18
$\begingroup$

Okay, I know this is a crazy question, but go easy on me (I'll restate it below in more precise terms): Why would merpeople (mermen and mermaids) allow someone to ride them?

Such a ludicrous question demands some background information, so here goes:

  1. The setting is a coastal kingdom (the Mainland) and the islands it holds power over (the Outlands). The sea is very much a part of their lives, and so merpeople by extension are a part of everyone's lives.

  2. The humans want to ride merpeople because they swim better than humans (they're faster/more agile), and for much longer than humans. Yes, they could use boats, but riding a merperson is cooler/more fun/less lonely/why not? It could be a status symbol, maybe?

  3. The merpeople think it's ridiculous that people want to ride them, but some of them are okay with letting a friend ride them (think a piggyback ride; that's not a big deal now is it?) or getting paid to carry someone. Others are curious as to why humans suddenly want to do this and want to investigate and/or find out, while others are curious and want to try it out just for the sheer novelty.

TLDR: Restated, what could possibly explain merperson riding becoming more than a fad, a nation-wide (if not world-wide) phenomenon?

(Ex: Pokemon. Having two creatures fight each other has been a mainstay of human entertainment for many years, as evidenced by Roman gladiators, cockfights, and dogfights; but only in Pokemon and its various ripoffs does animal v. animal combat become an absolutely massive, inescapable part of society. That's kind of what I'm planning here if that's possible).

$\endgroup$
10
  • $\begingroup$ Oracs: "hey dolphin, this monkey on my back is good I can't seem to break free." Dolphin: "shhh! see the mermaid over there, its their translator now!" $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 30 '20 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't Pokemon already the answer? Merpeople brag to each other about how many different humans they have carried. And you have to grind through the 100,000th peon to eventually get a king - they need to keep the game going, or the supply will stop. $\endgroup$ – I'm with Monica Dec 30 '20 at 14:54
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The problem here is that unless your mermaids are much larger than classical depictions, they're much too small to be ridden. Plus the only really feasible "riding" posture will cause an immense amount of drag - if you've ever water skied, it'd be like the first seconds before you manage to get up on the skis, but continuous. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 30 '20 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ Quote nature.com: "marine mammals tend to be much larger than land mammals." Also, magic will be involved; the supernatural speeds I want mermaids to be capable of has a Required Secondary Power of dramatic drag decrease, and depending on how big a mermaid would have to be ridden, another RSP would be Superhuman Strength. Thanks for your input, jamesqf! $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Dec 30 '20 at 21:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Alendyias: Marine mammals CAN be much larger than land animals, but there are a number that are in the human size range (as classical mermaids would be). E.g. several species of seals & sea otters (which are well under typical human weight). $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 31 '20 at 3:47

13 Answers 13

29
$\begingroup$

Maybe mermaids don't allow boats. Boats are dangerous to mermaids who like to spend time near the surface, they disrupt the fish, they block out light, and they are very noisy (especially if your world is advanced enough to have invented engines).

The mermaids and the humans have come to an arrangement whereby people don't use boats, or the use of boats is strictly limited in some way (maybe only large transports in specific and narrow routes), but in return, the mermaids agree that they will provide an easily accessible alternative water transport; they agree that at any time, some of their number will be available to help people navigate the water.

The mermaids think of this as carrying humans, rather than being ridden.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Honestly, this is genius. I never thought about it, but boats would be a likely nuisance to the mermaids. Great answer! $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Dec 30 '20 at 21:27
36
$\begingroup$

Like the Pink Floyd sang

Money it's a gas

Many activities carried out by humans are seen as ridiculous or even worse, yet there is someone who is willing to do them behind compensation.

Once your meerpeople realize that riding a human around pays the bills, more will consider doing it as a source of income, maybe in times of hardship.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Maybe the compensation is metal tools, or a luxury good. Say, big blocks of ice from a glacier up in the mountains. $\endgroup$ – Brian B Dec 30 '20 at 15:32
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Even in the real world you have rickshaws. Merpeople might not be able to use wheels, but if they keep the human mostly submerged, they'll still have to deal with worsened hydrodynamics (if you want to travel them far) and inertial mass, but they won't have to hold them up. People with heavy bones will have to pay extra. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Dec 30 '20 at 17:50
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ To add to this: mermaids make natural swimming instructors and lifeguards, recovery divers, and underwater saboteurs. If a human wants to see those fancy reefs the Jones were talking about, they're going to hire a mermaid guide/porter to get them there, and to keep them safe from the ocean. $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Dec 30 '20 at 18:22
18
$\begingroup$

Merpeople carry land people across the sea and land people carry merpeople overland. That allows merpeople not just the enjoy the wonders of the land, but also to access lakes in the Mainland that would be hard to reach by them alone - a mermaid is just as agile on land as a seal.

