Friday’s Fairy tales: The Little Mermaid


It’s been nearly a month, but “Friday’s Fairytales” is back in full swing! And I’m kicking it off with discussing the Disney-takes-over-everything tale of “The Little Mermaid”.

Origins: the tale is Danish in it’s origins, written by Hans Christian Anderson and was first published in 1837.

The Tale:

  • The little mermaid lives with her father- the King of the Sea, grandmother and five sisters.

  • When the mermaids turn 15, they are allowed to go to the surface and watch the world above. The Younger sister listens to her elder sister’s tales with envy every year.

  • It becomes the younger sister’s turn eventually, and she goes to the surface. She spots a ship, and falls in love instantly with the first human she sees, who happens to be a prince (of course).

  • A storm hits, and the little mermaid saves the prince from nearly drowning in the sea. She takes him back to shore and stays with him until a girl from a nearby temple comes across him. She vanishes before the Prince can see her.

  • When the little mermaid returns home, she asks her grandmother if humans could live underwater. The grandma explains that humans live much shorter lives than mermaids, but when mermaids die, they turn into sea foam and cease to exist but humans have “heaven” where their eternal souls carry on living.

  • Longing for both the prince and an eternal soul, the little mermaid decides to visit the Sea Witch, who sells her a potion which will give her legs in exchange for her tongue, because the little mermaid has the loveliest voice in the sea.

  • The Sea Witch does warn her that once she becomes human, she can never return to the sea

    and that drinking the potion will hurt a lot, but once she has recovered she will have two legs. She will be able to dance like no other human has danced before, but when she walks it will feel as though she is walking on knives.

  • In addition to all these lovely perks, she will only obtain a human soul if she finds true love’s kiss, and if the prince will love and marry her- at which point part of his soul will extend into her. Otherwise, at dawn on the first day after he marries another, the little mermaid will die of a broken heart and turn into sea foam.

  • The little mermaid drinks the potion and transforms into a human. She meets the prince again, who is stunned by her beauty and grace, despite her being mute. He loves to see her dance and she dances for him a lot despite her suffering the constant pain of her feet.

  • The Prince’s father announces he must marry the daughter of the neighbouring kingdom. The prince tells the little mermaid that he cannot marry the daughter because he does not love the princess. He says he can only love the young woman from the temple as he believes it is she who rescued him on the night of the storm.

  • The brief hope is cancelled though because it turns out the girl from the temple, who came across the unconscious prince, is actually the neighbouring king’s daughter, whom his father wants him to marry. The prince declares he loves this girl and the wedding is announced.

  • The couple marry, and the little mermaid’s heart breaks.

  • She thinks of everything she has given up and suffered for the prince, and she despairs, thinking of the death that waits for her.

  • Her sisters, before dawn, appear at the surface with a knife they got from the Sea Witch in exchange for their long hair, if the little mermaid can murder the prince with the knife, and lets his blood drip on her feet, she can revert to being a mermaid again, go back to the sea and live out her full mermaid lifespan of 300 years.

  • The little mermaid goes to the prince’s bedside that night, sees him sleeping with his bride, and cannot bring herself to kill him.

  • As dawn breaks, she throws herself into the sea. Her body dissolves into sea foam, but “instead of ceasing to exist, she feels the sun, she has turned into a spirit, a daughter of the air”

  • The other daughters of air explain to her that she has become so because she strove with all her heart to obtain an immortal soul. She will earn her soul by doing good deeds and will eventually rise up to the Kingdom of God

Originally, the tale ends with the little mermaid dissolving into sea foam and ceasing to exist. But Anderson later added the “Daughters of Air” ending, stating that was his original intention. . Anderson advised that the daughters of air believe that a human soul could be obtained after 300 years of doing good deeds, and that this depended on whether the children were good or badly behaved when they were alive. Scholars argue that this version of the ending falls in line with the Victorian beliefs of Christian mortality at the time and that this was a way of “scaring” the children into good behaviour.

Personally, I had always known the little mermaid basically commits suicide to save the Prince she loves- but I never knew about the little aftermath and the daughters of air- what did you guys think of it? Because it kind of left me feeling a little bittersweet and glad. Yes she didn’t get to marry her prince, but she has a chance to earn her immortal soul, which would mean it wasn’t all for nothing after all.


Obviously there are many films, ballets and plays regarding this tale. Here is a list of books I know of which are re-tellings of TLM . I can’t say I’ve read any of them yet, have you?

  1. Midnight Pearls (Once Upon a Time) – Debbie Viguie

  2. Fathomless (Fairytale Retellings) – Jackson Pearce (this is actually the next book in this series I need to read!)

  3. Mermaid- Carolyn Turgeon

  4. Monstrous Beauty – Elizabeth Fama

  5. Soul of the Sea (#1) – Jasmine Denton (gender swap tlm?)

  6. Sirena- Donna Jo Napoli

Have you read any re-tellings of The Little Mermaid and would like to share recommendations with us? How do you feel about the different renditions of the tale?


6 thoughts on “Friday’s Fairy tales: The Little Mermaid

  1. Aida says:

    Basically what I gather from these posts is that I need to read more fairytale! Never was a super big fan of TLM, but I do think that that ending is a pretty nice way to end it all.

    • thebookheap says:

      TLM was never a story that appealed to me either, but I’m glad I know about the additional ending now. 🙂 I need to read more too! There are so many I don’t know about!

  2. I haven’t read any mermaid books. I enjoyed this post. I never knew about the air spirits thing, I liked that much better than the original sad ending. Stupid prince!

    • thebookheap says:

      me either!! I knew the end where she killed herself because she couldn’t bring herself to kill the prince but I never knew the spirits thing. Which makes it a little bit of a nicer ending, like her sacrificing the 300 years lifespan with her family wasn’t entirely for nothing

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