Fish symbolism runs lush amid ancient cultural myths and stories a part of numerous cosmologies and orientations. It embodies freedom, fecundity, sexuality, and “birth and rebirth,” according to Hope Werness in her book The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in Art. Many believe “life literally [began] in the primordial sea” and that’s where “the first creatures with vertebrae” appeared, and then “the ancestors of all later vertebrae” that are often called “descendants of merman.” Fish and womb (and net), Werness says, are “conceptually interrelated.”
Among Babylonian and Assyrian art, Werness notes, “fish-garbed figures” served “as magical protective images.” She speculates that it was “healers and exorcist priests” who wore the garb, “presumably for its apotropaic powers, to perform rituals.” This is all before Werness even mentions Egyptian paintings or Christianity, but honestly she had my imagination at the reference to merman.
Pairing fecundity with fish is both natural and genius, and portrayals of fish in art and their significance specifically in literature are limitless.
The Fisheries Blog compiled a diverse kettle of fish: a list of ten books that includes both adult and children’s lit, which focus on the cod to the salmon and/or use the act of fishing to probe, for example, at brotherly, fatherly, and religious bonds, as seen in Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through it. The Meaning of Salmon, a blog within a larger blog, Patagonia Provisions, posts essays and stories written by expert fish gurus, one of which speaks to the implications of finding a carcass of a hybrid salmon species during field work in Seattle, with the help of a “wizard” named Haida.
John Galligan devoted five novels, the Fly Fishing Mystery Book Series, to murder and mayhem within a fishy-focused setting. And there’s Fish Publishing, an Irish indie publisher of a range of genres, that plays on a net idiom when speaking of the “many writers who have swum into Fish’s net” and furthered their careers because of it.
Authors and publishers are committed to exploring and chronicling the human journey and its relationship to our finned and fierce swimmers. My own story I posted earlier this month, “Salmon for Dinner,” is now a part of the ever growing fish-lit conversation and the symbolism therein. If you haven’t already, check it out.
Want to tell about some fish lit?
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