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This article focuses on the fairytale "The Little Mermaid".
For the film, see "The Little Mermaid (Film)".
For the titular character, see Ariel.

"The Little Mermaid", also known as "Den lille havfrue", is a fairytale featured on ABC's Once Upon a Time. It was written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and incorporated in the book Fairy Tales Told for Children in 1837.

Traditional Plot

The Little Mermaid dwells in an underwater kingdom with her father, who is the sea king, her grandmother, and her five sisters. Her five sisters are each born one year apart. When a mermaid turns fifteen, she is permitted to swim to the surface to watch the world above, and when the sisters become old enough, each of them visits the upper world every year. As each of them returns, the Little Mermaid listens longingly to their various descriptions of the surface and of human beings.

When the Little Mermaid's turn comes, she rises up to the surface, sees a ship with a handsome prince, and falls in love with him from a distance. A great storm hits, and the Little Mermaid saves the prince from nearly drowning. She delivers him unconscious to the shore near a temple. She waits until a young girl from the temple finds him, though the prince never sees the Little Mermaid.

The Little Mermaid asks her grandmother if humans can live forever if they could breathe underwater. The grandmother explains that humans have a much shorter lifespan than merfolk's three hundred years, but when mermaids die, they turn to sea foam and cease to exist, while humans harbor eternal souls that live on in Heaven.

Little Mermaid, longing for the prince and an eternal soul, eventually visits the Sea Witch, who sells her a potion capable of giving a mermaid legs. In exchange, the Sea Witch asks for the Little Mermaid's tongue as she has the most enchanting voice in the world. The Sea Witch warns, however, that once she becomes a human, she will never be able to return to the sea. Drinking the potion will make the Little Mermaid feel as if a sword is being passed through her, yet upon recovery, she will have two beautiful legs and will be able to dance like no human has ever danced before. However, it will constantly feel like she is walking on sharp swords hard enough to make her feet bleed most terribly. In addition, she will only obtain a soul if she finds true love's kiss and if the prince loves and marries her, for then a part of his soul will flow into her. Otherwise, at dawn on the first day after he marries another woman, the Little Mermaid will die brokenhearted and disintegrate into sea foam.

The Little Mermaid drinks the potion and meets the prince, who is mesmerized by her beauty and grace, even though she is mute. Most of all, he likes to see her dance, and she does this for him despite suffering excruciating pain. When the prince's father orders his son to marry the neighboring king's daughter, the prince confides in the Little Mermaid that he does not love the princess, and therefore will not marry her. The prince goes on to say he can only love the young woman from the temple, who he believes rescued him. As it turns out, the princess is the temple girl, who had been sent to the temple to be educated. The prince accepts the marriage, and the upcoming wedding is announced.

When the two marry, the Little Mermaid's heart is broken. The Little Mermaid ponders all the sacrifices and pain she suffered all for him while despairing of the death that awaits her. Before dawn, her sisters bring a knife that the Sea Witch has given them in exchange for their long hair. If the Little Mermaid slays the prince with the knife and lets his blood drip on her feet, she will become a mermaid again and live without suffering.

However the Little Mermaid cannot bring herself to kill the sleeping prince lying asleep with his bride, and she throws herself into the sea as dawn breaks. Her body dissolves into foam. Instead of ceasing to exist, she turns into a spirit; a daughter of the air. The other daughters explain that she has become like them because of striving with all her heart to obtain an immortal soul. She will earn her own soul by doing good deeds and will eventually rise up into the kingdom of God.

Show Adaptation

  • The first Sea Witch is a deity who grants merpeople the ability to walk on dry land when the high tide rises every year.
  • The second Sea Witch does not make a deal with the Little Mermaid, but is a well-known villain.
    • She was once a mermaid with a similar backstory to the Little Mermaid from the fairytale, and transformed herself into the Sea Witch in rebellion of her father.
  • The Little Mermaid loses her voice after reneging on a deal she made with the Evil Queen, who pretended to be the Sea Goddess and promised to give her permanent use of legs if she captured Snow White.

Characters Featured

Original Character Adapted as First Featured in
The Little Mermaid Ariel "Ariel"
Ursula (Sea Witch) "Poor Unfortunate Soul"
The Prince Prince Eric "Ariel"
The Sea Witch Evil Queen (briefly) "Ariel"
Ursula (Deity) "Ariel"
Ursula (Sea Witch) "Heroes and Villains"
The Mermaid's Father Poseidon "Poor Unfortunate Soul"

Locations Featured

Original Item Adapted as First Featured in
The Prince's Castle Prince Eric's Castle "Ariel"

Items Featured

Original Item Adapted as First Featured in
Sea Witch's Potion Sea Bracelets "Ariel"
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