The seacoast can sometimes be shrouded in mystery as the limitless water sparks the imagination conjuring up otherworldly places and ethereal people. Perhaps many beachcombers have let their minds soar over the water to ponder the adventures of swashbuckling pirates with ancient treasure maps in hand seeking that location marked with an X. Or, perhaps you've contemplated what lies beneath the depths of the ocean, dreaming up strange creature, - who live there. After all, many of us who feel so at home when we're by the sea feel like deep within us there must be mermaid DNA coursing through our bodies.
Mermaids and pirates are universally fascinating and have been the subjects of stories for centuries. Mermaids who first appeared in ancient folklore are still provocative now—perhaps even more so! If you're ready to be swept away within pages of a salty adventure, we have a list of books about pirates and mermaids to choose from. Dive in and enjoy!
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
A classic children’s book that adults will enjoy as well. It was first published in 1882. An old pirate staying at the inn young Jim Hawkin’s family owns dies and leaves behind a treasure map. Jim puts together a crew that includes the dead pirate’s shipmates, including the iconic Long John Silver, and goes out in search of the treasure only to learn that they also want the treasure for themselves.
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
Peter Blood is a physician in England in the 1680’s who is wrongly convicted of treason for treating a wounded rebel and sentenced to ten years as a slave on a Caribbean plantation. He escapes his captivity and sets out to clear his name as he embarks on a new adventure as a pirate. This book became a best-seller in 1922 when it was first published.
Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
Inspired by events recorded in maritime records, a crew of pirates in the Caribbean attack a Spanish island in search of treasure. The Spanish fortress of Matanceros was well defended with well-trained soldiers and lots of guns. Captain Charles Hunter wants to steal the bounty from a Spanish galleon anchored in the bay outside the encampment and this becomes a story of violence, lust, and danger!
The Island by Peter Benchley
A journalist in need of a good story to get his career back on track learns about the climbing numbers of disappearing boats in the Caicos Islands and decides to investigate with his 12-year-old son. Once they arrive on the remote island, he and his son rent a boat and ignore advice not to venture into certain areas. It’s then that they learn why all those boats have gone missing when they discover a secret colony of pirates.
On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
This is the inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. John Chandagnac’s ship is hijacked by pirates while en route to Jamaica. To avoid being killed, he joins the crew of buccaneers, giving himself the new name of Jack Shandy. He gets sucked into a quest to locate the Fountain of Youth so that Blackbeard can become the immortal king of the New World.
Pirate Spirit: The Adventures Of Anne Bonney by Jeffery Williams
This is the tale of Anne Bonney, a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to fulfill her dream to become a pirate and sail the seas for adventure. She fights side-by-side with men while plundering ships around the Spanish Main. The story also explores her beginnings as an illegitimate child then a rebellious daughter while gaining insights into the relationships that have shaped her life.
Under The Black Flag: The Romance And The Reality Of Life Among The Pirates by David Cordingly
A focus on true historical events and based on historical records taken from original documents. This book focuses on facts not fiction and is an entertaining history of pirates and piracy.
The Pirate Hunter: The True Story Of Captain Kidd by Richard Zacks
This authentic pirate story has been meticulously researched and provides a rare glimpse of Captain Kidd who was a Scottish naval captain who tried to end piracy on the open seas. This book highlights his life and his eventual execution for practicing piracy himself but many historians believe he was wrongly accused.
Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes and Privateers Who Ruled The Seven Seas by Laura Sook Duncombe
A historical account of female swashbucklers both real and legendary through the ages. Duncombe also looks beyond the stories to the storytellers and myth makers and examines what biases and agendas motivated them and what they may have left out. This book provides the most comprehensive look at women pirates in one volume.
Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession And The Search For A Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson, Ray Porter, et al.
A historical mystery of two men willing to risk everything to find the infamous 17th-century pirate ship, the Golden Fleece. If they succeed, it will be the second time a pirate ship has been discovered. Even with modern technology, they brave skirmishes with rival explorers, negotiate with foreign governments, and learn to think and act like pirates in order to get the job done. Full of suspense!
To Catch A Pirate by Jade Parker
For the romance enthusiast. Annalisa’s ship is plundered by pirates who want her father’s treasure. James Sterling discovers her hiding and is about to take her jewelry, but she pleads with him not to. He is willing to leave without it if she will exchange it for a kiss. Annalisa is intent on hunting him down to reclaim her dad’s treasure but he may just steal her heart.
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
A mermaid named Syrenka fall in love with the young naturalist, Ezra, and chooses to live with him on land with disastrous consequences. More than a hundred years later a young woman named Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels drawn to him. Together they seek answers to the curse of Hester’s family.
Ocean’s Gift by Demelza Carlton
A love story told from multiple perspectives: Joe is an Australian handyman who finds a job aboard a lobster boat for extra money and ends up meeting Sirena, a mermaid, who is the leader of the Elders and is determined to warn humans of their environmental crisis. By saving humankind, they also save themselves.
