In the late 1980s, one of my elementary school teachers read my class a fantasy novel. I know that the book was decades old at the time, so I think it may have been written in the 1950s or 1960s. The author may have been British, but I'm not sure, and I have not been able to locate the book since.

The story began with a prologue featuring an immortal mermaid who owned a whistle. One day, she left it out on a rock when she was swimming, when a human appeared, took the whistle and vanished.

The action then shifted far into the future, probably hundreds of years, to a human viewpoint character (a teen-aged boy, I think). He lived in a world with roughly 18th or 19th century technology and no knowledge that there was still some magic in existence. He gets embroiled in some kind of political or military conflict while journeying across the countryside and eventually comes into possession of the mermaid's whistle (now refashioned as a key). Eventually, he learns more of the mystical history of his land and meets the mermaid (and probably some other magical creatures I don't remember). In the finale, he trades the whistle/key back to the mermaid in exchange for her help in destroying a dam; but although the dam does collapse, it is ambiguous whether the mermaid had actually lived up to her word or not.

1 Answer 1


That sounds like " The Search for Delicious" by Natalie Babbitt (1969)

Summary: the king is compiling a dictionary, gets stuck on the word delicious. Sends his messenger to poll the kingdom. People keep disagreeing what is delicious (some say apples, some pudding, some beer) so they start mocking each others choices and, eventually, fighting about it. One of the characters is a mermaid, Ardis, who lost a key to the door where her favorite doll is stored. The main character, Gaylen the messenger, helps her find it and she helps him destroy dam the evil adviser was building.

  • Yep, that's it. I remember the stuff about the dictionary, but I did not remember it was the same book with the mermaid.
    – Buzz
    Jun 22, 2017 at 13:58
  • I read this book a long time ago and I also only remember the first part with the dictionary. How odd. Jun 22, 2017 at 17:10

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