The Little Mermaid as depicted by William Heath Robinson in an illustration from a 1913 British edition of Andersen's fairy tales.

"The Little Mermaid" (Danish: "Den lille Havfrue") is a romantic fantasy story for children by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It was first published in 1837 in the first volume of Andersen's Fairy Tales Told to Children, which also contained "The Tinderbox", "The Princess and the Pea", "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "Thumbelina".

The protagonist of the story is a mermaid princess, the youngest daughter of the ruler of the seas, who falls in love with a human prince. Her love for the prince, in addition to her desire to live on after death by becoming human and acquiring an immortal soul, lead the Little Mermaid to seek help from the Sea Witch. Although she is able to give the Little Mermaid legs, the Sea Witch tells her that she can only gain an immortal soul if she wins the prince's true love.

The story has inspired ballets, songs, television programs, live-action movies and numerous animated cartoons, the best known of which is the full-length feature film version from Walt Disney which was released in 1989.

A statue of the Little Mermaid, which has become one of the best known symbols of Denmark, sits on a rock at Copenhagen harbor. The statue was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen, heir to the Carlsberg brewery, after he became enchanted by a ballet based on Andersen's story. The completed sculpture by Edward Eriksen was unveiled in 1913.


The Little Mermaid is the daughter of the sea king and the owner of the most enchanting voice in the world. She lives beneath the ocean with her father, her grandmother and her five older sisters, each sister having been born a year apart. Mermaids are not allowed to travel to the ocean's surface and glimpse the human world until they are 15-years old. As each of the sea king's daughters turns 15, each one goes to visit the world above. Each year, the Little Mermaid listens eagerly to her sisters' descriptions of the sights they have seen and longs to see them for herself.

19th century illustration for "The Little Mermaid" by an unknown artist.

Having turned 15, the Little Mermaid rises to the surface of the sea for the first time. She sees a handsome prince on a ship and immediately falls in love with him. The ship is struck by a terrible storm and is wrecked. The prince nearly drowns but the Little Mermaid saves him. She brings the unconscious prince to shore and waits with him until a young woman approaches from a nearby temple. The prince does not see the Little Mermaid and credits the young woman from the temple with saving his life.

The Little Mermaid asks her grandmother about the differences between merpeople and humans. Her grandmother explains that humans cannot breathe underwater and that, unlike merfolk who live for three hundred years, their lives are relatively short. However, unlike humans, merpeople do not have an immortal soul. When they die, their bodies change into foam on the sea and their spirits cease to exist. The Little Mermaid longs to marry the prince and also to gain an immortal soul.

In order to become human, the Little Mermaid visits the Sea Witch. She tells the Little Mermaid that she has a potion which will give her legs and make her dance more gracefully than any human has ever done before but she will never be able to return to the ocean after she has taken it. The Sea Witch sells the potion to the Little Mermaid in exchange for her tongue, meaning that the Little Mermaid loses her beautiful voice forever. The Little Mermaid is warned that taking the potion will be extremely painful and that she will also suffer almost unbearable pain each time she dances. She will also only obtain an immortal soul if she wins the prince's love and he marries her, a part of his soul would then pass into the Little Mermaid. If the prince marries another woman, the Little Mermaid will die at dawn on the day after his wedding and her body will change into foam on the sea.

Edward Eriksen's statue of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Having taken the potion, the Little Mermaid goes ashore and meets the prince. Although, she cannot speak, her beauty and graceful dancing captivate the prince. The Little Mermaid is happy to dance for the prince, in spite of the terrible pain it cause her. However, the prince only wishes to marry the young woman from the temple who he believes saved his life.

The prince's father, the king, tells him that he has to marry a princess from the neighboring kingdom. The prince initially says that he will not a marry a woman who he does not love. However, when he meets the princess, he sees that she is the girl he credits for saving him from drowning, she had been receiving an education at the temple. The prince is delighted to agree to the marriage.

On the night of the prince's wedding, the Little Mermaid waits for her death which will come at dawn. Her sisters arrive and explain that they sold their hair to the Sea Witch in exchange for a magical knife. If the Little Mermaid kills the prince with the knife and lets his blood fall on her feet, she will become a mermaid again and will live out the rest of her long life. The Little Mermaid cannot bring herself to murder the prince and throws herself into the sea at the first light of dawn.

Although her body has dissolved into foam on the sea, the Little Mermaid realizes that her spirit has not ceased to exist. She is approached by some other spirits who tell her that they are daughters of the air and that she has become one of them. Daughters of the air move invisibly around the world, send soothing cool breezes to people in hot countries and make sure that the wind carries pleasant aromas with it. They can eventually gain immortal souls if they do good deeds for three hundred years. However, if a daughter of the air enters a house in which there is a naughty child, she cries and for each tear that she sheds, she has to wait another year until she is allowed to enter Paradise. Each time a daughter of the air enters a house in which there is a good child, a year is taken off the time that she has to wait before she can finally go to Heaven.

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