The Little Mermaid and her Creator
|Destined to spend eternity in front of tourists' cameras, Den Lille Havfrue mirrors her creator's life of unrequited love.|
"Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as a cornflower, as clear as crystal, and very, very deep..." there lived a young mermaid. So begins one of Hans Christian Andersen's — and Denmark's — best-known stories. The plot line starts much like the Disney children's movie, but it's spiced with poetic description and philosophical dialogue about the immortal soul.
The mermaid's story goes like this: One day, a young mermaid spies a passing ship and falls in love with a handsome human prince. The ship is wrecked in a storm, and she saves the prince's life. To be with the prince, the mermaid asks a sea witch to give her human legs. In exchange, she agrees to give up her voice and the chance of ever returning to the sea. And, the witch tells her, if the prince doesn't marry her, she will immediately die heartbroken and without an immortal soul. The mermaid agrees, and her fish tail becomes a pair of beautiful but painful legs. She woos the prince — who loves her in return — but he eventually marries another. Heartbroken, the mermaid prepares to die. She's given one last chance to save herself: She must kill the prince on his wedding night. She sneaks into the bedchamber with a knife...but can't bear to kill the man she loves. The mermaid throws herself into the sea to die. Suddenly, she's miraculously carried up by the mermaids of the air, who give her an immortal soul as a reward for her long-suffering love.
The tale of unrequited love mirrors Andersen's own sad love life. He had two major crushes — one of them for the famous opera singer, Jenny Lind — but he was turned down both times, and he never married. Scholars with access to Andersen's actual diary believe he was bisexual and died a virgin. The great author is said to have feared he'd lose his artistic drive if he ever actually made love to another person. His dearest male friend (in the Romantic 19th century, when men tended to have more emotional and intimate friendships than is common today) inherited Andersen's entire estate upon his death in 1875.
The well-known, occasionally-vandalized statue of Den Lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid) can be seen in Copenhagen's Kastellet Park, where she's been since 1913. She's easily reached by public bus, and featured on several boat and bus sightseeing tours.
Excerpted from Rick Steves' Scandinavia guidebook.