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The Little Mermaid

"The Little Mermaid"
The Little Mermaid and the Prince in an illustration by Edmund Dulac.
Author Hans Christian Andersen
Original title "Den lille havfrue"
Country Denmark
Language Danish
Genre(s) Fairy tale
Publisher C. A. Reitzel
Publication date 7 April 1837

"The Little Mermaid" (Danish: Den lille havfrue) is a fairy tale by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen about a young mermaid willing to give up her life in the sea and her identity as a mermaid to gain a human soul.

The tale was first published in 1837 and has been adapted to various media, including musical theatre and animated film.


  • Summary 1
  • Publication 2
  • Debate over ending 3
  • Adaptations 4
  • The Little Mermaid statue 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The Little Mermaid dwells in an underwater kingdom with her father (the sea king or mer-king), her dowager grandmother, and her five older sisters, each of whom had been born one year apart. When a mermaid turns 15, she is permitted to swim to the surface for the first time to glimpse the world above, and when the sisters become old enough, each of them visits the upper world one at a time every year. As each returns, the Little Mermaid listens longingly to their various descriptions of the world inhabited by human beings.

When the Little Mermaid's turn comes, she rises up to the surface, watches a birthday celebration being held on a ship in honor of a handsome prince, and falls in love with him from a safe distance. A violent storm hits, and the Little Mermaid saves the prince from drowning. She delivers him unconscious to the shore near a temple. Here, she waits until a young girl from the temple and her companions find him. To her dismay, the prince never sees the Little Mermaid or even realizes that it was she who had originally saved his life.

The Little Mermaid becomes melancholy and asks her grandmother if humans can live forever and if they can breathe under water. The grandmother explains that humans have a much shorter lifespan than merfolks' 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 in a dangerous section of the ocean. The witch willingly helps her by selling her a potion that gives her legs in exchange for her tongue (as the Little Mermaid has the most enchanting and beautiful voice in the world). The Sea Witch warns that once she becomes a human, she will never be able to return to the sea. Consuming the potion will make her feel as if a sword is being passed through her body, yet when she recovers, she will have two human legs and will be able to dance like no human has ever danced before. However, she will constantly feel as if she is walking on sharp knives and as though her toes are bleeding. In addition, she will obtain a soul only if she wins the love of the prince and marries him, 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 disintegrate into sea foam upon the waves.

The Little Mermaid agrees to this arrangement, and the Sea Witch cuts off her tongue. The Little Mermaid swims to the surface near the palace of the prince and drinks the potion. She is found by the prince, who is mesmerized by her beauty and grace, even though she is considered by everyone in the kingdom as dumb and mute. Most of all, he likes to see her dance, and she dances for him despite suffering excruciating pain with every step. Soon, the Little Mermaid becomes the prince's favorite companion and accompanies him on many of his outings. When the prince's parents order their son to marry the neighboring princess in an arranged marriage, 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, who he believes rescued him. It turns out that the princess from the neighboring kingdom is the temple girl, sent there only temporarily to be educated. The prince loves her, and the royal wedding is announced at once.

The prince and princess celebrate on a wedding ship, and the Little Mermaid's heart breaks. She thinks of all that she has sacrificed and of all the pain she has endured. She despairs, thinking of the death that awaits her, but before dawn, her sisters rise out of the water and bring her a dagger that the Sea Witch has given them in exchange for their long, beautiful hair. If the Little Mermaid slays the prince with the dagger and lets his blood drip on her feet, she will become a mermaid once more, all her suffering will end, and she will live out her full life in the ocean with her family.

However, the Little Mermaid cannot bring herself to kill the sleeping prince lying with his new bride, and she throws the dagger and herself off the ship into the water just as dawn breaks. Her body dissolves into foam, but instead of ceasing to exist, she feels the warm sun and discovers that she has turned into a luminous and ethereal earthbound spirit, a daughter of the air. As the Little Mermaid ascends into the atmosphere, she is greeted by other daughters who tell her she has become like them because she strove with all her heart to obtain an immortal soul. Because of her selflessness, she will be given the chance to earn her own soul by doing good deeds to mankind for 300 years and will one day rise up into the Kingdom of God.


"The Little Mermaid" was written in 1836 and first published by C.A. Reitzel in Copenhagen on 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 on 18 December 1849 as a part of Fairy Tales. 1850 (Eventyr. 1850) and again on 15 December 1862 as a part of Fairy Tales and Stories. First Volume. 1862 (Eventyr og Historier. Første Bind. 1862).[1]

Debate over ending

Original manuscript, last page

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

The working title of the story was "Daughters of the Air".[3] The daughters of the 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, while 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; one commenter writing, "This final message is more frightening than any other presented in the tale. The story 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, says, "But a year taken off when a child behaves and 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."[3][4]


