The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

Infobox Book |
name = The Little Mermaid
title_orig = Danish: "Den lille havfrue"
translator =

image_caption = Vilhelm Pedersen illustration
author = Hans Christian Andersen
country = Denmark
language = Danish
series =
genre = Fairy tale
published_in =
publication_type =
publisher = C. A. Reitzel
media_type = Print
pub_date = 7 April 1837
english_pub_date =
preceded_by =
followed_by =

The Little Mermaid ( _da. Den lille havfrue) is a fairy tale by the Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen about a young mermaid willing to give up her life in the sea and her identity as a merperson to gain a human soul and the love of a human prince. The tale was first published in 1837 and has been adapted to various media including musical theater and animated film.


The Little Mermaid lives at the sea bottom with her father the sea king; her grandmother; and her five elder sisters, born one year apart. When a mermaid turns 15, she is allowed to swim to the surface to watch the world above, and as the sisters become old enough, one of them visits the surface every year. As each of them returns, the Little Mermaid listens longingly to their descriptions of the surface and of human beings.

When the Little Mermaid's turn comes, she ventures to the surface, sees a ship with a handsome prince, and falls in love with him from a distance. A great storm hits, and the Little Mermaid saves the prince from a near-drowning. She delivers him unconscious to the shore near a temple. Here she waits until a young girl from the temple finds him. The prince never sees the Little Mermaid.

The Little Mermaid asks her grandmother whether humans can live forever if they do not drown. The grandmother explains that humans have a much shorter lifespan than merfolk's 300 years, but that when mermaids die they turn to sea foam and cease to exist, while humans have an eternal soul that lives on in Heaven. The Little Mermaid, longing for the prince and an eternal soul, eventually visits the Sea Witch, who sells her a potion that gives her legs, in exchange for her tongue; the Little Mermaid has the most intoxicating voice in the world. Drinking the potion will make her feel as if a sword is being passed through her, and walking on her feet will feel like walking on knives. In addition, she will only get a soul if the prince loves her and marries her, for then a part of his soul will flow into her. Otherwise, at dawn on the first day after he marries another woman, the Little Mermaid will die brokenhearted and turn to sea foam.

The Little Mermaid drinks the potion and meets the prince, who is attracted to her beauty and grace even though she is mute. Most of all he likes to see her dance, and she dances for him despite her excruciating pain. When the prince's father orders his son to marry the neighboring king's daughter, the prince tells the Little Mermaid he will not, because he does not love the princess. He goes on to say he can only love the young woman from the temple, but adds that the Little Mermaid is beginning to take the temple girl's place in his heart. It turns out that the princess is the temple girl, who had been sent to the temple to be educated. The prince loves her and the wedding is announced.

The prince and princess marry, and the Little Mermaid's heart breaks. She thinks of all that she has given up and of all the pain she has suffered. She despairs, but before dawn, her sisters give her a knife that the Sea Witch has given them in exchange for their hair. If the Little Mermaid slays the prince with the knife, she will become a mermaid again and live out her full life.

The Little Mermaid cannot bring herself to kill the sleeping prince lying with his bride and, as dawn breaks, throws herself into the sea. Her body dissolves into foam, but instead of ceasing to exist, she feels the warmth of the sun; she has turned into a spirit, a daughter of the air. The other daughters of the air tell her she has become like them because she strove with all her heart to gain an eternal soul. She will earn her own soul by doing good deeds, and she will eventually rise into the kingdom of God.


"The Little Mermaid" was written in 1836, and first published by C.A. Reitzel in Copenhagen 7 April 1837 in "Fairy Tales Told for Children. First Collection. Third Booklet. 1837." (" Eventyr, fortalte for Børn. Første Samling. Tredie Hefte. 1837."). The story was republished 18 December 1849 as a part of "Fairy Tales. 1850". ("Eventyr. 1850"), and again 15 December 1862 as a part of "Fairy Tales and Stories. First Volume. 1862." ("Eventyr og Historier. Første Bind. 1862."). [ [ Hans Christian Andersen Center: Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Mermaid] ]

Debate over ending

Some scholars consider the last episode with its happy ending to be an unnatural addition. Jacob Bøggild and Pernille Heegaard point out that:

Apparently Andersen originally ended the tale with the mermaid dissolving, but then added the "daughters of air" coda and retconned it stating it was his original intention and, in fact, the working title of the story. [ [ Sur La Lune fairy tales, notes on "The Little Mermaid"] ] The daughters of air say they can earn souls simply by doing three hundred years' worth of good deeds; but Andersen later revised it to state that all this depends upon whether children are good or bad. Good behavior takes a year off the maidens' time of service; bad behavior makes them weep, and a day is added for every tear they shed. This has come under much criticism from scholars and reviewers, stating that "this final message is more frightening than any other presented in the tale. The story unfortunately descends into the Victorian moral tales written for children to scare them into good behavior. P. L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins and noted folklore commentator, perhaps said it best: 'But — a year taken off when a child behaves; a tear shed and a day added whenever a child is naughty? Andersen, this is blackmail. And the children know it, and say nothing. There's magnanimity for you' (Travers 1979, 93)." [ [ Sur La Lune fairy tales, notes on "The Little Mermaid"] ] [Altmann, Anna E. and Gail deVos, "Tales, Then and Now: More Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults" (Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2001), pp. 179-183.]

