Jerry Pinkney on The Little Mermaid

It was half buried in the sand, a bright seashell. Who could help retrieving this lovely  gift of nature. Right away I pressed the shell to my ear and listened. Instantly a haunting song from the sea brought to mind the Little Mermaid. I held it there for awhile, recalling how the Mermaid’s story, since its first publication had taken up space on my list of classic fairytales to adapt. Yet, time and again I had placed it on a back burner in order to work on other projects.


Now, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid has been to me an intriguing yet a daunting story because the original text was far too long. Also it has an old fashioned plot. I found it to be out of step with the notion of these times of free expression. Today’s readers are seeking for their own true paths, and they are blazing new trails.


The heroine in my adaptation of The Little Mermaid is a sea creature with the tail of a fish and an extraordinarily beautiful singing voice. Melody, the name I gave her is very different from her sisters. All living in the Merfolk kingdom are required to sing in the choir. Howbeit Melony has a curious nature. She has an overwhelming need to let her imagination dream and wonder about other worlds beyond the sea.


So I began the process of reimagining the tale using Melody’s desire to explore. She was most often found alone creating imaginary places with an abundance of objects found in the wreckage of sunken ships. Everything changed one day when Melody finds a doll which looked much like her except, the doll which looked like her didn’t have a tail. You and I know that it had legs. This amazing discovery set in motion the little mermaid’s quest for a soulmate, a friend.


And… Yes, like the Andersen text there is her father, the king of Merfolk, her sisters, and the devious, contriving sea witch which makes a bargain with Melody to give up her voice. Lastly there is a fierce battle. A heroic and triumphant Melody regains her beautiful voice that had been stowed inside of a seashell.


And… Yes, Melody does find a soulmate, a friend and companion on land. This bridge of two worlds, water and land for a day become one world. Like the little mermaid’s journey I needed to create my own journey in my book-making practice. First, I created a storyboard, focusing on emotional and dramatic highlights found in Andersen’s

narrative. Then over one hundred and twenty thumbnail sketches, and more then forty detailed concept studies were generated. All were done before tackling the text.


My interest and fascination with The Little Mermaid was also due to its setting, the undersea with all its oddities and spectacular creatures which make the ocean their home. I knew it would be challenging to create images which measure up to the awesomeness found in nature.  My aim was for my art to reflect the overwhelming feeling I always experienced when exploring the unknown. However illustrating this book brought about surprises as well as the joy of finding new discoveries.



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