Den lille Havfrue

  • Impact

    On her fifteenth birthday, the little mermaid swims up to the surface of the sea. She has eagerly been awaiting this day, since in every one of the previous five years one of her sisters has also visited the surface. The little mermaid thinks the human world is the most exciting thing imaginable. Until this day, she has experienced it only through the flotsam carried by the sea. It turns out to be an extraordinary experience for her, and best of all is the handsome prince with whom she falls deeply and passionately in love. When his ship is wrecked, she rescues him.

    The little mermaid is prepared to sacrifice everything to win the prince, and enters into a pact with the sea witch. In exchange for her voice, she obtains a magic potion that turns her into a human being; but if she fails to win the prince's heart, she will die and become foam on the sea.

    The prince grows very fond of the little mermaid, but nonetheless decides to marry a princess. Now all seems to be lost for the little mermaid; but her sisters make a bargain with the sea witch to return her to the sea. To become a real mermaid again, she must kill the prince, which she cannot do, and so she dies.

    The story seems very modern in its treatment of the theme of masculine versus feminine, with the sea and the mermaid representing the feminine, emotions and imagination, and the prince and the human world representing the masculine, reason and science. It also addresses the theme of developing from a child into an adult and becoming conscious of one’s own identity and sexuality – as illustrated by the little mermaid's awareness of wanting to leave behind her life in the sea for the sake of the prince.

    The mermaids, the sea witch and the other fantastical creatures that Anderson deftly borrows from folk tales underline here the dangerous aspects of sexuality. Finally, the story is also about love, which proves fatal for the little mermaid but is also what gives her a soul.

    The Little Mermaid has been translated into 50 languages or more. The fairy tale is famous worldwide and has been adapted to various media, including a Walt Disney film.

    Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales have been translated into 135 languages, all Baltic languages included. 

    Sofie Kiersgaard, librarian, Odense Central Library (translated from the Danish version on Litteratursiden

  • Balticness

    The sea plays a central and strongly symbolic role in the story. The sea, or rather the surface of the sea, represents a boundary between the two worlds below and above, which the Little Mermaid must transgress.

  • Bibliographic information

    The submitted text is part of the collected works “Eventyr, fortalte for Børn” (Fairy Tales for Children) published in the years 1838-41.

  • Translations
    Language Year Translator
    English 1872 Susannah Mary Paull
    English 1949 Jean Hersholt
    Finnish 1914 Maila Talvio
    German 1850  
    German ca 1900 Julius Reuscher
    German 1909 Mathilde Mann
    German 1953 Eva-Maria Blühm
    German 1976 Thyra Dohrenburg
    German 1982 Gisela Perlet
    German 1996 Heinrich Detering
    Icelandic 1987

    Steingrímur Thorsteinsson

    Swedish 1955 Erik Asklund
    Swedish 1997 Bengt Anderberg
  • Year of first publication
  • Place of first publication

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