If there are legends to be told of Scotland - particularly ones of the sea - Mollie Hunter is sure to tell them. And if mermaids or other water "changelings" are a part of that tale, readers can count on a story of intrigue and adventure.
It is said that over a century ago a mermaid was seen around some rocks called "the Drongs" and those who saw her had strange things happen to them.When Eric Anderson first glimpsed the mermaid he was so enchanted that he smashed his boat into the rock pinnacles and was forced to leave his home and fishing business because no one would sail with him.
Anna and Jon missed their grandfather, and only after they became involved in the mystery of the mermaid and drove her from the Drongs did he return again. The time when the children matched wits with the sea creature was known as the Mermaid Summer.
Integrated into this story are the rituals and customs that make the story authentic and rich; the festival that celebrates the fishing season, naming the queen of the celebration and the talisman that generations before them (and those to follow) used as a token for the sea gods: a switch of wood from a rowan tree, a small velvet cushion with a silver coin resting on it, a jug of milk and a small bowl of oatmeal.
When Anna was named queen and prepared her gifts to be returned to the water, she was dressed in silk sent by Eric from a faraway land: ". . .not just one color . . . a blend of blues and greens and silver, with the blues and greens shading from the darkest of these colors to the lightest, and the silver rippling among them like the silver ripple of their own northern sea in the bright, icy days of winter." The silk was also the color of the mermaid's hair when Jon first summoned her with three long blasts on a conch shell.
The mermaid blackmails the children by demanding a prized jade comb for her own hair. If they refuse she threatens to direct the herring away from the boats and the village's income will be lost. With the help of the village wise-woman, the Howdy, Jon and Anna reverse the trickery and beat the mermaid at her own game. Eric Anderson returns to his family and the children hide the conch shell - which is the way to summon the mermaid from the depths of the sea.
Besides the description of color in rhythmic style (like the water on the beach), Mollie Hunter uses a sense of tactile objects that helps the reader "feel" the characters and setting; for example, a cobweb-fine lacy shawl that Eric sends is so delicate that "she could draw the whole of it through her wedding ring."
Again, in "Mermaid Summer," as she does in some of her other works, Mollie Hunter shows the wisdom of the child that accomplishes a task in which older people cannot succeed. In this story the children bring happiness to the island again as they rid it of the mermaid's enchantment.
Or do they? True to Hunter style, the author leaves a twist at the end of the story. The mermaid is never seen again, but is it because Anna and Jon's children (and those for generations to come) never found the shell, lacked the knowledge of its power, or had they the good sense to not use it at all?
No one knows for sure. But there is no doubt that "Mermaid Summer" is another tale to tingle the spine.
Other books by Mollie Hunter include "The Stronghold," which won the Carnegie Medal (the British equivalent of the Newberry Medal).