The Little Mermaid

"The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christen Andersen

In the deepest part of the furthest ocean stands the castle of the Sea King. Within the castle resides the Royal Sea King, his six young daughters and all of his subjects. The sea-princesses were all beautiful children and were taken care of by their Grandmother. But the little mermaid, the youngest of the sisters, was the most beautiful of them all. She was quiet and thoughtful, and cared for nothing but her flowers and a beautiful marble statue she had found on the bottom of the sea. The statue, a handsome boy carved out of pure white stone, stood in the young princess's garden.

Nothing made the little mermaid happier than to hear about the world above the sea. She made her old grandmother tell her everything she knew about the ships and the towns, the people and the plants and the animals.

"On your fifteenth birthday," said her grandmother, "you can go to the surface of the sea and sit on the rocks in the moonlight while the great ships are sailing by. Then you can see the forests and towns with your very own eyes."

At night the little mermaid would gaze out her window, looking up through the dark blue water, and imagining the world overhead. She knew that the people on those ships never imagined that such a pretty little mermaid was floating beneath, longing to be among them, and waiting so patiently for the five years until her fifteenth birthday.

"Oh, if only I were fifteen years old!" she said. "I know that I will love the world up above, and all the people who live there."

At last, her fifteenth birthday arrived. As the sun was setting, she raised her head above the waves for the very first time. The clouds were colored with crimson and gold, and through the glimmering twilight the brightest of the stars began to shine. The sea was calm, and a ship floated idly nearby. There was music and song on board, and, as darkness fell, the reflections of a hundred colored lanterns began to dance merrily on the waves.

The little mermaid swam closer to the ship. She peered inside the cabin windows, and saw a group of people laughing and talking happily together. Among them was a handsome young prince, with large dark eyes. He was turning sixteen years old, and his birthday was cause for much celebration. The sailors danced and sang, and when the prince arrived on deck, more than a hundred rockets shot up into the air, bursting with light and showering the little princess with falling stars.

Night was falling, yet the little mermaid could not take her eyes off of the ship, or the beautiful prince. Soon, the lights were put out, and the sea started to become restless and the wind blew faster and harder. Still, she remained, rocking up and down on the water, gazing at the ship.

After a while, the sails were hastily unfurled, and the noble ship began to move once again. The waves rose higher and higher, heavy clouds darkened the sky, and lightning appeared in the distance. A dreadful storm was approaching. The ship fought the storm, rushing between the threatening waves. But before long, the ship groaned and creaked; the thick planks gave way under the lashing of the sea as waves broke over the deck. They snapped the mast and soon the ship lay over on her side with the water rushing in.

The little mermaid now saw that the crew was in danger.
It was so pitch dark that she could not see a single object, but a flash of lightning revealed the whole scene; she could see everyone except the prince. She searched the water, and spotted him sinking into the deep waves. She swam frantically among the beams and planks that littered the surface, grabbed hold of him, held his head above the water, and let the waves drift them towards the shore.

By morning the storm had passed and the sea was calm, but not a single piece of the ship was to be seen. With the prince still in her arms, the mermaid kissed his forehead and stroked back his wet hair. He reminded her of the marble statue in her little garden, and she kissed him again, wishing that he might live.

Soon they came in sight of land. Carrying the prince, she swam to the beach and there she laid him on the sand in the warm sunshine. The little mermaid swam away from the shore but kept her eyes on the poor prince.

Before long, a young girl approached the spot where the prince lay. She ran for help, and soon the prince awoke again. The prince was carried away, without knowing who had saved him, and the little princess sadly dived into the water, returning to her father's castle.

The little mermaid had always been a silent and thoughtful child, but now she was quieter than ever. Her sisters asked her what she had seen at the surface of the water, but she would tell them nothing. Many an evening and morning she swam to the place where she had left the prince. It was her only comfort to sit in her own little garden, and fling her arms round the beautiful marble statue that reminded her of him. But she gave up tending her flowers, and they grew in wild confusion over the paths, twining their long leaves and stems round the branches of the trees, so that the whole place became dark and gloomy.