  • It was first translated into English by H. P. Paull in 1872.
  • Rusalka (1901), an opera with music composed by Dvořák, was first performed in Prague.
  • Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid, 1905), a 40-minute long symphonic poem by Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky.
  • The Garden of Paradise (1914), a play written by Edward Sheldon.
  • Hans Christian Andersen (1952) features a ballet segment adaptation within the film.
  • The Little Mermaid (La Petite Sirène in French) (1957), a three-act opera version by French composer Germaine Tailleferre, with a libretto adapted by Philippe Soupault.
  • Classics Illustrated Junior (1950s), an American comic book series, published a print version in issue #525.
  • Angel no Oka (Angel's Hill) (1960), a manga by Osamu Tezuka.
  • Shirley Temple's Storybook (1961), a television anthology that broadcast a one-hour adaptation as an episode.
  • Fantasia...3 (1966), a Spanish anthology film, opens with the adaptation segment "Coralina: La Doncella del Mar" starring Dyanik Zurakowska.
  • The Daydreamer (1966), a Rankin/Bass film that combines live-action and stop-motion, features a stop-motion segment adaptation in the film.
  • The Little Mermaid (Russian: Русалочка) (1968), a 29-minute Soviet Union animated film by film studio Soyuzmultfilm and directed by Ivan Aksenchuk.
  • Mahō no Mako-chan (1970), an anime television series based on the story, ran for 48 episodes.
  • Reader's Digest (1974), 30-minute animated version narrated by Richard Chamberlain.
  • Anderusen Dowa Ningyo Hime (Andersen's Story: The Mermaid Princess) (1975), an anime feature film directed by Tomoharu Katsumata.
  • Rusalochka (Русалочка) (1976), a live-action film that was a joint production by the USSR and Bulgaria; directed by Vladimir Bychkov and starring Vyctoriya Novikova as the mermaid.
  • Malá mořská víla (1976), a live-action Czech film directed by Karel Kachyňa and starring Miroslava Šafránková as the Mermaid, Radovan Lukavský as the King of the Ocean, Petr Svojtka as the prince, Milena Dvorská as the Sea Witch and Miroslava's sister, Libuše Šafránková, as the princess. It featured a score by Zdenek Liska, eschewed the traditional visual of mermaids having fish tails and presented them more as water sprits.
  • "Little Mermaid" (1982), a song by Japanese jazz-fusion band The Square (now known as T-Square), released on the album Magic.
  • My Love, My Love: Or The Peasant Girl (1985), a novel by Rosa Guy, is based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale and inspired the musical Once on This Island, set in the French Antilles.
  • My Favorite Fairy Tales (Sekai Dōwa Anime Zenshū) (1986), an anime television anthology, has a 30-minute adaptation.
  • Faerie Tale Theatre (1987), a television anthology produced by Shelley Duvall, has a one-hour live-action adaptation starring Pam Dawber as the mermaid, Treat Williams as the prince, and Helen Mirren as the other princess.
  • The Little Mermaid (1989), an animated film by Walt Disney Pictures. The film differs so substantially from Andersen's original that it has been said to "betray Andersen's tale while it exploits society's obsession with physical beauty and romantic love."[5] This film launched a franchise that was continued with a TV series of the same name (1991), a sequel: The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000), and a prequel: The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning (2008).
  • Saban's Adventures of the Little Mermaid (1991), an NHK anime television series adaptation that ran for 26 episodes.
  • The Little Mermaid (1992), an animated film by Golden Films that was distributed by GoodTimes Entertainment.
  • Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (1997), an animated television anthology series, has an East Asian-influenced retelling featuring the voices of Tia Carrere and Robert Guillaume.
  • The Little Mermaid (1998), a 50-minute animated adaptation by Burbank Films Australia.
  • Pokémon: Indigo League (1998), an anime television series, broadcast episode 61, "The Misty Mermaid", that was inspired by the story.
  • Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch (2002), an anime television series, was inspired by the story.
  • Princess Mermaid (2002), a print adaptation by Japanese artist Junko Mizuno as the third and final part of her "fractured fairy tales".
  • Fairy Tale Police Department (2002), an Australian animated television series, has one episode that is based on the story.
  • Hans Christian Andersen The Fairytaler (alternately titled as Tales from H.C. Andersen) (2004), an animated television anthology, has a one-hour adaptation.
  • De Kleine Zeemeermin (2004), a stage musical adaptation by Studio 100 directed by Gert Verhulst, with music by Johan Vanden Eede. The show premiered in Belgium in 2004 starring Free Souffriau as the mermaid, and then transferred to the Netherlands where Kim-Lian and Kathleen Aerts portrayed the mermaid.[6]
  • The Little Mermaid (2005), a modern-rendition ballet by the Royal Danish Ballet, composed by Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach and choreographed by John Neumeier, premiered on 15 April 2005.[7]
  • "The Little Mermaid" (Die kleine Meerjungfrau) (2007), an orchestral piece by Lior Navok for an actress, two pianos and a chamber ensemble/orchestra, premiered on 28 July 2007.[8]
  • Rusalka (2007), a Russian modern-day film by Anna Melikyan, set in Russia.[9]
  • The Little Mermaid (2008), a Broadway stage musical based on the 1989 Disney film, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater. The show premiered on January 10, 2008 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
  • Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008), an animated Hayao Miyazaki film based loosely on the story.[10][11]
  • "人魚姫/Ningyo Hime" ("The Little Mermaid") and "リトマメ/Rito Mame" ("Little Mermaid") (2009), a pair of songs produced using the Vocaloid software, is based on the story.
  • "Ningyo No Namida" ("Tears of the Mermaid") (2009), a song by Japanese visual kei band LM.C's, is loosely based on the story.
  • John Neumeier's The Little Mermaid (2010), a San Francisco Ballet, premiered on March 20, 2010.
  • SimsalaGrimm (2010), an animated German television anthology, broadcast a half-hour adaptation.
  • The Mermaid's Madness (2010), a book adaptation by Jim C. Hines, in which the mermaid, Lirea, is on a quest of revenge on the human prince who denied her advances, having been driven insane due to a side effect of her transformation.
  • Below (2013), a stage adaptation by Adapt Theatre Productions, a small fringe-theatre production company in Chicago, Illinois. The story is written in blank verse by actor/playwright Lane Flores and is from the perspective of the little mermaid's sisters, who have kidnapped the story's prince to judge his compassion for their deceased sister.
  • Once Upon a Time (2013), an ABC television series, uses characters and elements of the 1989 animated Disney film.
  • The Wolf Among Us (2013), a video game by Telltale Games, has a character named Nerissa, who is based on the little mermaid.
  • Die kleine Meerjungfrau (2013), a live-action made-for-TV German adaptation directed by Irina Popow and starring Zoe Moore.
  • The Little Mermaid (2013), a theatrical adaptation by Blind Tiger, a London-based Actor Musician theatre company, focuses on Hans Christian Andersen's influences when creating the fairytale. The show opened in December 2013 at Riverside Studios.[12]
  • Little From the Fish Shop (2014), a modern-day stop-motion film adaptation by Czech artist Jan Balej.[13]
  • The Idle Mermaid (2014), a South Korean television serial modern retelling that ran for 10 episodes.
  • Dark Parables (2014), an episodic video game with one installment, The Little Mermaid and the Purple Tides, that is adapted from the story. In the game, the king and his five daughters are transformed into a man-crab hybrid and five mermaids and have to break the curse.
  • It was announced in 2014 that Sofia Coppola has planned to direct a live-action version for Universal Pictures and Working Title Films.[14]

