Pyle's image is a metaphor for doomed lovers everywhere. (As Joseph Stein put it, "A fish may love a bird but where would they build a home together?")
Today illustrators remain fascinated by the gap separating man from mermaid, but their perspectives look quite different. Let's revisit Pyle's touching scene through the eyes of some of today's master illustrators:
John Cuneo offers this unsettling glimpse into the love life of a modern mermaid:
Sterling Hundley's mermaid has apparently decided not to let go of her man. No more tearful good byes at the shore line:
Jack Davis shows us what happens if you give a man too much time to think:
Carter Goodrich shows us a boy who has caught more than he bargained for:
French cartoonist Andre Francois imagines a cooperative effort to deal with the logistical problems:
William Steig helps us understand why a man might give up everything to flee to the mermaid's world:
Charles Rodrigues shows us the glum granddaughter of Pyle's mermaid:
What a difference a century makes (both in pictures and in relationships). Many of today's illustrators employ a lighter medium to convey a darker message.
Pyle would have landed in jail for such irreverent and explicit content. Today's illustrators have a longer leash, but the good ones don't mistake the new candor for truth. These modern pictures work because-- like Pyle's original illustration-- they invoke some recognizable truth about human nature, a truth revealed by the gap between man and mermaid.