The tale itself is considered by some feminists to contain a message about love and self-sacrifice, and the dangers of accepting abuse or inconsiderate treatment in the name of love. [Borges, Victoria, [ A Million Little Mermaids] , article in "Journal of Mythic Arts" Summer 2007, webpage found 2007-05-15.] [ [ Why "The Little Mermaid" Should Be Told To Every Child"] , webpage found 2008-05-15.]


Andersen's conception appears to owe something to the elementals of Paracelsus. In that system, Undines are water spirits, which may only obtain an immortal soul by securing the love of a man. At the end of the story, she appears to be transmuted into a sylph, or air spirit.


* Antonin Dvorak's opera "Rusalka" was inspired in part by "The Little Mermaid".
* It was first translated into English by H. P. Paull in 1872.
* The 1914 play "The Garden of Paradise" written by Edward Sheldon was adapted from it.
* In 1957, the French composer Germaine Tailleferre wrote a three-act opera version of "The Little Mermaid" (called "La Petite Sirène" in French) on a libretto adapted by Philippe Soupault.
* "Classics Illustrated Junior", a 1950s American comic book series, published a version of the tale as issue #525.
* One of the earliest animated films based on the story was the Soviet Union's 29-minute "Rusalochka" ("The Little Mermaid"), released in 1968. In 1976, a live-action "Rusalochka", a joint production by the USSR and Bulgaria, was released.
* In 1961, "Shirley Temple Theatre" broadcast a television version of "The Little Mermaid", starring Shirley Temple as the Mermaid.

* There are several anime adaptations of the story, including "Anderusen Dowa Ningyo Hime" ("Andersen's Story: The Mermaid Princess"), a feature film directed by Tomoharu Katsumata (1975); and the 1991 NHK TV series "Saban's Adventures of the Little Mermaid". There have also been the magical girl adaptions Maho no Mako-chan and Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch.

* Film adaptation Czech production 1979 Directed by Vladimir Bychkov, starring Vyctoriya Novikova as the mermaid and Valentin Nikulin.
* In 1987, Shelley Duvall produced a version of the story for "Faerie Tale Theatre".
* In 1989, the fairy tale was adapted into an animated film by the Walt Disney Company called "The Little Mermaid".
* Golden Films adapted the story in 1992; the production was distributed by GoodTimes Entertainment.
* In the late 1990s, the HBO series, "", did an episode based on "The Little Mermaid".
* The novel, 'My Love, My Love' by Rosa Guy is based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, and inspired the musical 'Once On This Island'.
* The Broadway musical "Once on This Island" is a retelling of "The Little Mermaid" set in the French Antilles.
* Japanese artist Junko Mizuno adapted "The Little Mermaid" as "Mermaid Princess", the third and final part of her "fractured fairy tales".
* In 2004, the animated TV series "Hans Christian Andersen The Fairytaler" had an episode telling the story of "The Little Mermaid".
* The Royal Danish Ballet commissioned Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach to create a modern rendition of this fairy tale. It was choreographed by John Neumeier and premiered on April 15, 2005. [ [ "Britannica Book of the Year 2006", "Performing Arts, Europe: Dance"] ]
* On July 28, 2007, the premiere of Lior Navok's version for actress, two pianos and chamber ensemble/orchestra. [ [", "Lior Navok's 'The Little Mermaid'"] ]
* On January 10, 2008, the stage version of the Disney film opened on Broadway.
* On March 6, 2008, Malaysia released the fantasy comedy film "Duyung", which means Mermaid and actor, with Maya Karin as the Duyung (Mermaid).

The Little Mermaid statue

:main article|The Little Mermaid (statue)A statue of the Little Mermaid sits on a rock in the Copenhagen harbor in Churchill Park. This small and unimposing statue is a Copenhagen icon and a major tourist attraction.

The statue was commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of Carlsberg, after he had been fascinated by a ballet about the fairytale. The sculptor Edward Eriksen created the statue, which was unveiled on 23 August, 1913. His wife Eline Eriksen was the model.


External links

* [ "The Little Mermaid"] Jean Hersholt's English translation
* [ "Den lille havfrue"] Original Danish text
* [ "Den lille Havfrue"] Original Danish text from the Danish Royal Library
* [ "Den lille havfrue"] Original manuscript (Odense City Museum)
* [ Surlalune: Annotated "The Little Mermaid"] Paull's translation, with annotations, scans from six illustrated editions, bibliography.

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