The Little Mermaid
Classic Fairy Tale
by Hans Christian Andersen
Illustrated by Edmund Dulac
Classic Children's Stories
by Melissa Griswold
nce upon a time, in a splendid
palace on the bed of the bluest ocean, lived the Sea King, a wise old triton with a long
flowing white beard. He lived in a magnificent palace, built of gaily coloured coral and
seashells, together with his five daughters, very beautiful mermaids.
Sirenetta, the youngest and loveliest of them all, also
had a beautiful voice, and when she sang, the fishes flocked from all over the sea to
listen to her. The shells gaped wide, showing their pearls and even the jellyfish stopped
to listen. The young mermaid often sang, and each time, she would gaze upwards, seeking
the faint sunlight that scarcely managed to filter down into the depths.
"Oh, how I'd love to go up there and at last see the
sky, which everyone says is so pretty, and hear the voices of humans and smell the scent
of the flowers!"
"You're still too young!" said her mother.
"In a year or two, when you're fifteen. Only then will the King let you go up there,
like your sisters!" Sirenetta spent her time wishing for the world of humans, she
listened to her sisters' stories, and every time they returned from the surface, she would
ask them questions, to satisfy her curiosity.
And as she waited for the day when she too would be
allowed to reach the surface of the sea and meet the unknown world, Sirenetta spent her
time in her wonderful sea garden. The seahorses kept her company, and sometimes a dolphin
would come and play. Only the unfriendly starfish never replied when she called. At last,
her long-desired birthday came. The night before, Sirenetta could not sleep a wink. In the
morning, her father called her and, stroking her long golden hair, slipped a lovely carved
flower into her locks .
"There, now you
can go to the surface. You'll breathe air and see the sky. But remember! It's not our
world! We can only watch it and admire! We're children of the sea and have no soul, as men
do. Be careful and keep away from them; they can only bring bad luck!" In a second,
Sirenetta had kissed her father and was darting smoothly towards the surface of the sea.
She swam so fast with flicks of her slender tail, that even the fish could not keep up
Suddenly she popped out of the water. How wonderful! For
the first time, she saw the great blue sky, in which as dusk began to fall, the first
stars were peeping out and twinkling. The sun, already over the horizon, trailed a golden
reflection that gently faded on the heaving waves. High overhead, a flock of gulls spotted
the little mermaid and greeted her arrival with shrieks of pleasure.
"It's so lovely!" she exclaimed happily. But
another nice surprise was in store for her: a ship was slowly sailing towards the rock on
which Sirenetta was sitting. The sailors dropped anchor and the ship swayed gently in the
calm sea. Sirenetta watched the men go about their work aboard, lighting the lanterns for
the night. She could clearly hear their voices.
"I'd love to speak to them!" she said to
herself. But then she gazed sadly at her long flexible tail, her equivalent of legs, and
said to herself: "I can never be like them!" Aboard ship, a strange excitement
seemed to seize the crew, and a little later, the sky became a spray of many coloured
lights and the crackle of fireworks filled the sky.
"Long live the captain! Hurray for his 20th
birthday. Hurray! Hurray . . . many happy returns!" Astonished at all this, the
little mermaid caught sight of the young man in whose honour the display was being held.
Tall and dignified, he was smiling happily, and Sirenetta could not take her eyes from
him. She followed his every movement, fascinated by all that was happening. The party went
on, but the sea grew more agitated. Sirenetta anxiously realized that the men were now in
danger: an icy wind was sweeping the waves, the ink black sky was torn by flashes of
lightning, then a terrible storm broke suddenly over the helpless ship. In vain Sirenetta
screamed: "Look out! Beware of the sea . . ." But the howling wind carried her
words away, and the rising waves swept over the ship. Amidst the sailors' shouts, masts
and sails toppled onto the deck, and with a sinister splintering sound, the ship sank.
By the light of one of the oil lamps Sirenetta had seen
the young captain fall into the water, and she swam to his rescue. But she could not find
him in the high waves and, tired out, was about to give up, when suddenly there he was on
the crest of a nearby wave. In an instant, he was swept straight into the mermaids arms.
The young man was unconscious and the mermaid held his
head above water in the stormy sea, in an effort to save his life. She clung to him for
hours trying to fight the tiredness that was overtaking her.
Then, as suddenly as it had sprung up, the storm died
away. ln a grey dawn over a still angry sea, Sirenetta realized thankfully that land lay
ahead. Aided by the motion of the waves, she pushed the captain's body onto the shore,
beyond the water's edge. Unable herself to walk, the mermaid sat wringing her hands, her
tail lapped by the rippling water, trying to warm the young captain with her own body.
Then the sound of approaching voices startled Sirenetta and she slipped back into deeper
"Come quickly! Quickly!" came a woman's voice
in alarm. "There's a man here! Look, I think he's unconscious!" The captain was
now in good hands.
"Let's take him up to the castle!"
"No, no! Better get help . . ." And the first
thing the young man saw when he opened his eyes again was the beautiful face of the
youngest of a group of three ladies.
"Thank you! Thank you . . . for saving my life . .
." he murmured to the lovely unknown lady.
From the sea Sirenetta watched the man she had snatched
from the waves turn towards the castle, without knowing that a mermaid had saved his life.
