Book Review: The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen

Hi everyone! I hope you’re all well. Today is Friday, which means it’s time for another review, and today, I’m reviewing The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. It only seems fitting since the new live-action Disney adaptation is being released today, which I am very excited to see!

In the meantime, here is my review of the story that started it all.

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen was first published in 1837 by C. A. Reitzel and (my copy) is 44 pages long.

The story is about a mermaid who falls in love with a human prince and longs to become human so she can be with him. To that end, she makes a deal with a Sea Witch, trading her tongue for a potion to give her legs and a chance to win the prince’s heart.

The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid is the youngest of the Sea King’s daughters who, having fallen head over fin in love with a prince she saw on a forbidden visit to the surface, decides to seek out the Sea Witch to help her become human herself. Her goal is to marry the prince and share his human soul, which will grant her access to heaven when the time comes, where they can spend eternity together.

The Little Mermaid is depicted as curious, adventurous and eager to explore the world outside the sea. Her desire for a human soul and the love of a human prince sets her on a journey of sacrifice and self-discovery.
She is a complex and fascinating character who is brave and vulnerable with an unwavering determination to pursue her desires despite the many obstacles in her way.

The Sea Witch
The Sea Witch is a mysterious figure who helps The Little Mermaid become human by trading the Mermaid’s tongue for a magic potion that will give her legs. However, the Sea Witch warns her that her transformation will have consequences. She explains that if she drinks the potion and becomes human, then she will never be able to return to the sea. On top of that, drinking the potion will cause great pain (as if a sword is passing through her body), and once she recovers from that, and is transformed, every time she moves on her new legs, she will feel as though she is constantly walking on sharp knives.

The worst consequence of the transformation, however, is that if she fails to marry the prince and obtain a piece of his soul, then at dawn on the day after he marries another, the Little Mermaid will die, dissolving into seafoam.

In the retellings of this story, the Sea Witch is often shown to be a menacing and nefarious villain. However, in the original version, it appears she is just ‘an old hag’ who happens to make her living selling potions, even though the price for said potions is relatively high.

The Dinsey version is notable in evolving the character and making her a villain, thereby expanding her storyline into that of an antagonist.

The Prince
The prince is the object of the Little Mermaid’s unrequited affection. When his ship sinks, the Mermaid saves him, pulling him safely to the shore near a temple where a young woman finds him.

After the Little Mermaid’s transformation, the prince discovers her and is intrigued and charmed by her. She quickly becomes his favourite companion, though he does not fall in love with her.

Later, the prince’s parents arrange a marriage for him to a princess from a neighbouring kingdom, but the prince confides in the Little Mermaid that he refuses to marry the princess because he doesn’t love her. He explains that he can only truly love the one who saved his life. It turns out, however, that the princess from the neighbouring kingdom is the young woman from the temple who found him on the beach, the woman he believes saved him from drowning. So the prince declares his love for her, and they marry, unknowingly breaking the Little Mermaid’s heart.

The prince represents the ideal of aristocratic masculinity which is typical of fairytales. He is handsome, brave, kind and determined to find true love, even though his family expects him to marry whom they choose.

Writing Style
Andersen is a master of storytelling. His tales are always infused with rich and vivid details that transport the reader into mesmerising and extraordinary worlds. The world he created for The Little Mermaid is an incredible underwater wonderland filled with sea creatures, colourful corals, and majestic palaces. His lyrical prose and poetic descriptions create a dreamlike atmosphere that captures the imagination.

Another notable aspect of The Little Mermaid is its universal appeal. Despite being written over 185 years ago, the story’s themes of love, loss, and sacrifice are as relevant today as they were then.

Final Thoughts
At its core, The Little Mermaid is a powerful allegory about the human condition, exploring themes of family, sacrifice, and the nature of the soul; it speaks to the universal longing for connection and acceptance and the painful sacrifices we must sometimes make to achieve our deepest desires.

With all that said, and as much as I love this story (it’s one of my favourite stories ever), I have come to find a few issues with it over the years.
As I have gotten older, I have found a few problematic elements that would most likely be changed if the story was written today. For example, the Little Mermaid wants to forsake her family and run away to try and win the heart of a stranger… and on that subject, she also wants to change everything about herself, everything that makes her who she is, so that the prince will love her.

Though these elements would not be written this way today, I realise they are very much a sign of the times in which they were, and when you keep that in mind, none of it detracts anything from the story.

The story of The Little Mermaid has endured for many generations and with good reason; it is a beautifully written tale with meaningful themes and, more than that, it is a good story which takes the reader (or the listener if, like me, your parents read this on a loop to you at bedtime) on a journey to a land beneath the sea, a place we never get to visit and holds on to you, pulling you along to the story’s tragic end. It’s a story that never gets old or tiresome, proven, I think, in its ability to be retold over and over again, most notably in the Disney animated version from 1989 and the new live-action version, also from Disney, which, as I mentioned at the top, is being released today (Friday 26th May 2023).

I am giving The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen a solid 10/10.

Have you read the original tale or any of the retellings? Have you seen any of the adaptations? Let me know which is your favourite in the comments.

As always, thank you for stopping by and spending time with me today. I really appreciate it!

Until next time,


© 2023 GLT

Categories: Book Reviews, Reading

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