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The Resilience of Mermaids

A statue of a young girl sits on a rock surrounded by water
The Little Mermaid at Copenhagen, Denmark
Photo by Avda-Berlin

Everyone will tell you that the original Little Mermaid fairytale is darker than its Disney counterpart. What they probably don’t know is that the history of this tribute to the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Denmark is even darker than the fairytale.

Strangely enough, it could be argued that the dark and complex history of this statue mirrors the work that inspired it.

The fairytale:

For those of you who have never heard it, here is a quick summary of Hans Christian Andersen’s most famous work: a young mermaid longs to become human after she falls in love with a human prince and discovers that his love is the only way she will ever gain an immortal soul. As she chases that goal, her tail is sliced in two, the ground becomes knives under her feet, and her tongue is cut from her mouth. In the end, she dies for her prince without achieving her goal.

But instead of winking out into nonexistence like she was expecting, she is given the opportunity to labor for three hundred years to earn herself a soul.

The statue:

Since the end of her creation by artist Edvard Eriksen in 1913, her right arm has been sawed off once, she has been decapitated two and a half times (someone got seven inches in and gave up), and she has been blasted off her rock by explosives. She’s been drenched in paint dozens of times, and she’s been the battleground for political graffiti for issues like whaling, feminism, the liberty of Hong Kong, and basically everything in between (listing each individual incident would require another full article).

Needless to say, there isn’t much left of the original statue. So much has been replaced, repaired and sanded down. But still, she sits on her rock, halfway human, having labored a hundred and ten years to greet the people that come to see her.

So if you ever find yourself in Hans Christian Andersen’s hometown, drop by the statue and consider this:

We won’t ever know if the original Little Mermaid ever received a soul, but we do know that this statue and that fairytale have earned something close to immortality.