic and religious feeling.