Not only am I a fan of M R James and Arthur Machen, but I’m rather partial to tales in the Cthulu Mythos, particularly the works of H P Lovecraft himself. Who could forget The Call of Cthulu, featuring the strange undersea city of R’Lyah?
Well, if you’re British, the undersea cities full of fish people who hate you might be a bit closer to home than you thought…
The Finfolk (Finmen and Finwives, a.k.a ‘Deep Ones’)
So, the Selkies were a relatively peaceful race who occasionally seduced human women, and whose women seemed to really help human men bring out their inner Fritzl. That means if you see a hot mermaid basking on a rock it’s okay to have some fun and drag her off to be your ‘wife,’ right?
Think again. That’s Selkies. The worst they’ll do after a decade or more of being held prisoner is sadly explain that they had to leave because they didn’t want to be chained to a radiator anymore. They look amazingly beautiful, but they look pretty much human. Yeah. The ones you need to worry about are the Finwives. Those are the hot, topless women who you see mysteriously unperturbed by the horribly cold water and freezing winds of the North Sea. They use magical powers and a sheen of powdered pearl to basically strip away the millennia of culture and evolution that stands between a human male and his reptile brain (and being topless, but that’s a pretty effective way to control human men whether you’re a predatory mermaid or not.)
The problem is that they tend to have an ulterior motive. You see, without a human mate a Finwife will get progressively older and uglier every seven years. Once twenty one years have passed she’s a hag before her time and has to go to the mainland. Once there she basically has to be an undercover agent, acting as a witch and desperately making as much money as she can. You see, her Finman husband (who she has to marry if she can’t find a mortal in time) will be obsessed with silver. They’re ALL obsessed with silver, and if she can’t get enough, she gets a beating.
Finmen are even more dangerous. They just want two things: chicks and silver, not necessarily in that order. They’ll rob anyone of anything and they love to go hunting for human women
they can drag back to one of their strongholds under the sea. This is made even worse by the fact that you’re not looking out for a muscular guy with a fish tail.
Finmen are shapeshifters. They can look like ANYTHING. Not just a trusted person: your brother, lover or best friend; Finmen can look like row-boats, floating pieces of wood or piles of old clothes. They use their powers to get close to people so that they can grab them and drag them away.
The Vanishing Islands
When the Orkney weather isn’t too bad, the Finfolk take up residence on one of their magically hidden islands: Hildaland or Hether Blether. These islands are shrouded in magical mist that hides them from mortal view, protected by Finwives who sing their siren-like songs to ensnare any unlucky fishermen who stray too close, monstrous whale-like creatures that wreck larger boats and the Finmen, who use their shapeshifting to turn into terrifying monsters with deadly claws and tusks.
If you beat all that and set foot on the island, you find the homesteads of the Finfolk, and the captives who they bring back to lives of back-breaking hard labour and servitude. These aren’t like people taken by the faeries, who at least get shown a good time. These people are purely slaves, meat for the grinder of the Finfolk’s lust for human flesh and their desperate greed for more and more silver. The only hope for a sailor who caught site of the island or heard that song was to grab steel in one hand and row straight for it. If approached boldly, and with steel or a cross, these mystical hazards will vanish back into the mist.
Not only that, but one of the islands was long ago cleared out by local badass called Thorodale, who reacted to his wife being kidnapped by taking on the whole Finfolk race and successfully ***king up their sh*t.
Folkfolkaheem (a.k.a. “R’lyeh”)
Lovecraft wrote about a fictional undersea city where a dark, octopus-headed god lay sleeping, tended by a sinister race of fish-like beings that could interbreed with humans, and sometimes pass for human. He placed his city somewhere in the South Pacific.
I beg to differ.
Somewhere in the oceans around Orkney is the undersea city of Finfolkaheem: an undersea city peopled by an aquatic race that can interbreed with humans, and sometimes pass for human. They also like to drag humans away.
While Orkney myth doesn’t really go into the religion of the Finfolk, Norse mythology has the ‘Finn Folk,’ who definitely have magic and their own gods. Perhaps one of them lies dreaming?
The city itself is described as a utopia, at least if you aren’t one of the human slave race: the finfolk herd whales, swim around collecting pearls that they grind up to make beauty products and hunt otters on the backs of giant sea horses. The city is decorated by gardens of beautifully coloured seaweed and there is no such thing as night, since the city is in an undersea crevice with luminescent algae/plants growing up around it.
If you’re one of the human spouses of a Finwife, or dragged off to be the sexual plaything of a Finman, this is where you come once it’s winter. They set you to work doing the nasty jobs they don’t want to do and work you to death, and if you can’t bring in the silver, its a beating.
So, be careful around the water’s edge, people. You never know what that lump of driftwood might really be.