Iconic figures in folklore for hundreds of years, mermaids, despite being typically associated with children’s media nowadays, were for years the subject of fear among sailors. Either way, they’re now ingrained into popular culture across a wide variety of mediums and genres. Of course, the result is that there are some seriously memorable quotes out there relating to mermaids. Here are twenty of them.
Best Mermaid Quotes
“She had never danced so elegantly before. Her tender feet felt as if cut with sharp knives, but she cared not for it; a sharper pang had pierced through her heart.” – Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”
Hans Christian Andersen’s original short story “The Little Mermaid” is, to put it mildly, far darker than the famed Disney adaptation. In this version, the mermaid is granted legs to walk on land, but her every step is agonizing as if she were stepping on blades.
Moreover, the prince for whose love she came on land ends up marrying another woman, which will result in her death in accordance with her deal with the sea witch. This line from Andersen’s original tale has the mermaid accepting her grim fate, embracing the agony consuming her as she awaits her death.
“Nothing gave her so much pleasure as to hear about the world above the sea. She made her old grandmother tell her all she knew of the ships and of the towns, the people and the animals.” – Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”
This quote reflects how Andersen’s tale’s titular mermaid has developed a deep fascination with the world beyond the ocean. It’s her character’s driving motivation. It’s also a character trait that will likely resonate with readers who have yearned for drastic changes in their lives, or who have developed a fascination with lives beyond their own experience.
“Unseen we can enter the houses of men, where there are children, and for every day on which we find a good child, who is the joy of his parents and deserves their love, our time of probation is shortened. When we fly through the room, the child does not know that we smile with joy at his good conduct, for we can count one year less of our three hundred years. But when we see a naughty or a wicked child, we shed tears of sorrow, and for every tear, a day is added to our time of trial!”– Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”
These words conclude one of the later versions of Andersen’s tale. After the mermaid passes away, she joins the “daughters of the air,” one of whom explains that they are destined for heaven. However, they shall be allowed to arrive there sooner for every well-behaved child they encounter.
Andersen added this ending to mellow out the tragedy of the ending and give the story a more defined moral for children.
“We have not immortal souls, we shall never live again; but, like the green sea-weed, when once it has been cut off, we can never flourish more. Human beings, on the contrary, have a soul which lives forever, lives after the body has been turned to dust.” – The Sea Witch, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”
In this quote, the Sea Witch, who grants the mermaid her human qualities, explains how, unlike humans, sea creatures do not have immortal souls. The only way for the mermaid to attain one, she says, is to marry a human.
This aspect of the original tale notably contradicts the new ending, quoted above, which has the mermaid obtain an immortal soul despite not marrying the prince. This is explained away as being a reward for her selflessness.
It’s an interesting piece of insight into both the influence that Christianity (which holds that only humans have immortal souls) had on Andersen’s work and how the humanity he infused into his mermaid character ultimately inspired him to alter this perspective.
“But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.” – Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”
Besides being in keeping with the tragic tone of the story, this line also taps into a very human reality. After all, bottling up one’s feelings of sorrow, as most of us know, only makes us more miserable in the long run. No doubt, we’d all be intensely unhappy if, like Andersen’s mermaids, we weren’t able to cry.
“Maybe he’s right. Maybe there is something the matter with me. I just don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad.” – Ariel, The Little Mermaid (1989)
In this quote, Ariel reflects on how her father is attempting to drill into her that her fascination with the human world is abnormal and needs to stop. This simple line is a major part of the character’s inner turmoil and will likely resonate with anyone who has ever felt a connection to a culture and community outside that which they were born into.
“If I become human, I’ll never be with my father or sisters again.” – Ariel, The Little Mermaid (1989)
This quote from Disney’s Ariel reflects the main dilemma of her decision to take to the land: if she does so, she shall be with the man she loves, but cut off from the family that has raised her. It’s a dilemma that, to some degree, reflects very real decisions, many of us have to make about leaving home.
“I know what you want. It is very stupid of you, but you shall have your way, and it will bring you to sorrow my pretty princess.” – Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”
In a similar vein to the above quote, this quote from Andersen’s original tale has the Sea Witch herself highlight how the mermaid’s drive to be on land is irrational and will no doubt bring her sorrow. In both versions of the tale, it’s clearly a deep dilemma for the mermaid.
“Now I am the ruler of all the ocean! The waves obey my every whim!” – Ursula, The Little Mermaid (1989)
This line is significant chiefly because it underlines how different it is from Andersen’s story’s equivalent character. In the original tale, the sea witch is a neutral character with no ulterior motives, who warns the mermaid explicitly about the prices she shall have to pay for becoming human. In Disney’s take on the tale, however, Ursula is deceptive and helping Ariel for the sake of acquiring power.
“Teenagers. They think they know everything. You give them an inch, and they swim all over you.” – Sebastian, The Little Mermaid (1989)
This little quip from Sebastian, the comic relief crab in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, besides being amusing, sums up both Disney’s and Andersen’s version of the character quite well. Both versions of the mermaid are young and driven by a romantic sense of love that we often closely associated with our teenage years. Indeed, it’s this youthful impulse that is the catalyst of the whole plot.