Both kind of people carrying the other one are often arranged as gifts to friends, as bargains (I carry you to the lake and next week you will carry me to the island), as teams (getting to the lake in the middle of the island of a larger lake needs teamwork) or just as part of commercial relations, since sea and land usually trade a lot.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I never thought about people carrying merpeople as well; thank you for opening my eyes! $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Dec 30 '20 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ If only Ariel had thought of this, she wouldn't have had to lose her voice! $\endgroup$ – Chipster Jan 2 at 7:04
12
$\begingroup$

For the same reason richshaw drivers do - tourist money

richshaw1 richshaw2

Even when we have easier ways to get around, people still pay others to run/pedal them around a city. Why? They're tourists!

You don't need a deep reason for merpeople to give piggyback rides, you just need a human willing to pay for it. You don't even need a convoluted bargaining system, merpeople make money which they can then buy things that are tough to procure in the ocean, but easy to find on land.

As mentioned in NMHD, many people see pedicabs/rickshaws as luxury goods.

$\endgroup$
7
$\begingroup$

As a Job

Just like humans will work as rickshaw drivers, mermaids will sometimes find work carrying humans or giving rides. It's relatively little work for them, as they're just swimming and their strong physiques can support the weight of an average human, and the novelty or the convenience is a strong incentive for the humans to pay well.

As a Mutually Beneficial Arrangement

Humans have access to many resources that the merfolk don't, and vice-versa. The peoples along the coastline have enjoyed a long friendship and alliance, and work together to help each other hunt and gather. The humans may throw fishnets or carry bows or spears, and their vantage point and ability to sit out of the water makes the tools far more effective than if a mermaid tried to use the same. Similarly, humans may have particular skills or abilities that merfolk don't, and so bargains are struck, such as "take me out to your shelter on the reef; I'll repair it and set up a fire while you hunt fish." The human gets more/better fish than they normally would and the mermaid gets a repaired shelter and to enjoy well-cooked fish (fire obviously being hard to come by otherwise). This useful arrangement has spread over the years, and now it's not uncommon to see mermaids far from their natural lands, supporting themselves via mutualism with humans.

For the Fun of It

Mermaids differ significantly in physiology; what's to say they don't have somewhat different mentality or values as well? Perhaps, like dolphins, mermaids simply love to swim and play, and are often glad to include humans just as human children are glad to have others join into their play. The mermaids don't see it as work necessarily, but just as good fun, and they take delight in the joy and amusement of others, be they human or fellow merfolk.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your contribution; I never thought of these possibilities! $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Dec 31 '20 at 1:54
7
$\begingroup$

Easiest answer slavery. Mermaids sell lesser mermaids (begers, criminals, orphans and other unfortunate soul) to wealthy humans.

$\endgroup$
6
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This sounds like it could be a really solid answer, but more detail is required. First up, what defines a 'lesser mermaid?' If they're physically inferior, I guarantee you the so-called 'superior' mermaids are going to find out what they put their slaves through.... $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Dec 31 '20 at 1:53
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, thank you. That adds the detail I needed. $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Dec 31 '20 at 3:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It' doesn't even need to be a caste system, since prisoners of war, captured ethnic groups, or really anyone could be sold into slavery. This was done for real in the black slave trade. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_slave_trade#African_slavery $\endgroup$ – computercarguy Dec 31 '20 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ It would be hard to keep someone in slavery when they can just swim away. You'd need something like an ocean-wide society of mostly pro-slavery merfolk who could track down, capture and punish escapees. $\endgroup$ – user3153372 Jan 1 at 13:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Reminds me of that horror story by a marine biologist where humans crack the communications barrier with orcas, only for it to turn out orcas have a brutal culture that practices slavery, and end up making an agreement where they sell the babies of other orca pods into slavery at marine parks in exchange for getting to eat those tasty, tasty PETA members after seal populations crash. For the life of me I can't find it anywhere. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Jan 7 at 3:18
4
$\begingroup$

Having some trouble imagining how you ride a mermaid. Do you hang onto their shoulders and sort of hug their back, and try to match their undulation? Because if you ride them like a horse, you're going to get hit in the stomach by a wave of water every time.

Maybe you should give them saddle,s with large frontal saddle horns, which split the wave so the mermaid gets less resistance and you get less water? Seems good.

As for why... well, you mentioned many of them consider it ridiculous, so that suggests there is some kind of tension, even if superficial. You like have a pro-human faction of mermaids who support the silliness, and an anti-human faction who see it as human mockery of mermaids. The pro human faction likely has more trade and beneficial economic interaction with humans, some might have married humans or became their mistresses or such.

Those latter ones may be important, as it could be seen as a bizarre romantic activity. Eventually, when the fad gets going... pro-human mermaids could see racing and showing off with acrobatic tricks, with a cute human in tow, as a sort of status symbol. Think along the lines of throwing in synchronized swimming, minor obstacles, acrobatics, or even theatrics like singing--until it's no longer just a fad, but a whole plethora of Olympic sports.