Slowly swimming out to sea, Sirenetta felt that there on the beach she had left behind
something she could never bring herself to forget. How wonderful those tremendous hours in
the storm had been, as she had battled with the elements. And as she swam down towards her
father's palace, her sisters came to meet her, anxious to know what had kept her so long
on the surface. Sirenetta started to tell her story, but suddenly a lump came to her
throat and, bursting into tears, she fled to her room. She stayed there for days, refusing
to see anyone or to touch food. She knew that her love for the young captain was without
hope, for she was a mermaid and could never marry a human.
Only the Witch of the Deeps could help her. But what
price would she have to pay? Sirenetta decided to ask the Witch. ". . . so you want
to get rid of your fishy tail, do you? I expect you'd like to have a pair of woman's legs,
isn't that so?" said the nasty Witch scornfully, from her cave guarded by a giant
"Be warned!" she went on. "You will suffer
horribly, as though a sword were cutting you apart. And every time you place your feet on
the earth, you will feel dreadful pain!"
"It doesn't matter!" whispered Sirenetta, with
tears in her eyes. "As long as I can go back to him!"
"And that's not all!" exclaimed the Witch.
"In exchange for my spell, you must give me your lovely voice. You'll never be able
to utter a word again! And don't forget! If the man you love marries someone else, you
will not be able to turn into a mermaid again. You will just dissolve in water like the
foam on the wave!"
"All right!" said Sirenetta, eagerly taking the
little jar holding the magic potion. The Witch had told Sirenetta that the young captain
was actually a prince, and the mermaid left the water at a spot not far from the castle.
She pulled herself onto the beach, then drank the magic potion. An agonizing pain made her
faint, and when she came to her senses, she could mistily see the face she loved, smiling
down at her.
The witch's magic had worked the spell, for the prince
had felt a strange desire to go down to the beach, just as Sirenetta was arriving. There
he had stumbled on her, and recalling how he too had once been washed up on the shore,
gently laid his cloak over the still body, cast up by the waves.
"Don't be frightened! he said quickly. "You're
quite safe! Where have you come from?" But Sirenetta was now dumb and could not
reply, so the young man softly stroke her wet cheek.
"I'll take you to the castle and look after
you," he said. In the days that followed, the mermaid started a new life. She wore
splendid dresses and often went out on horseback with the prince. One evening, she was
invited to a great ball at Court. However, as the Witch had foretold, every movement and
each step she took was torture. Sirenetta bravely put up with her suffering, glad to be
allowed to stay near her beloved prince. And though she could not speak to him, he was
fond of her and showered kindness on her, to her great joy. However, the young man's heart
really belonged to the unknown lady he had seen as he lay on the shore, though he had
never met her since, for she had returned at once to her own land.
Even when he was in the company of Sirenetta, fond of her
as he was, the unknown lady was always in his thoughts. And the little mermaid, guessing
instinctively that she was not his true love, suffered even more.
She often crept out of the castle at night, to weep by
the seashore. Once she thought she could spy her sisters rise from the water and wave at
her, but this made her feel sadder than ever.
Fate, however, had another surprise in store. From the
Castle ramparts one day, a huge ship was sighted sailing into the harbour. Together with
Sirenetta, the prince went down to meet it. And who stepped from the vessel, but the
unknown lady who had been for long in the prince's heart. When he saw her, he rushed to
greet her. Sirenetta felt herself turn to stone and a painful feeling pierced her heart:
she was about to lose the prince for ever. The unknown lady too had never forgotten the
young man she had found on the beach and soon after, he asked her to marry him. Since she
too was in love, she happily said "yes".
A few days after the wedding, the happy couple were
invited for a voyage on the huge ship, which was still in the harbour. Sirenetta too went
on board, and the ship set sail. Night fell, and sick at heart over the loss of the
prince, Sirenetta went on deck. She remembered the Witch's prophecy, and was now ready to
give up her life and dissolve in the sea. Suddenly she heard a cry from the water and
dimly saw her sisters in the darkness. "Sirenetta! Sirenetta! It's us, your sisters!
We've heard all about what happened! Look! Do you see this knife? It's magic! The Witch
gave it to us in exchange for our hair. Take it! Kill the prince before dawn, and you will
become a mermaid again and forget all your troubles!"
As though in a trance, Sirenetta clasped the knife and
entered the cabin where the prince and his bride lay asleep. But as she gazed at the young
man's sleeping face, she simply blew him a furtive kiss, before running back on deck. When
dawn broke, she threw the knife into the sea. Then she shot a parting glance at the world
she was leaving behind, and dived into the waves, ready to turn into the foam of the sea
from whence she had come, and vanish.
As the sun rose over the horizon, it cast a long golden
ray of light across the sea, and in the chilly water, Sirenetta turned towards it for the
last time. Suddenly, as though by magic, a mysterious force drew her out of the water, and
she felt herself lifted high into the sky. The clouds were tinged with pink, the sea
rippled in the early mornlng breeze, and the little mermaid heard a whisper through the
tinkling of bells: "Sirenetta, Sirenetta! Come with us ..."
"Who are you?" asked the mermaid, surprised to
find she had recovered the use of her voice. "Where am I?"
"You're with us in the sky. We're the fairies of the
air! We have no soul as men do, but our task is to help them. We take amongst us only
those who have shown kindness to men!"
Greatly touched, Sirenetta looked down over the sea
towards the prince's ship, and felt tears spring to her eyes. The fairies of the air
whispered to her: "Look! The earth flowers are waiting for our tears to turn into the
morning dew! Come along with us ..."