Finally she could bear it no longer, and told one of her sisters about the prince. Then the others heard the secret, and very soon it became known to two mermaids who happened to know who the prince was. They had also seen the festival on board the ship that night, and told the sisters where the prince's palace stood.

His castle was built of bright yellow shining stone, with long flights of marble steps, one of which reached quite down to the sea. Now that she knew where he lived, the little mermaid spent many nights on the water near the palace. She would swim much nearer the shore than any of the others ventured to do to watch the young prince in the bright moonlight. Over time, she grew more and more fond of human beings, and wished more and more to be able to wander among them in their great wide world.

No matter how hard she tried she could not forget the charming prince. She crept away silently out of her father's palace one day, and sat in her own little garden, sad and alone. Then she heard a bugle sounding through the water, and thought: "That must be him up above. Oh, how I would give everything I have for him, and for an immortal soul so that I could be with him forever and always! I will go to the sea witch. I know I should not, and she does scare me more than anything else, but maybe she can help me."

So the little mermaid left her garden, and swam down the road to the foaming whirlpools where the witch lived.

She entered a marshy clearing in the middle of the forest where large, fat, ugly water-snakes rolled around in the thick black muck. Here stood a house, built with the pieces of all the broken ships ever to be destroyed in the ocean. The sea witch sat nearby and noticed the pretty little mermaid approaching her hut.

"Well hello little princess. Don't bother explaining, I know what you want," said the sea witch in a raspy voice. "It is very stupid of you, but you shall have your way, and it will only bring you sadness, my pretty princess. You want to get rid of your fish's tail, and to have legs instead, like a human being, so that the young prince may fall in love with you." She laughed out loud, before continuing, "You are just in time," said the witch, "for after sunrise tomorrow I should not be able to help you till the end of another year. I will prepare a potion for you. You must swim to land before sunrise, and sit down on the shore and drink it. Your tail will shrink into a pair of legs. It will be painful, like you have never known before, but everyone will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. Are you sure you want to risk your happiness for this fleeting moment?" she asked.

"Yes, I will," said the little princess in a trembling voice, as she thought of the prince.

"But think again," said the witch, "for once you have become human, you can never be a mermaid again. You can never return to your sisters, or to your father's palace, and if you do not win the love of the prince, then you will be heartbroken forever. The first morning after he marries another your heart will break, and you will become nothing more than foam on the crest of the waves."

"I will do it," said the little mermaid, turning pale as she said this.

"Ah, but I must be paid," cackled the witch, "and it is not a trifle that I ask. You have the sweetest voice of all, and you must give to me."

"But if you take away my voice," said the little mermaid, "what is left of me?"

"Your beautiful form, your graceful walk, and your expressive eyes. Surely with these you can win a man's heart. Well, have you lost your courage? It is a small price to pay for your prince."

"O-Ok," nodded the little mermaid.

Then the witch placed her cauldron on the fire, to prepare the magic drink. The witch threw tons of ingredients into the pot, one after another, and when it began to boil, the sound was like the weeping of a crocodile. When at last the magic potion was ready, it looked like the clearest water.

"There it is," said the witch. The little mermaid turned to leave, with the crystal clear potion in her hand like a twinkling star.

She swam quickly back through the woods and the marsh, and between the rushing whirlpools. She saw that in her father's palace the torches in the ballroom had gone out, and everyone was asleep. She turned her back, knowing that she would never see them again, and felt as though her heart was about to split into a thousand pieces.

The sun had not yet risen when she came in sight of the Prince's palace. There, she drank the magic potion immediately passing from its strong magic. When the sun arose over the sea, she awoke to find the handsome young prince gazing down at her. He fixed his coal-black eyes upon her so earnestly that she had to look away, and then became aware that her fish's tail was gone, and that she had as pretty a pair of white legs and tiny feet. The prince asked her who she was, and where she came from, and she looked at him mildly and sadly with her deep blue eyes.