The Little Mermaid statue

A statue of the Little Mermaid sits on a rock in the Copenhagen harbor in Langelinie. 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 based on the fairy tale. The sculptor Edward Eriksen created the statue, which was unveiled on 23 August 1913. His wife, Eline Eriksen, was the model. It has been severely vandalized several times.[15]

In May 2010, it was moved from its Copenhagen harbor emplacement for the first time ever, for transport to Expo 2010 in Shanghai, where it remained until October 20, 2010. In the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, when Ariel is sitting on top of the rock looking longingly at Prince Eric, she is in exactly the same position as the statue.


  1. ^ Hans Christian Andersen Center: Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Mermaid
  2. ^ , Odense, 1993Andersen og VerdenBøggild, Jacob, & Pernille Heegaard, "Ambiguity in Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid", published in . Via Summaries of papers from previous international HCA conferences, Hans Christian Andersen Center, Institute of Literature, Media and Cultural Studies at the University of South Denmark
  3. ^ a b The Little MermaidSur La Lune fairy tales, notes on
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Altman, Anne E., DeVos, Gail (2001). Tales, Then and Now: More Folktales As Literary Fictions for Young Adults. Libraries Unlimited. p. 187.  
  6. ^ "De Kleine Zeemeermin van de Zevende musical Studio 100". Retrieved 2015-02-12. 
  7. ^ , "Performing Arts, Europe: Dance"Britannica Book of the Year 2006
  8. ^ "Lior Navok's 'The Little Mermaid'"
  9. ^ "Rusalka (2007)"
  10. ^ "Ponyo". Walt Disney Studios. 
  11. ^ Fred Topel (12 August 2009). "Legendary animator Miyazaki reveals Ponyo's inspirations". Sci Fi Wire. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Tizard, Will (2014-07-08). "Czech Animation ‘Little From the Fish Shop’ Dives Into Int’l Waters". Retrieved 2014-07-10. 
  14. ^ Fleming, Mike (March 18, 2014). "Sofia Coppola To Direct 'Little Mermaid' Live-Action Movie". Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Denmark may move Little Mermaid". BBC News. 30 March 2006. 

External links

  • The Little Mermaid Gallery
  • See photos of The Little Mermaid
  • "The Little Mermaid", Jean Hersholt's English translation
  • 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, and bibliography
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