The Mermaid and the Boy
The Mermaid and the Boy is a Sámi fairy tale collected by Josef Calasanz Poestion in Lapplandische Märchen (Wein; 1886). Andrew Lang included an English-language version in The Brown Fairy Book (1904).
It is Aarne-Thompson type 531. Other tales of this type include Ferdinand the Faithful and Ferdinand the Unfaithful, Corvetto, King Fortunatus's Golden Wig, and The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa. Another, literary variant is Madame d'Aulnoy's La Belle aux cheveux d'or, or The Story of Pretty Goldilocks.
A king, having been married a year, set out to settle some distant subjects. His ship caught on rocks. 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 and sent him out into the world. He 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.
He found a city where the princess hated all men and would not permit one in her presence. He refused a bed to sleep on a bench in the palace's hall. Then, 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. 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. He 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 seabottom.
He went with the king, and when the king discovered his loss, returned to the city as a lion. The princess gave him the sword and half a ring. The Red Knight tried to take the sword from him by force. He failed, but soon after he pushed the prince into a stream, where the mermaid seized him. The Red Knight carried off the sword to the king.
Soon the war was over, and the king told the princess she must marry the Red Knight. During the wedding feast, the princess played the violin on the shore. The mermaid commented on the song to the prince, who claimed not to hear it. Even when she brought him to the surface, he said he had water in his ears, 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 that it was the prince who retrieved the sword, and showed how their rings matched. They hanged the Red Knight, and the prince and princess married.
- The Sea-Maiden
- The Grateful Prince
- Nix Nought Nothing
- The White Dove
- The Battle of the Birds
- The Nixie of the Mill-Pond
While the animals who give return are a frequent motif—The Grateful Beasts, The Two Brothers, The Queen Bee, The Death of Koschei the Deathless, The Gold-bearded Man—in most cases they come to the hero's aid themselves. These animals fulfill a role more commonly found in fairy godmothers and like creatures, of giving the hero magical things that he may use.