by Hans Christian Anderson.
Like her sisters before her, the Little Mermaid is only allowed to rise to the sea’s surface when she turns fifteen. It’s a rite of passage for mermaids, an experience that marks their coming of age.
When it’s the Little Mermaid’s turn to view the lands above the sea, she witnesses a handsome prince fall from his ship in a storm and saves him, carrying him in her arms to the shore where he lies unconscious. As the Little Mermaid watches from the ocean, a beautiful human approaches the Prince who awakens, and briefly glimpses the girl he believes has saved him. The Little Mermaid is very sad that the Prince doesn’t know he owes his life to her, and realises she has fallen in love with him.
The Little Mermaid is very discontented when she returns to her ocean kingdom and her family. She asks her grandmother if she can be immortal, like humans, but her grandmother tells her no, the only way for her to attain immortality is to be loved by a man more than he loves his mother and father. Then the man must marry her, and when he does, his soul will enter her body as well as staying in his own, and the Little Mermaid will attain immortality from their shared soul.
I want to be a human, cries the Little Mermaid, and marry the Prince I saved from the sea! Then I will be with the one I love and he will give me my soul!
Don’t be silly, her grandmother remonstrates. We mermaids live far longer than humans anyway.
But the Little Mermaid will not be dissuaded. She visits the Sea Witch and asks for a spell. The Sea Witch pulls no punches, and tells the Little Mermaid she is both stupid and doomed. However, says the Sea Witch, it is possible to replace her mermaid’s tail with human legs and feet if she insists, but there’ll be a price.
I don’t care about the price, declares the Little Mermaid. If I can be with my Prince and he gives me my soul no price is too high.
All right, says the Sea Witch, I will make you a potion. When you drink it will be as if you are swallowing knives. Then you will lose your tail, and grow human legs and feet. But every time you walk it will be as if you are walking on beds of broken glass. The pain will be excruciating.
And there’s another thing, continues the Sea Witch. I want your beautiful voice as payment, so you won’t be able to either speak or sing.
Take it! cries the Little Mermaid. I want only to be with my beloved Prince and for us to share our soul!
And you can never come back, says the Sea Witch. You can never again be a mermaid. And if he marries another your heart will break and you will become sea foam on the crests of the waves.
Wait, says the Little Mermaid. What will the Prince love about me if I have no voice?
Your beautiful form, your graceful walk and your expressive eyes will enchain a man’s heart. You don’t need a voice, says the Sea Witch. Come here and I’ll cut out your little tongue.
The Little Mermaid loses her tail and grows human legs and feet. It is just as the Sea Witch has promised: every step she takes is agonising and she has no voice with which to cry out her pain. She finds her Prince and he is indeed enchanted with her. Most of all he loves to watch her dance and she performs for him endlessly even though her pain is excruciating. He isn’t at all concerned that she cannot speak: as long as he can look at her and watch her graceful movements.
But even though the Prince is enchanted, he has refused to marry anyone other than the beautiful girl he believes rescued him from the stormy seas. He has vowed to spend his life, if necessary, searching for her. The Little Mermaid is unable to tell the Prince it was she who saved him, so she continues to perform for him every day, and at night sleeps outside his door on a velvet cushion.
One day the Prince finds the girl he thinks saved his life, and in due course they marry. The Little Mermaid is broken-hearted. It is the end of her life, and she has not even gained an immortal soul. Then suddenly her sisters appear in the sea below the palace. They’ve brought her a knife, obtained from the Sea Witch with instructions that if she kills the Prince as he sleeps she can reclaim her tail, and become a mermaid again.
But the Little Mermaid cannot kill her Prince and so she dies and becomes sea foam on the crests of the waves.