The Little Mermaid in Ilyria

When the little mermaid was born, she found herself in a strange place. There was no one around her except for a suitcase that had sunken to the bottom of this dark corner of the ocean. With profound sadness she opened the suitcase to find a cruel joke on her. She did her best to stay alive.

Seconds turned into minutes, minutes into days, and days into years. She grew up numb. She continued to be enveloped by an overwhelming solitude. The little mermaid has always longed to get rid of her fish tail and have two legs and a human form, because she has a human soul. She knew if she stayed here she would wither and die. There was no life. There was no God. Not even demons. Only endless darkness. 

Life in Illyria, a deserted dark corner, was challenging to say the least. At night she would look up toward the surface of the ocean, longingly, at the moons, stars, and lights from human world, and listened for chatter on the shore, all of which are visible and audible on calm evenings. 

Finally she worked up the courage to find her way up. Before she set out on her journey, she bargained with the sea witch for a potion that would give her a new life on shore. She risked everything for a life worth living. A life worth fighting for.

The next day, she extended her slender fingers into the ocean’s darkness. She extended her body. The shore was beckoning. The soft sand and fresh air were inviting her up. She started swimming toward the light. 

She swam past schools of sharks. She swam through horrendous tempests. She swam through the darkest nights and brightest days. She kept swimming and never looked back at the receding border of Illyria.

She finally came close to the shore, but she only dared to swim to the surface of the ocean at night to watch from afar the glowing bonfire. She listened to the chattering and music on shore, and longed to join the rollicking party.

She knew she would pay a hefty price for her survival, but she had no choice.

The sun had not risen yet. The little mermaid bravely mounted up through the dark blue sea, which she had vowed to leave behind forever. There, in the early morning breeze and dim light where she could just make out the silhouette of her fish tail, the little mermaid swallowed the bitter, fiery potion. The potion that she had bought by giving up her sweet voice. 

Upon drinking the potion, it was as if a huge sword struck through her frail body. She swooned. She lied there as if she were dead. The sun rose over the sea and sent thousands of rosy beams across the ocean and onto her lifeless body. After untold time, the little mermaid came to. She immediately felt a flash of unspeakable pain all over her body. She had no voice, and therefore could not talk, scream, cry, whisper, or sing, even as she basked in the incredible joy and pain of her birth. She was a mute girl.

Lowering her gaze, she saw that her fish tail was gone, and that she had the loveliest pair of legs any young maid could hope to have. But she was naked, so she wrapped herself with her own long hair to cover her shame.

Fearful and yet elated, she gathered all her feeble strength and finally stood up, with both feet firmly planted in the sand. She took her first small step. And then a second. And a third. She kept moving forward.

Every step felt as if she was walking on the blades and points of sharp knives, but she gladly endured it. She moved as lightly as a bubble. She walked toward where there were jolly cheers, bon fire, and life. She kept walking toward the light. Everyone who saw her marveled at the grace of her gliding walk.

Only the little mermaid could see her own bloody footprints stretching all the way back to the beach.

A tempest was brewing. The wind was howling. Raindrops were whipping her delicate skin like daggers. But she kept walking. Before long, the rain and wind wiped the beach clean of all footsteps and blood. As she walked further inland, the pain slowly receded from under her feet. The little mermaid wiped her feet clean, and wiped her tears away.

Elated, she walked with spring under her feet. But she did not waste any time. She started working hard to gain a voice. One vowel at a time. 

The tempest finally passed. And she found a voice of her own. The little mermaid raised her head just in time to see a rainbow at the horizon.

The rainbow takes the shape of a long round arch, with its path high above, and its two ends apparently beyond the horizon. There is, according to legend, a boiling pot of gold at one end. People look, but no one ever finds it. When a girl looks for something seemingly beyond her reach, people say she is looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Illyria from which she departed had permanently receded. Never to be found. She has crossed a vast ocean to turn a foreign shore into her new, happy reality, and to help others find the rainbow in their life.


Alexa Huang teaches in the Department of English at The George Washington University, where she has co-founded and co-directs the Digital Humanities Institute. She writes about and teaches texts that cross all kinds of boundaries, including Shakespeare, globalization, film, and theatre.