$\endgroup$
6
  • $\begingroup$ This was very thought-provoking, thank you! $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Dec 30 '20 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ Also, riding a mermaid could be an expression of the bond between the rider and their mount. That being said, after looking again, riding a mermaid almost like a sled is going to be more than a little awkward....... $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Dec 31 '20 at 1:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias Yeah, riding a mermaid underwater, for example, would put a LOT of Gs on you, and a lot of drag on the mermaid. That is, assuming you had air underwater. Works fine for a cultural sport on the surface of the water, though. Glad if my answer was useful. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 31 '20 at 6:55
  • $\begingroup$ It was, as did many others. I'm thinking Required Secondary Powers would help reduce both G's and drag on mermaids and their riders, would that help? $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Jan 1 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias I guess it would. If the mermaids have magic, that would be a good reason to ride them. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Jan 1 at 3:29
3
$\begingroup$

Teenage Rebellion

Originally carrying a human was seen as a semi-taboo, but we all know the younger generation likes to rebel against the stodgy traditional ways, and despite the recrimination, and in some instances punishment, from the elders, "human lifting" became a fad through-out the sea. Those doing the "lifting" became friends with and ended up receiving gifts and trade from their newfound land-friends. By the time they became elders themselves it was mainstream (haha!).

Now a days, generations later, some teen Mers will rebel every generation by not lifting humans, but the economic and social opportunity cost make them a radical few instead of it ever taking off in a fad.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

You mention Pokemon, but in Pokemon there is a practical reason why Pokemon taming took off: taming Pokemon gives you a huge advantage. When you live in a world where the native wildlife can control lightning, fire, ice, water, and even the very earth beneath your feet, and they are borderline sapient, taming them becomes a much more profitable activity than humans taming animals IRL. You see this in the show and games when you have water Pokemon ferrying people over water, Pikachu and Voltorb powering power plants, and fire Pokemon being used as blast furnaces (and in a lot of Pokedex entries).

This highlights what you need for your merpeople question. There needs to be a practical reason as to why the practice of merpeople riding happened. More specifically, it needs to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. The only exception would be if the humans have enslaved the merpeople, but in that case I doubt they'd be interested in carrying humans if they were freed. Ask yourself: what do humans get out of this? What do mermaids get out of this? You've mentioned the human advantages, but you also point out a boat can do the same thing. Same thing with the merpeople. Mermaids combine the manual dexterity of a human with the propulsion system of a dolphin. What can a human offer them that they don't already have?

This is what underlies every symbiotic relationship in nature and the reasonings for every domestication event in human history. If a species can provide nothing for humanity that humanity can't already do for themselves, then there is no reason to tame them except as a luxury pet (and this goes in reverse for merpeople). If there's no practical reason for people to adopt this custom, at best it's merely going to be an underground subculture done for entertainment.

To be fair, there is a much more Doylist explanation to why Pokemon taming happened: Satoshi Tajiri wanted to create a world where you tamed monsters to recreate the joys of insect collecting and beetle fighting from his childhood and everything else spun out from there. The Pokemon world has literally no worldbuilding thought put into how it functions (What is the governmental structure of Kanto? What do the Elite Four even do?). Everything in the Pokemon universe is in service to the plot, rather than considering how society would actually function. This shows you could just say "I want to have people riding merfolk in my setting" and let rule of cool carry you, but that may not work.

$\endgroup$
1
0
$\begingroup$

Same reasons why humans have carried/transported other humans around (and still do):

  • Compensation (money). The most obvious reason and very common on Earth. Just think about all the taxi and rickshaw drivers. For this you need something the merepeople want. Maybe forged metal items since it’s hard to forge underwater.
  • Compulsion (slavery). For this you need to be able to threaten them. Maybe poison their water if they don’t provide 1000 full time merepeople for rides. Or abduct individuals and make sure they can’t escape.
  • Ceremonial (e.g. carrying a leader around can be a great honor, or just think about funerals). Needs some kind of (shared) culture. Religion could also work. Maybe there is a sect which believes that humans are merepeople which have failed to “ascend” and carrying them around can help them do so.
$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Sexual appeal etc. (plus having fun):

  • Swimming is the best.
  • Swimming with a cumbersome, ill-fitting weight builds muscle and shows off to prospective mates.
  • Plus, the dead-weight actually gives you money to drag them through the local waters.
  • Merpeople will lose their sense of derogation when they see the shapely swimmers and, for some more importantly, their ready cash.
  • You get to build aesthetically-pleasing body mass, attract your significant other, have fun, and get paid for it.
$\endgroup$
-1
$\begingroup$

To gain our trust before drowning us all and taking over the world.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ This has the beginnings of a very good answer. Perhaps could you expand upon it? $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Jan 1 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ Why would merpeople drown us all? They can't really do anything on land, it's basically useless to them since they're fish from the waist down! In other words, please explain. $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Jan 1 at 1:44
-2
$\begingroup$

When a mermaid and a human love each other very much ... AKA: Maybe it's an expression of love between a human and a mermaid?

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, but this was already covered. Also, no explanation was made on how mermaid riding could be an expression of love. $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Jan 1 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias The positions to which a human can ride a mermaid wouldn't be that much different from the positions dolphins have been known to adopt during sex. Dolphins have been known to do all sorts of things like insert their dorsal fin in...places and let the other dolphin drag them along. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Jan 7 at 2:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.