Breaking the Mold of the Traditional Mermaid

© 2010, Lily Chang, Tiffany Kwan, Luann Pereira, Amanda Taylor
Ardizzone's Hans Andersen: Fourteen Classic Tales
The first page of Little Mermaid (p. 23).

Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Little Mermaid,' written in 1837, goes beyond the historical influences of mermaids in traditional folklore. At that time, mermaids were seen dangerous creatures that cause shipwreck and lure sailors to their death. In some folk tales, mermaids were also thought to have the ability to trap a sailor's soul in their cage. However, Andersen does not subscribe to the traditional view of mermaids, but rather allowed mermaids to play a positive role in his fairytale. In the "Little Mermaid," love and affection are only some of the positive qualities displayed in the mermaid, which go against the historical belief that mermaids were dangerous. Traditionally, in folklore, mermaids would leave the sea to find love in a human male. However, even if they fell in love and had families with a human, they would have a longing desire to return to the sea. This desire was overpowering and sometimes they were even able to convince their human lover into living with them in the sea; however, the little mermaid was able to find true love in human form and no longer has the intense desire to return to the sea. Andersen chose not to follow the historical traditions and beliefs about mermaids, but rather to create a new representation that generates a positive image. He choose to go against these 'norms,' just as other have described him in his works and creates the first story of a mermaid who desires to stay on land with her lover and remains there forever.