Ever since I read Phantastes: A Faerie Romance by George MacDonald which was described as a “fairy tale for adults”, and then later on, Snow, Glass, Apples, a short story by Neil Gaiman, I’ve wanted to read more of this “literary genre”, if it can be called that. Just like Gaiman takes the “Snow White” fairy tale and rewrites it into an amazing new story, I was hoping that Mermaid would go through a similar transformation.
This version of “The Little Mermaid” is actually not that far from the original – Lenia, the beautiful young mermaid, goes to the surface as part of her eighteenth birthday ritual, which all merpeople could follow if they so wished. There’s a terrible storm and she saves a young man from a sinking ship. She takes him to the shore, where Margrethe, the daughter of a king, finds him and saves his life.
The story goes back and forth between Lenia and Margrethe, with the prince in the middle – a love triangle which seems to stay pretty solid until the end. The drama comes not from the two girls trying to push each other out of the prince’s way but from the capacity of one of them to sacrifice herself so the other can have a chance at happiness as well. Lenia dreams of a marriage with the prince, a way to fulfill her love and gain a soul, something that merpeople did not have. Margrethe hopes that through a marriage with the prince, she can bring peace to a land torn by war between two kings, which seems a little too good of an excuse for her to marry the man she wants. In the end, only one of them gets her happily ever after.
As a fan of mythological creatures, legends and fairytales, I can say I have enjoyed this story, even though it brought too fewer new elements to the already known story of “The Little Mermaid”. I liked it because it managed to captivate my attention and to make me a part of that world – a nice diversion from my reading pattern. The writing is basic and unpretentious with romantic insertions but without being cloying.
Some of the paragraphs I liked:
“He was so beautiful. She had never seen anything so beautiful. But she could feel the life leaving him, and knew that she had done all she could do, that it was time to let other humans take care of him so that he could live. She looked up at the girl on the cliff, standing there watching them, transfixed. Her black hair blowing around her, her pale skin and brown eyes, her furs.
You, she thought again. Come now.”
“How can any of us tell when that thing comes that will make everything different? As she stood in the frozen convent garden at the end of the world, all those centuries before now, Margrethe had no idea that she was about to witness a miracle – the last mermaid to come to land, at the very end of the days when mermaids still longed to return to it.”
“Now, many centuries after those days when the mermaid came to earth and left it, after so many daughters and sons have been born, there are people all over the world who carry the mermaid inside them, that otherworldly beauty and longing and desire that made her reach for heaven when she lived in the darkness of the sea.”
I would recommend this book to someone who wants something easy and delightful to read, a reminder of a classic fairytale and an uncomplicated story that takes you away from the ordinary world. It may not be much in the way of surprises, but it is enjoyable nevertheless.
P.S. I wonder why the mermaid’s hair color on the cover of the book is not blonde like it was supposed to be in the story. Just a silly little detail that stood out for me. That, and the author’s name.
*Read in February 2012