Monday, December 31, 2012

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

Six color illustrations and eight black and white drawings grace this beautiful edition of The Little Mermaid, illustrated by Dorothy Lathrop and published by The Macmillan Company in 1939. (More biography here.)

Each illustration was scanned from an original, rare copy. The pages are unnumbered and the illustrations are not indexed or captioned, so I have added them, based on a reading of the text and some adaptation. 

There is both delicacy and richness, and strong composition to the color work and the drawings. As I read this story, it is my wish that the little mermaid had never left the sea. I think, perhaps, Dorothy Lathrop felt the same, for her color illustrations include only fins.

Click each illustration to view them in great detail. (The first is a sample preview of the larger image below.)

All the stars of heaven were falling
in showers round about her.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

Cover Gold Leaf Decoration

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

Title Page

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

Page One

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

The strangest trees and flowers grow there,

with leaves and stems so flexible
that at the least motion of the water
they move just as if they were alive.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

In her garden she would have nothing 

but the rosy flowers like the sun up above,
except a statue of a beautiful boy,
hewn out of the purest white marble.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

She had never seen such magic fires.
Great suns whirled round, gorgeous fire-fish
hung in the blue air, and all was reflected
in the calm and glassy sea.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

In the middle of the room was a broad stream
of running water, and on this stream
the mermaids and mermen danced
to their own beautiful singing.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

The bleached bones of those who had perished
peeped forth from their arms. At the mere
sight of the bright liquid which sparkled
in her hands like a shining star,
they drew back in terror.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

One night her sisters came. They sang
so sorrowfully as they swam on the water
that she beckoned to them and they told her
how she had grieved them all.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

There were six beautiful children, but the
youngest was the prettiest of all.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

Nothing gave her more pleasure
than to hear about the world of human
beings up above. Her old grandmother
told her all that she knew.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

The third sister wanted to play with them,
but they were frightened. She could never forget
the lovely children  who could swim in the water,
though they had no fishes' tails.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

His limbs were numbed, his beautiful eyes
were closing, and he must have died
if the little mermaid had not come to his rescue.
She held his head above the water and let the waves
drive them whithersoever they would.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

There sat the witch. She called the
hideous water snakes her little chickens
and allowed them to crawl about
on her unsightly bosom.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

One night she saw, a long way out, her old grandmother,
and the Merman King with his crown on his head.
They stretched out their hands toward her.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

He loved her as one loves a good sweet child, but
it never entered his head to make her his queen.

Dorothy Lathrop ~ The Little Mermaid ~ 1939

Never had she danced so divinely.
She went on laughing and dancing with the
thought of death all the time in her heart.

I love sharing images, and I'd love to know what you think about the art, and the artists. Please add your comments to start the New Year.

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Text © 2012 Art of Narrative


  1. These are wondrous and lovely. I love Lathrop's work and don't recall having seen these before. I wonder if there exists a comprehensive bibliography of each golden age illustrator, so as to provide a "shopping list" of books to search for

    1. Hi Thom, There are bibliographies here and there, with differences, and it is surprising that I often discover something new in searching even an artist like Arthur Rackham. I'm not sure how I came across this one, but once I became aware of it, I had to find a copy. I love these illustrations, and the story, which I had never fully read before, makes me feel sad for her. I plan to seek out the most original of this Andersen tale, to see if the religious component and her longing for an immortal soul appears as a motivation in the earliest versions. I'd like to think it is love and love alone that caused her sacrifice, and that Andersen left the reader to their own thoughts about her search for happiness, and the inimitable value of her love.

  2. Oh my STARS! She is amazing! How have I never discovered her before? These are just breathtaking. I want that book with every fiber of my being. Thank you for posting this! I'm off to do some research now...

    1. Hi Grace, I'm glad you enjoy her work! I have more Dorothy Lathrop at this site, and I've linked to more information about her.

  3. Saw this on Tumblr, so glad I came to see the rest of the illustrations. Beautiful and ethereal.

  4. The images are incredible. would it be possible to add the front cover too? i saw it in small dimensions & it would be so nice to see it as big as the ones here. many thanks for sharing :)

    1. Hi Sean, I will try to add it soon, but the reason I cropped the image on the cloth cover, is that the rest of it is just the solid blue; and the copy I obtained was in poor condition with library markings and taped reinforcement. Luckily, the illustrations were all in nice shape with only light yellowing to the paper and no stains, tears or marks.

  5. Anonymous04:41

    Just found your blog when searching for information on Helen Stratton (which I found here!) -wonderful to find someone with the same enthusiasms, I can see I have many hours of back reading to do!Hanneke

    1. Hi Hanneke, Welcome! It's a busy time for me, but I've come across beautiful illustrations and I hope to post soon.


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