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Hans Christian Andersen. Retold by Margaret Crawford Maloney. Illustrated by Laszlo Gal.
Toronto, ON: Methuen, 1983.
unpaged, cloth, $12.95.
ISBN 0-485-95110-2. CIP.

Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up

Reviewed by Joan Weller.

Volume 12 Number 4
1984 July

The fairy stories that have brought Hans Christian Andersen immortality throughout the world appeared in English in 1846. Since then, English editions of collections of Andersen's tales and of individual stories have appeared every few years, many lavishly illustrated by the foremost artists and engravers of the day. Therefore, it is with pride that one welcomes a Canadian illustrated retelling of The Little Mermaid, the inspiration for the famous statue in Copenhagen harbour. This single tale is retold by children's literature expert Margaret Maloney, curator of the renowned Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books and the Lillian H. Smith and Canadiana Collections of the Toronto Public Library, and is illustrated by Laszlo Gal, internationally known award-winning illustrator and this year's nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration by the Canadian Section of IBBY.

With a wealth of early translations to draw on, H. Ward and Augusta Plesner (1872), Caroline Peachey (1877), R. Nisbit Bain (1893), and Mrs. E. Lucas (1899), as well as more recent translations, Maloney has produced a dignified and sonorous retelling. Comparing it with two twentieth-century versions found in Underseas Fairy Tales (Macmillan, 1963) and Ardizzone's Hans Andersen (Andre Deutsch, 1978) one finds that she rids the text of wordiness, some of the gory details about the seawitch, and some awkward expressions. She cogently expresses the beauty of Andersen's descriptive passages and captures his deep emotions without becoming too sentimental. Storytellers, listeners and silent readers will appreciate her maintenance of the tales's harmonious cadence. This reviewer found only one sentence in the opening paragraph,"Far from it!" melodically out of tune.

Her mermaid is less child-like and more youthful, yearning for love, freedom, commitment, and, alas, immortality, and it is this blossoming mermaid that Gal skilfully captures in his paintings. Watercolours highlighted by pastel pencil shadings and framed in elaborate seamotif borders create luminescent underwater scenes and a medieval earthly setting. Unfortunately, not all his pictures appear beside the relevant text, and his two-page spreads, although impressive (especially his Canaletto-like vista of the king's harbour) do interrupt the story's flow. In contrast, his half-page spread of the mermaid's rescue of her beloved prince, appearing above the text, is a perfect melding of text and picture. Gal's attention to the book's overall design, including seascape endpapers and a beautiful book jacket portrait of the little mermaid, greatly enhance the book's appeal. Unlike other translations, this one makes no mention of God at the story's end, but the reteller's concluding paragraph and especially her choice of last sentence is a touching conclusion to a classic tale retold for children of our generation.

Joan Weller, Ottawa P.L., Ottawa, ON.
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