As you may recall, in preparing for a new decade of life, I made a resolution to read 1000 fairy tales, legends and myths. This is the second book I’ve read since embarking on this joyous venture. One of several given to me by my mother for Christmas 1969, when I was six, it has her dedica in the fly-leaf. I have very few other books from childhood, and only another selection from her given in 1970. These are therefore precious in all kinds of ways.
The Mermaid and the Red Candle, described as a ‘legend of old Japan’, haunted me with its sad tale of a mermaid who entrusts her child to humans, specifically an elderly, childless couple who are delighted to find a ready-made and abandoned baby girl. Which doesn’t deter them from using her artistic talents and her sea-longing to set her to work.
If child labour isn’t cruel enough, later they are approached by what we would now call a human trafficker, who persuades them to sell the girl as a circus side-show due to her being a mermaid. When I read it I knew nothing of ‘trafficking’, but surely understood the stunning betrayal and greed, and the devastating loss of innocence. The ending, which I won’t spoil for you, is apt.
This heart-rending story is simply and movingly illustrated by Konosuke Iwamoto, a few of whose images are featured below.
Source: The Mermaid and the Red Candle, Jane Carruth, illus. by Konosuke Iwamoto (Paul Hamlyn, 1968)