The Little Mermaid: 100 years of fairytale splendour

mermaidSHE has turned 100, and looks as young. And unlike you and me, she has no qualms about her age being revealed. After all, she is no ordinary human being; she’s the stuff fairytales are made of.

The Little Mermaid statue in Denmark,  one of the world’s most beloved and most photographed monuments, has come of age. She receives almost one million visitors every year and gets five million photographs of her taken every year.

With a melancholy expression glowing on her face, looking seawards, she sits by the quay — just a stone’s throw from the picturesque Nyhavn Street and the Danish Royal Palace. The statue was originally unveiled in 1913, inspired by the famous Hans Christian Andersen fairytale by the same name. Andersen, who lived from 1805 to 1875, spent most of his life in Copenhagen, close to the spot where the statue sits today.

mermaid-5To make her feel special on this milestone occasion, a special birthday party was thrown for her in Copenhagen on August 23, which was attended by ‘100 live mermaids’. Music flowed and there was a veritable feast, along with fun contests and birthday songs. The highlight was the mermaids’ act, wherein they jumped in the water and swam around the statue to form the number 100. Interestingly, the staff from Carlsberg – the world-famous brewery which is based in Copenhagen – also attended the party, arriving in original horse-drawn brewer’s wagons.

Actually, the Little Mermaid has a strong association with Carlsberg. Thanks to Carl Jacobsen’s initiative, the fairy-tale character became a public statue. In 1909, Jacobsen saw prima ballerina Ellen Price dance a role based on the little mermaid during a performance at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. He was so entranced by her performance that he asked her to pose for a statue of the protagonist of Andersen’s fairy-tale.

Although she agreed, she was not willing to pose in nude when she learned that Jacobsen planned to give the statue to the city of Copenhagen for public display. She modelled for the head. Jacobsen employed sculptor Edvard Erichsen to do the work and his wife posed for the body of the mermaid.

Erichsen sculpted in bronze and kept in mind that the mermaid of the story was called “little”. The sculpture is just over four feet high and weighs 175 kilograms.

mermaid2Not just her weight and frame have been designed in keeping with her fairytale-esque character, even her expressions echo the sentiments that the character in the story faced. She sits on a rock in the water near Langelinie Pier, staring out at sea with a gloomy expression. Andersen’s story is about a mermaid who saves the life of a shipwrecked prince and wants to win his love.

But since she is a mermaid, in order to be able to marry a human being, she has to give away her tongue and fish tail to get a pair of legs and turn into a girl worthy of the prince. She agrees for the bargain, but her dreams and sacrifices come to a nought since she still doesn’t get to wed the prince. Having already lost her fish tail, she can’t even return to live in the sea. So, the statue is looking towards the sea with a wistful longing, recalling her childhood and lost life in the sea. The Little Mermaid was placed in its current location in 1913, and apart from travelling to Shanghai in 2010 to represent her country at the World Fair, it has always remained there.

History, Her Story

mermaid-1The Little Mermaid (Danish: Den lille havfrue, literally means: “the little sea lady”) is a very well-known fairy tale by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen about a young mermaid willing to give up her life in the sea and her identity as a mermaid to gain a human soul and the love of a human prince. The tale was first published in 1837 and has been adapted to various media including musical theatre and animated film. The Little Mermaid even inspired a Walt Disney animated movie.