Before I came to live in Scotland, all I knew about the country was terribly stereotypical; tartan kilts, bagpipes, terriers, haggis, highland games, thistles and well, Nessie the Loch Ness Monster. Frankly I find the city’s Nessie-themed trinkets for tourists a bit tacky, especially the cartoon mugs and soft toys which make the renown mystical monster look like cousins of Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon.”
Using blurry snapshots and recorded witness descriptions, Nessie is commonly reconstructed as a reptilian or aquatic dinosaur descendant, a creature much like a Plesiosauria with a long neck, fins and a series of ridged humps. So please tell me why do we insist on making her bright green, plumply hug-able, and in some cases, hippo-like for the sake of gift shop windows?! The answer is obvious. The sickeningly adorable portrayal of Nessie sells, and given how little we actually know of her, I suppose a plushie with any likeness to the real thing would be quite terrifying.
It still surprises me how between the hoards of tourists, scientists, devoted legend-hunters and modern forms of technology, we still haven’t managed to properly take photos or footage of everything which dwells in the depths of any body of water let alone Loch Ness. And I know this comment sounds like it came from a naive little know-it-all because centuries of professionals more sophisticated and experienced than I have dedicated years to doing just that. Sightings, sonar readings, submarine submersions and local fishermen tales reveal that the creature remains a mystery and that perhaps it is meant to remain that way, ensnaring human curiosity for years to come, giving personality to the lakeside town, and forcing mankind to accept the existence of inexplicable phenomenon in this world.
The Loch Ness Monster might as well be crowned the queen of Water Mythology, supposedly sighted as early as 6th century A.D. (nessie.co.uk). Attracting up to two million tourists to Scotland per year (2010), Nessie is without a doubt one of the nation’s most celebrated icons and even a source of income despite her plausibility.
It has come to my attention however that there are other maritime legends which precede and follow Nessie, and they too have suffered the same fate of being cartooned, made into logos, sport teams, stuffed and sold with button eyes. They however either tend to have a short-lived time in the limelight or are overshadowed by Nessie’s sheer size factor and ongoing fan club.
Merfolk perhaps come close to Nessie’s level of fame as they are present in both eastern and western sailors’ stories alike. It is not surprising that the beauty of a creature half-human and half-fish compliments man’s fascination with the water enough to inspire countless artistic and cinematographic reproductions over time. As hard as it is for me as a part-Dane to admit this, it seems fair to say that besides perhaps the stone statue sitting in Copenhagen harbour, the corporate emblem of Starbucks or Ariel (yet another Walt Disney character), there isn’t a specific mermaid who claims quite as much fame as Nessie does on her own.
So what about the others water legends?