"The Little Mermaid" is a fairy tale by 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.
Written originally as a ballet, the tale was first published in 1837 and has been adapted to various media including musical theater and animated film.
As she has with previous interpretations of classics, Zwerger (Alice in Wonderland) works from Bell's faithful translation of Andersen's text, with no happily ever after. Here the mermaid must watch her beloved prince marry another, knowing that she herself will die the following day. Zwerger's exquisite watercolors bring to life the mermaid's world. At a window in the castle of her father, the sea king, the mermaid gazes out into the blue-green distance, wondering what life above must be like; while fish dart in and out, she pets one absently. Watery meadows of jade and turquoise suggest empty silence and foreshadow the mermaid's sacrifice to the sea witch in exchange for a human form, the heroine must trade her voice, "a lovelier voice than anyone on earth or in the sea." Zwerger represents the mermaid's shunning of her undersea home with a depiction of her overgrown garden, once the heroine's pride and joy. Other memorable scenes, framed in a white border, depict the mermaid towing the prince to shore after a shipwreck and, later, as dawn breaks on the day she is to turn to sea foam, the mermaid looks resolute, clothed in a glorious golden gown that resembles fish scales. Zwerger's parting scene, an aerial view of the prince's ship sailing away, amplifies the bittersweet yet redemptive conclusion, in which the little mermaid, now a "child of the air," may earn an immortal soul. The illustrations may well provide endless hours of reverie. Ages 4-8.