“We were only trying to drown her!” – Mermaid, Peter Pan (1953)
J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan novel’s mermaid’s make only a brief appearance in the 1953 Disney adaptation of the book. However, they make for an amusing contrast with the passive depiction of mermaids in The Little Mermaid some decades later.
These mermaids are mischievous creatures, and jealously attack Wendy when they suspect she is claiming Peter’s attention. One of them casually utters the above quote when Peter tells them off. This is, in truth, probably a lot more in line with the traditional myths about mermaids.
“The oldest recorded merpeople were known as sirens (Greece) and it is in warmer waters that we find the beautiful mermaids more frequently depicted in Muggle literature and painting. The Selkies of Scotland and the Merrows of Ireland are less beautiful, but they share that love of music which is common to all merpeople.” – J.K. Rowling, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
This quote is taken from Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, a spinoff book that details some of the fantastical creatures that inhabit the Harry Potter universe. J.K. Rowling takes an interesting approach here. She acknowledges how the older depictions of mermaids as dangerous sirens clashes with the more romantic modern depictions of them, and attempts, at least within her universe, to reconcile these depictions with each other in a way that accounts for both.
“Your soul is so bohemian, free, and gypsy wild. Come swim with me in the calming sea, let’s be mermaids for a while.” – Melody Lee, Moon Gypsy
This piece of poetry, taken from Melody Lee’s Moon Gypsy collection, taps wonderfully into the sensation of freedom and indulgence that has, for centuries, been associated with mermaids.
“First of all, never call a mermaid a fish unless you’re trying to insult her.” – Tiana Warner, Ice Kingdom
This quote from Tiana Warner’s novel Ice Kingdom notes that, if mer-people were real and had humans’ intelligence, they’d probably consider it insulting to be seen as the equivalent of other fish species.
“Mermaids are not the monsters you humans think we are.” – Sarah Henning, Sea Witch
Sarah Henning’s novel Sea Witch is an interesting spin on Hans Christian Andersen’s original “The Little Mermaid”, told from the perspective of the Sea Witch who served as the original story’s “villain” of sorts.
This quote reflects how, if mermaids were to emerge from the sea around the time Andersen’s novel was written, they would likely be seen as dangerous monsters. This, after all, was back when the primary perception of mermaids was still based on the notion of their being murderous seductresses.
“If the mermaid had been an idealized projection of a human woman onto a marine mammal, she would have looked different every time, fat during some eras, thin during others, not consistently slim to the point of freezing in oceanic waters. The people who described mermaids were describing a real creature, something that wasn’t mammalian, but looked mammalian enough to make a tempting lure.” – Mira Grant, Into the Drowning Deep
This line, taken from Mira Grant’s novel Into the Drowning Deep, which tackles maritime myths, brings up some interesting points about mermaids as historical creatures of myth.
The general theory nowadays is that early reports of “mermaids” were, in fact, descriptions of manatees. Grant’s book brings up how, though these early descriptions of mermaids evoke attractive women’s image by modern standards, such would likely not have been the case when mermaids were first reported, as beauty standards have changed drastically over the centuries.
“Ms. Wrack’s mother, Mrs. Wrack, had been a mermaid: a proper one who lived on a rock and combed her hair and sang. But sailors had never been lured to their doom by her, partly because she looked like the back of a bus and partly because modern ships are so high out of the water that they never even saw her.” – Eva Ibbotson, Which Witch?
This quote, taken from Eva Ibbotson’s children’s novel Which Witch, is a wonderfully funny callback to (and deconstruction of) the old myths of mermaids as siren-like creatures who would seduce sailors and lure them to their doom.
“Our first kiss will always hold a place in my heart. …technically hearts. As a merman, I have… like, 17 hearts. Horrifying, but true!” – Mermando, Gravity Falls
This quote is taken from the Gravity Falls episode “The Deep End,” which follows a romance between Mabel and a dashing merman named Mermando. These words, written by Mermando in a letter to Mabel, are an amusing nod to the fact that, if mer-people really did exist, their biology would no doubt be completely bizarre.
“Rising only to the edge of her waist — for she knew full well how the sight of a tail affects mortal men — the mermaid showed the prince her shell-like breasts, her pearly skin, the phosphorescence of her hair. She held a webbed hand over her mouth, her fingers as slim as the ribs of a fan. Then she pulled her hand away, displaying her smile. She was well trained in the arts of seduction, as was he.” – Jane Yolen, The Mermaid’s Three Wisdoms
This quote from Jane Yolen’s novel The Mermaid’s Three Wisdoms is an interesting reflection on the fact that, if mermaids were real, and were the seductresses that old myths claimed them to be, they’d probably need to be very strategic about it.
After all, most men are likely to be put off a woman if the very first thing they notice about her is that she has a fish’s bottom half.
“I’m known as the siren of all seven seas/the breaker of hearts by the bay/so if you go swimmin’ with bow-legged women/I might steal your weak heart away.” – Miss April Spink, Coraline (2009)
These lyrics are part of the musical performance that Miss April Spink and Miss Miriam Forcible put on for Coraline in the Otherworld, in Henry Sellick’s 2009 stop motion movie Coraline.
It’s a wonderfully cheeky moment, especially for an animated film ostensibly aimed at families. Moreover, both actresses put on the performance dressed as mermaids, and their lyrics, which expressly nod to seduction and temptation, are very much in line with classic mermaid mythology.
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