Mermaid: A Twist On The Classic Tale
by Carolyn Turgeon
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Carolyn Turgeon’s latest book focuses on the mermaid princess, Lenia, and the human princess Margrethe. Margrethe is hiding in a convent, on her father’s orders, when she spots a beautiful mermaid off the coast. Margrethe is fascinated by the creature’s shimmering silver tail and ethereal beauty, but quickly realizes the mermaid has brought a dying man to the shore. The man is rushed to the convent infirmary and saved, and Margrethe falls for him. Meanwhile, Lenia has fallen in love with the man she rescued from the sea, and strikes a terrible bargain with the sea witch so that she can become a human and be with him.
It’s hard to tell how much of Margrethe’s feelings are for Christopher, the waterlogged prince, and how much of her attachment stems merely from the fact that he has been in contact with the mermaid. Margrethe is fascinated by Lenia. While not exactly friends, the two princesses do meet multiple times and talk about their two worlds. At times it seems like the only reason Margrethe loves the Prince is because he, too, has been with the mermaid and through him, she can be vicariously loved by Lenia and thus a part of the undersea world.
The best parts of the story were at the beginning, when Lenia was swimming around in the ocean with the fish. Here, vivid descriptions bring the cool, watery beauty of the undersea kingdom to life. OK, I did get tired of constant references to the strength of Lenia’s tail – we’re only reminded of it on practically every page – but overall, this section is quite strong. Unfortunately, compared to the rich imagining of the sea world, the lands above water suffer. Margrethe lives in a medieval kingdom admirable for its vague lack of identity. I mean, her kingdom’s name is the Northern Kingdom, while Christopher comes from the Southern Kingdom. Yeah. Turgeon dug real deep to come up with those names. While it’s nice to hear Margrethe’s point of view – she only makes a cursory appearance in the original fairy tale – it’s so poorly rendered that I’d almost rather the author hadn’t tried.
For a tale that claims to be a ‘twist’ on the classic story, Mermaid follows Andersen’s plot more faithfully than Disney’s Little Mermaid or the other variations on the tale that I can remember. The main plot rarely deviates, save at the end, when a big HAPPILY EVER AFTER comes charging in to save the original story’s tragic ending.
Since mermaids don’t have souls, Lenia is fascinated by them. She wants a soul, or at least to see one, more than anything. This desire to understand souls drives her to land almost as much as her love for Christopher. Unfortunately, her new happy ending robs her of the resolution she finds in the Andersen’s tale, which I found to the detriment of the story.
The sexuality of the mermaid has been seriously amped up, too – once human, she becomes the Prince’s mistress and even bears him a child. Even though it’s emphatically stated several times that the mermaid became completely human when she drank the witch’s potion, her accelerated pregnancy carries the child from conception to full term in a few short months.
Although a fairy tale, this is definitely not a novel for younger readers. There’s a fairly graphic description of a man drowning, a gross and bloody tongue removal, with a couple of sex scenes tossed in to spice things up. It’s really best for older teens and adult readers.
3 out of 5 stars