THE LITTLE MERMAID
The Little Mermaid (Den lille havfrue) is a fairy tale about a young mermaid who is willing to give up everything to gain the love of a prince and an eternal soul. The story was written in 1836 by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, and was first translated into English by H. P. Paull in 1872.
The Little Mermaid lives at the sea bottom with her father the Sea King, her grandmother, and her five older 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 human beings.
When the Little Mermaid turns 15 she ventures to the surface. She sees a ship with a handsome prince, and falls in love with him from a distance. There comes a great storm, and the prince almost drowns, but the Little Mermaid saves him and she delivers him unconscious to the shore near a temple. Here she waits until he is found by a young girl from the temple. The prince never sees the Little Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid asks her grandmother whether humans can live forever if they do not drown. She is told that no, humans have an even shorter lifespan than mermaids. Mermaids live for 300 years, but when they die they turn to sea foam and cease to exist. Humans, on the other hand, have a short lifespan on earth, but they have an eternal soul that lives on in heaven even after they die. The Little Mermaid spends her days longing for the prince and for an eternal soul. At last she goes to 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. But drinking the potion will make her feel like a sword is being passed through her, and walking on her feet will feel like walking on knives. And 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 broken-hearted and turn to sea foam like other merfolk.
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 even though it feels like dancing on knives. The prince loves her like one loves a child.
The time comes when the king decides that the prince is to marry the neighboring king's daughter. The prince tells the Little Mermaid that he will not marry the princess because he does not love her. He can only love the young girl who once saved his life, the girl who unfortunately belongs to the temple. He also tells the Little Mermaid that she is beginning to take the temple girl's place in his heart. However, it turns out that the princess is the temple girl; she had only been sent to the temple to be educated. The prince loves her and the wedding is announced.
The prince and princess are married and the Little Mermaid's heart breaks. She thinks of all that she has given up in order to be with the prince and to gain an eternal soul - her beautiful voice, her wonderful home, her loving family, her life - and of all the pain that she has suffered; all without the prince ever having a thought thereof. She despairs, but before dawn her sisters come to her and 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 be able to live out her full life under the sea.
But the Little Mermaid cannot bring herself to kill the sleeping prince lying with his bride and, as dawn breaks, throws herself into the sea. Here her body dissolves into sea 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 that she has become like them because she, like them, strove with all her heart to gain an eternal soul. As a mermaid her gaining a soul was dependent on another, the prince; but as a daughter of the air she will earn her own soul by doing good deeds. When 300 years have passed she will have earned her soul and will rise into the kingdom of God. This time can be shortened: with each good child she finds she subtracts a year, while she adds a day for each tear she must shed over a wicked child.
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