Once upon a time, the merpeople of the Deep and the humans of Earth lived in harmony and friendship. But then, an ancient, ill-fated romance led to vicious resentment between the Earth and the Sea, and a terrible war followed. After years of violence, the Sons and Daughters of the Air stepped in to end it, imposing a penance of estrangement between the Deep and the Earth.
Readers arrive on this scene of separation at the opening of K.B. Hoyle’s new fairy tale novel, Son of the Deep. Prince Orpheo finds himself drawn to the sea’s surface and a captivating human princess named Rose. King Neptunus declares that continued silence between the worlds is the only way to guarantee the safety of all, but Orpheo’s heart insists there must be a way to mend the rift. Rose also carries profound affinity for the sea and immediately falls in love with Orpheo, the mysterious boy in the sea who stays hidden but sings enchanting songs of the Deep to her. Could the love they share somehow break the penance and bring reconciliation between their worlds?
The Way of Tannah
At its core, Son of the Deep wrestles with a profoundly spiritual question: Can a costly separation be healed? One answer is offered in Tannah the Sea Witch. She rejects the idea of healing altogether, for her soul has been corrupted by desire for vengeance. In contrast, Rose and Orpheo remain determined to seek peace, choosing sacrificial love to see it accomplished. Their story holds out the hope and beauty ultimately found in self-denial, an inspiring message for its primary audience of younger readers.
The way of Tannah forgoes hope of unity altogether, as she has embraced selfishness and deceit. Since the start of the imposed silence between the worlds, Tannah has become monstrous, willingly turning her back on reconciliation and peace. She chooses instead to turn inward and let resentments fester. The depths of her twisted heart show in her dark trickery of Orpheo. She promises to help him win the peace and love he seeks, but in actuality, curses him with black magic, intending to embroil the worlds in more war and strife.
For a culture rife with nihilism and self-protection, Tannah presents a cautionary picture of a corrupted, hopeless soul. Her hope has died, so only bitterness remains, and she must drag others down with her to survive. As hatred burns away her soul, her sad tale invites young readers to use her as a mirror and ask whether cynicism has unduly gripped their own hearts. In her resentment, Tannah nearly succeeds in destroying Orpheo, and through him, any hope of peace between the Deep and the Earth.
The Way of Rose and Orpheo
In a moment of desperation, Orpheo convinces himself that a deal with the Witch offers the only solution to his dilemmas. He sells her his voice in exchange for human legs, believing that if he can only reach Earth, he will somehow win Rose’s love and unite their worlds. But without his voice, the one part of him Rose knows, Orpheo finds he cannot make Rose recognize him. Too late, he realizes Tannah sought only to curse and divide with her black magic.
Yet, the way of Rose and Orpheo differs profoundly from Tannah’s outlook, because despite apparently insurmountable obstacles, they remain true to their love for one another and choose sacrifice over selfishness. Both Orpheo and Rose show willingness to lay aside their wants for the good of their respective kingdoms. Rose in particular feels the weight of duty to her people and forgoes her own happiness for its security. Meanwhile, Orpheo consistently chooses Rose’s good over his own.
In the end, their love for one another proves more powerful than Tannah’s curse because of its self-denying nature. Romantic scenes and gestures abound throughout their story, but at its crux is sacrifice, even unto death. This story asks its young audience to consider if their own loves are stronger than their hates, or whether the love they seek ultimately prioritizes self or the other. Tannah’s self-absorption destroys her own soul, while Rose’s and Orpheo’s sacrifices reveal the way of true freedom and peace between their worlds.
Alongside the sacrifices of Orpheo and Rose, King Neptunus swims in at the end of the story to satisfy the penance imposed by the Sons and Daughters of the Air. In a moment of profoundly rich spiritual metaphor, Neptunus surrenders his own rights to demonstrate his acceptance of the sacrifices Orpheo and Rose have made. His sacrifice marks the final act that reunites the worlds and seals the bond between Rose and Orpheo. He presents a powerful picture of a King who lays down his rights for a people, and of a father who accepts a sacrifice paid to bring about a marriage for his beloved son.
This marriage between a Son of the Deep and a Daughter of Earth reunites the Deep and the Earth after the long rift. If readers linger over the story, it will remind them of a Savior who purchased a bride to heal a far deeper division between heaven and earth, whose sacrifice is beautifully reflected in the sparkling seas of Orpheo and Rose’s kingdom.