Adapted by John Chalmers and illustrated by Sandra Marrs, the Franco-Scottish couple who make up the Metaphrog team, the pair began their adaptations of Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tales with The Little Match Girl which they adapted in their self published collection Winter Tales in 2013. That short and intensely bitter-sweet story lead to a book deal with the all-ages publisher Papercutz for The Red Shoes And Other Tales which was released as a beautifully produced, full colour, square shaped hardback with cloth spine in 2015. The Little Mermaid is the follow-up to that book in the same format.
First published in 1837, Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale is perhaps now best known through its loose adaptations by Disney in 1989 and the live action Splash in 1984 featuring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. However Metaphrog return to the original version of the tale for their 76 page full colour adaptation.
On her 15th birthday the Little Mermaid is allowed to venture to the surface of the ocean to see what her older sisters have seen and marvelled at – the sky and the world of humans. There she spies a prince who reminds her of the statues at the bottom of the ocean that have fallen from wrecked shops and watches him as he dances and enjoys a ship board party. However a storm whips up and the ship is wrecked but the Little Mermaid is able to save his life, helping him to the safety of a beach. She becomes obsessed with the Prince and realises that the only way to be with him is to give up her tail and become human.
In the depths of the ocean she makes a deal with the Sea Witch and is able to join her beloved prince but at the expense of her voice and that every step on her new feet will be like walking on knives. The witch also gives her a time limit – having already ceased to be a mermaid, if her prince marries another, she will cease to be human and become one with the immortal sea. She accepts the witch’s conditions, becomes human and is taken in by the Prince but, being mute, she cannot tell him of her love for him as he searches for the girl that he believes rescued him that night, for that is the person he believes he should marry.
John’s biggest adaptation challenge is perhaps the main character herself who is not only mute on dry land as a human but who also plots by herself when she is a mermaid as to what she can do to find her prince. It all makes for a lead character with very few speech balloons but potentially many thought balloons. He overcomes this by including much of the character’s thoughts into the book’s text boxes, there are few speech or thought balloons on show here, and it has the effect of freeing the artwork so that it can breath and allow the book to feel as much like an illustrated story book as a graphic novel.
And Sandra’s artwork deserves to breathe as it runs the gamut from intricately detailed in both the undersea and dry land palaces, to the chaos of a storm on the sea’s surface, and the danger of the witch’s dealing far below. Her colour palate moves from the blues and greens of the mermaid’s seemingly idyllic undersea life, to the black surrounded dangers of both the storm and the witch, to the red and orange warmth of the prince’s palace. Indeed she is not averse to leaving a two page spread almost entirely black as the dangers in the book intensify.
It all makes The Little Mermaid a delight to both look at and read and, for those who have enjoyed Metaphrog’s previous Hans Christian Andersen adaptations, this is quite probably their best yet.
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• There are more details of all Metaphrog’s work on their website
• There are more details of The Little Mermaid on the Papercutz website