Message From The Author

Author's Message

Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale is a retelling of the original little mermaid story by Hans Christian Andersen, which is much stranger, darker, and (to my mind) more beautiful than the better known Disney version. The mermaid suffers and suffers, sacrificing her health and world and tail and tongue to go to the human world and be with the human prince she saved from shipwreck, and who never loves her back. His father instead sets him up with a princess, who, in an extraordinary coincidence, happens to be the same woman who found him at the seashore after the mermaid saved him. He’s thought of her and pined for her ever since, despite the mermaid’s mute beauty and affections, and so his moment of happiness and fulfillment and being reunited with his love is the moment the mermaid’s heart breaks. She is doomed, now, to turn to foam. But it’s all very beautiful—the mermaid’s longing, her desire to enter and be part of a new, alien world.

I like stories about heartbreak. But I don’t like stories, like Disney’s The Little Mermaid, where two women who love or are set up with the same man cannot both be good. Conventional love stories, and fairytales, don’t seem to have room for genuine tragedy, where two good people need and desire the same thing and one of them is not going to get it. Disney turns the princess into a villain, and Ariel, of course, ends up with the prince, so all is well in the end. In the Hans Christian Andersen version, the princess is barely a character at all. She pops up at the beginning of the story and then right at the end. She’s not really good nor bad, she was just was at the right place at the right time, twice (assuming that getting the prince is indeed the best thing for her), and as a result of her good timing all our mermaid’s hopes are dashed.

In Mermaid I decided to tell the princess’s story and the mermaid’s, and to alternate between the two. My entry into the story was that moment that the mermaid brings the prince to shore, after saving him. I thought about that disguised princess, who’s being housed in a convent nearby and who rushes down to tend to him, thereby winning his heart… and imagined: what if the princess witnesses that moment when the mermaid pulls the almost-drowned man to shore? What if she’s standing on a cliff at the edge of the world, in the convent garden, staring out at the gloomy sea, missing her castle and all its delights, and sees an actual mermaid pulling a man to shore? That, I thought, would be a moment that would change everything, that would make you see the whole world differently. And wouldn’t these two women, from two different worlds, almost mirrors of each other, be fascinated by each other? Neither of them know, at this moment, that they will both end up with the prince, competing for him. There is no way for the princess to know that the mermaid will go on to exchange her tail for legs and give up her tongue and voice in order to be with the prince, just as the mermaid has no way to know that this human girl will end up with the prince in her own way.

And so I begin with this moment, and built the rest of the book out from it. In my book, the mermaid returns to the shore to look for the prince, and finds the princess waiting for her. They talk, and form a friendship, each fascinated by the world the other represents. After, the book traces each woman’s path to the prince’s palace, all that is at stake for each woman in getting there, and the slow painful realization on both their parts when they understand that they are now rivals, both of them with everything to lose. Ultimately, the book is more about the two women, their relationship and how they deal with this situation, than it is about the prince. That’s part of the twist. For the rest, you’ll have to read the book yourself.

- Carolyn Turgeon


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