The Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon
Princess Margrethe has been hidden away while her kingdom is at war. One gloomy, windswept morning, as she stands in a convent garden overlooking the icy sea, she witnesses a miracle: a glittering mermaid emerging from the waves, a nearly drowned man in her arms. By the time Margrethe reaches the shore, the mermaid has disappeared into the sea. As Margrethe nurses the handsome stranger back to health, she learns that not only is he a prince, he is also the son of her father’s greatest rival. Sure that the mermaid brought this man to her for a reason, Margrethe devises a plan to bring peace to her kingdom.
Meanwhile, the mermaid princess Lenia longs to return to the human man she carried to safety. She is willing to trade her home, her voice, and even her health for legs and the chance to win his heart…
I had seen so many poor and mediocre reviews for this book, but the cover and the fairy twist kept calling to me. I’ve read Yolen’s “Briar Rose” and Murphy’s “Hansel and Gretel” and really enjoyed those, so I thought I’d give Turgeon a try.
If I had not been on vacation, I may not have had patience for this book. Simple writing – almost read like a parent telling a bedtime story to a child. The characters were flawed in that they only had one goal in mind, and the main emotions that consumed them were love and jealousy. Margarethe was consumed with love for Prince Christopher (without even truly knowing him at all) and intense jealousy towards Lenia’s mermaid form; Lenia was consumed with love for Christopher (again, without truly knowing him) and jealous of Margarethe’s human form; and Christopher was an arrogant charmer (this is a euphemism for a more blunt and crude word) with no loving qualities whatsoever.
And yet, I continued reading. It was a dark tale, with vastly different settings and worlds, surrounded with politics, mythology, and religion. I wanted to know the twist, what made this different from Anderson’s (and Disney’s) Little Mermaid. And boy, every difference was a painful one, and quite the shocker. Instead of losing her voice, Lenia loses her tongue. Sacrifices are made, on land and in the sea, for every action Lenia and Margrethe make towards their competition for the prince’s affections. It is not a happy ending, but if one were to experience the story as if it were a legend, then the happier version we know and love could easily be conceivable. We could visualize how the story transformed from “what really happened” to “what I wish had happened.” It was an interesting concept.