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Classic mermaid’s tale reborn in new book by WVU administrator Ann Claycomb

Some of the world’s most revered fairy tales end quite differently than their animated Disney counterparts.
Ann ClaycombPublished in 1837, Hans Christian Anderson’s original tale of “The Little Mermaid” takes turns that some may find a bit too morbid. While a sea witch gives the mermaid a potion that grants her the ability to walk, the price of the legs is a pain that feels like she’s walking on knives. She must also find love without the ability to talk—the sea witch having cut out her tongue. If she cannot win the love of the prince, the mermaid will die—dissolving into sea foam.

That is the fate that she ultimately meets, but Ann Claycomb wasn’t satisfied with the ending to this story.

“I love some of [Anderson’s] stories. They’re so crazy and they’re really weird and dark,” Claycomb, a life-long reader of fairy tales, said. “…I definitely felt like the ending [of “The Little Mermaid] was wrong. I wanted to fix the ending.”

"The Mermaid's Daughter"Claycomb, assistant vice president for strategic and academic communication in the office of the provost at West Virginia University and MFA alumna, has penned a modern-day expansion of the Anderson tale. “The Mermaid’s Daughter” explores the idea of what might have happened if the mermaid in Anderson’s tale did not die at the end, but was instead trapped on Earth as a human.

The book follows Kathleen, a 25-year-old dramatic opera singer who suffers from stabbing pain in her feet. On her 16th birthday, she woke screaming from the sensation that her tongue had been cut out. No doctor can find a medical explanation for her pain, and only the touch of seawater can temporarily ease her pain.

Kathleen's mother and grandmother both committed suicide as young women, and her girlfriend Harry worries they suffered from the same symptoms. The women follow Kathleen’s ancestry back to Ireland, where they uncover the mystery of her phantom pains and her tragic fate.

Underlying themes in Claycomb’s debut novel include an LGBTQ+ love story, family bonds and a homecoming, but her primary theme is the power of art.

“Art is a kind of magic, and I don’t mean that lightly,” Claycomb said. “In this world, there’s real magic. There are curses, witches and people who used to be mermaids…We can’t access that magic, but we have this other kind of magic.”

Claycomb said she’s interested in artists and the power that they hold as creators. Characters in “Mermaid’s Daughter” sing verses from original songs.

Claycomb is working on retelling another fairy tale for her next novel.

“The Mermaid’s Daughter” was published by William Morrow Paperbacks.

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