Oh, how she wanted to tell him everything, but she could not speak! He helped her to her feet, and every step she took was more painful than the last, but she endured it, and stepped lightly and gracefully by the prince's side. He took her into his palace and dressed her in robes of silk and muslin. She was the most beautiful creature in the palace, but she was silenced, and could neither speak nor sing.

The prince was enchanted by her, and said she should remain with him always. He had a dress made for her, so she could ride with him on horseback and soon, the two became best friends. As the days passed, the little mermaid loved the prince more and more, and he loved her, too. But he loved her as he would love a little child, and never thought about marrying her.

"Yes, you are dear to me," the prince told the little mermaid one day. "You have the best heart, and you are the most devoted to me out of anyone I know. You remind me of a young maiden I once saw, but I will never meet again. I was in a ship that was wrecked, and the waves cast me ashore near a holy temple. A young maiden there found me on the shore, and saved my life. I saw her but twice, and she is the only one in the world I could love. You are like her, and you have almost made me forget about her."

The princess wanted to cry and tell the prince that she was that maiden, but alas, she could not. And so soon it was announced that the prince must marry, and that the beautiful daughter of a neighboring king would be his wife.

"We must travel," said the prince. "I must see this beautiful princess; my parents want me to. But I cannot love her; she is not like the beautiful maiden who saved me. If I were forced to choose a bride, I would rather choose you, with your beautiful eyes."

The next morning the ship sailed into the harbor of a beautiful town belonging to the neighboring king. The church bells were ringing, and from the high towers sounded a flourish of trumpets. Soldiers, with colorful banners and glittering bayonets, lined the shore to greet the prince and his family. That day was a celebration, full of great dances and festivals in the streets and the palace.

At last the princess entered, more beautiful than anyone had imagined. Her skin was delicate and fair, and beneath her long dark eyelashes her blue eyes shone and glittered.

"You are the most beautiful person I have ever laid eyes on!" exclaimed the prince when he saw his bride to be.

"Oh, I am so happy," said he to the little mermaid, "all of my dreams have come true!" Struck by the beauty of the princess, he had completely forgotten about the maiden who saved his life.

The day of the wedding arrived. Everyone was full of excitement and laughter, but the little mermaid, dressed in silk and gold, was broken-hearted. She had lost everything she had, and that night was to be her last.

Later in the day, after the ceremony, the bride and groom boarded the elegant ship that had been prepared for them. It glided away smoothly and lightly over the calm sea. The little mermaid could not help but think about the first time she had seen the surface of the water, on the prince's birthday. Now, she joined in the dancing, and had never danced so elegantly before. She knew this was the last evening she should ever see the prince, for whom she had given everything. This was the last time that she would breathe the same air as him, or gaze up at the starry sky and down into the deep sea.

The celebration on the ship continued till long after midnight; the little mermaid laughed and danced with everyone, even though her heart was full of pain and sadness. Eventually it grew darker, the party went to sleep, and the ship became quiet. The little mermaid leaned against the side of the ship and watched the horizon, waiting for the sun to rise. Taking one last breath, she flung herself over the edge of the ship into the sea.

But as the sun rose, casting its warm rays onto the ocean, the little mermaid did not turn into the water foam she had expected. Instead, she saw hundreds of beautiful transparent beings floating all around her. "Who are you?" asked the little mermaid.

"We are the fairies of the earth" answered one of the figures. "Because of your kind heart and your good deeds, we have decided to give you your life back in the sea. You truly sacrificed your life for the prince, even dancing with a broken heart on his wedding day. You now know that even though someone else's life might look better, ultimately you have to be true to yourself."

With that, the Earth Fairies floated away and the Little Mermaid grew back her fish feet. She swam to her family, hugged her father, kissed her sisters, and cried with her grandmother. Finally, the Little Mermaid had discovered true happiness.