hj ford mermaid
Illustration by H. J. Ford

Andrew Lang included “The Mermaid and the Boy” in The Brown Fairy Book, 1904, but the tale comes from Northern Europe.

A king, having been married a year, set out to settle some distant subjects. His ship caught on rocks and the wind was becoming fierce. A mermaid promised to free him in return for his firstborn, and the king had to agree.

Their son was born, and finally, when he was grown, the king told the queen that they could not keep him by them, because that was where the mermaid would look. He told the prince about the mermaid and sent him out into the world. The prince met a lion and shared his food with it; it gave him the tip of its ear, and told him it would transform him into a lion. The prince traveled for a time as a lion, but found that he got tired of walking like one. The next day, the same thing happened with a bear, and the day after that, with a bumblebee, except that he could fly as a bee all day without tiring of it.

The prince found a city and went into the palace hall. He learned the princess hated all men and would not permit one in her presence. He refused the offer of a bed to sleep in and said a bench would do, but as soon as everything was quiet in the palace, as a bee, he flew to the princess’s room. He turned back to a man and the princess shrieked; he turned back into a bee and her guards could find nothing. After he repeated this, the guards resolved to let her shriek. She realized it and did not scream the third time. The prince wooed her, and she fell in love. Because that’s reasonable, to fall in love with a man who keeps sneaking into your bedroom. Anyway, she told him that in three days, her father would go to war, and leave his sword behind, and whoever brought it to him would gain her hand. The young man told her that he would do it, and if he did not return, she should play a violin on the seashore, loudly enough to reach the sea bottom.

The young man presented himself as a noble and rode off with the king, and when the king discovered he had forgotten his sword, returned to the city with several others, including the Red Knight. The young man let the others get ahead and then turned into a lion and raced back, scaring the other horses in the process. The princess gave him the sword and half of her golden ring. On the way back to the king, the Red Knight tried to take the sword from him by force. He failed, but soon the prince laid down to rest by a stream and get a drink and the mermaid seized him. The Red Knight found the sword unguarded and took it to the king, claiming he had retrieved it from the castle.

Soon the war was over, and the king told the princess she must marry the Red Knight. During the wedding feast, the princess went off by herself and down to the shore and played the violin. The mermaid commented on the song to the prince, who claimed not to hear it. Even when she brought him to the surface to hear, he said he had water in his ears so she took him right up to the land, and then wished himself into a bee. He flew to the princess.

She took him to the feast and declared that the Red Knight must show him his place by turning into a lion, a bear, and a bee, at all three of which he failed. The prince did all three. The princess told the King that it was the prince who retrieved the sword, and showed how their rings matched. They hanged the Red Knight, as he “richly deserved” and the prince and princess married.

First of all, the sneaking into the princess’s room is creepy. It is interesting though that the animal helpers don’t actually come to help him in his time of need, but instead had given him gifts, more like a fairy godmother, magical things that will help him in his quest. You can read the entire story at Sur La Lune.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Sorry I’m a day late this week. It’s been pretty busy at home and at work lately.


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