Mermaids: The Myths, Legends and Lore by Skye Alexander
Discover the myths and folklore surrounding mermaids, in this book that is full of beautiful illustrations.
The Mermaid Handbook by Carolyn Turgeon
Packed with lore, legends, facts, trivia, step-by-step projects, and recipes, this book is divided into four sections: Fashion and Beauty; Arts and Culture; Real Mermaids and Where to Find Them; and Food, Entertaining, and Stories of the Sea. This is a compilation that is a must-have for collectors and folks interested in everything mermaid.
The Penguin Book Of Mermaids by Cristina Bacchilega and Marie Alohalani Brown
Mermaids are among the oldest mythical beings, and this book examines these water spirits from different cultures and shows us how public perception of them illuminate issues of gender, spirituality, ecology, and sexuality.
The Odyssey by Homer
The book details the story of Odysseus and his encounter with the mythical sea creatures in the form of a poem. A magic song sung by a mermaid attracts Odysseus with serious consequences. This is one of the earliest and most well-known sources about sirens. Seek out the translation by Emily Wilson.
Never Forgotten by Kelly Risser
The first book of four in the Never Forgotten Series. Meara Quinn and her family move to a tiny ocean side town and soon discovers a new friend Evan who helps her unlock family history and secrets. A chance meeting with the handsome stranger who knows more about her than he should will reveal the answer to the secret that will shake her world. This series is about selkies, which are creatures that look like seals in the water but out of water they assume the human form.
The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble
A magical story of love, family, self-discovery, and adventure involving two sisters, one of whom is becoming a mermaid.
Into The Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Scientist Victoria Stewart sets out to discover the fate of the Atargatis, a vessel that disappeared from the Mariana Trench while filming a “mockumentary” aimed at showing ancient sea creatures of legend.
The Mermaid And Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
Set in 18th-century London, Jonah Hancock comes into possession of a mermaid, which sets off a series of events that lead him into the world of high society where his life takes a dangerous new course.
The Mermaid by Christina Henry
A historical fairy tale about a mermaid who marries a fisherman and chooses to live with him on the cliffs above the ocean, but when he never returns from a voyage, she is left to fend for herself until she meets P.T. Barnum who is looking for attractions for his museum. She agrees to play the part of mermaid for him, and she believes she can leave anytime she wants but Barnum’s greed is an obstacle to overcome.
In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
A political fantasy involving merfolk called deepsmen who control the sea. They want earthly rulers to become half deepsmen, so they install half breed children on the land of Venice. Venetians make a pact with the water-dwelling tribe of deepsmen that creates a story of an alternate history for England. Henry’s early life was spent underwater with his mother’s tribe but is abandoned on the shore when he’s found by a scholar. He meets Anne who is the princess of the English royal house. At the heart of this story are the ideals of materialism and spirituality.
The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill
Off the Irish coast, a young Gaia lives deep beneath the sea and dreams of freedom from a controlling father. She’s drawn to a human boy and wants to join his world, but what would this mean for her? Hans Christian Andersen’s story is re-imagined from the feminine point-of-view.
The Hunted by Bethany-Kris
In this fantasy story, mermaids’ blood provides power and many are killed or enslaved in Prince Eryx’s realm. Princess Arelle lives in another realm, in a community of mermaids who live in fear. Arelle and Eryx form an unintentional connection in this dark fairy tale.
Foam on the Crest of Waves by Silke Stein
A troubled teenage girl, who has an obsession with Anderson’s Little Mermaid, copes with her mother’s drowning death by trying to become a mermaid in this mesmerizing story of love, loss, and second chances set on beautiful Glass Beach in Ft. Bragg, California.
The Legend of Mermaids Tears
There’s a gravestone in the old church up by Seaham Hall, with a skull and crossbones carved into it. Though not an actual pirate burial plot, it was part of the inspiration for the Legend of Mermaids Tears children’s books written by Paula Newman and illustrated by Becky Bumble. The series tells the history of Seaham, England, educates readers where sea glass comes from, and creates a fun new legend of the sea glass found on the beach.
Readers follow along as the town is founded, the harbor is built and expanded, the coal miners come and then disappear along with the coal industry, and learn how the town was affected by two world wars. The book weaves factual snippets—including why glass was dumped at sea and found washed up years later—with stories of mermaids, and how their tears turned to glass upon hitting the water, earning the sea glass the nickname “mermaid tears.” The stories celebrate the recovery of the sea as the coal industry disappears and crabs, starfish, and octopus reappear along the previously damaged and poisoned stretch of coast.
The pirate Jack Mackem, based on the real pirate Jack Rackham, visits once or twice a year so readers see the changes, the leaps of technology, and people who come and go. “Mackem” is a nickname for residents of Sunderland, the nearby shipbuilding town.
The return of the marine life happened while Paula was finishing the series, with her finding octopus eggs washed up on the beach and seals back in the local waters.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2020 issue.
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