Lenia is a mermaid princess blessed with family, a beautiful voice, and a glorious home in the sea. On her eighteenth birthday she is allowed one overnight visit to the world above before she returns home to live out the rest of her 300 years. By chance on her day out, she comes across a shipwreck in progress and saves the life of a handsome man whom she delivers to Margarethe, a young woman taking refuge in a seaside monastery. Though none of them know it at the time, each of their destinies will be intertwined as a result of their meeting.
Carolyn Turgeon’s Mermaid: A Twist On The Classic Tale expands on Hans Christian Anderson’s classic fairytale, The Little Mermaid, never straying too far from the dark roots of the original story and expanding upon the major elements of the famous fairytale. The chief addition to this romantic cautionary tale is the narrative of Lenia shares with Margarethe, who is almost a non-character in the original tale (so briefly does she appear). A chance misunderstanding between the two women renders them unequal rivals for the prince’s affections, loyalty and sense of responsibility.
Turgeon deftly makes the case for both women – their love for the handsome prince and the stakes involved in each winning his hand – though I must confess I was heavily biased in favor of the mermaid. Cognizant of the social issues and stakes of pre-modern kingdoms, Turgeon weaves the poverty that war mad monarchs bring to their subjects, and the need for pride of country and community against the needs of the individual – weighing personal and community responsibility against love. Both women are clearly constrained by the gender roles and expectations of society and work to achieve their goals within their limited means. Mermaid is a dark and mysterious tale with no easy answers and plenty of food for thought not only for girls, but for the women who would give themselves away for too dear a price. Recommended.