Ally Condie notes that Hans Christian Andersen's tale The Little Mermaid was one of her primary inspirations for Atlantia. In an interview for Goodreads.com, Condie notes that "I wanted my character Rio to have that same longing and suffering that the original tale had."
Indeed, Rio longs for the Above despite the fact that she cannot live long in that environment. Not long after her arrival in the Above, she muses, "I'm a mermaid girl, tears in my hair, salt on my skin, barely able to breathe under the heavy weight of what's happened and light with the relief of seeing my sister at last" (256).
Unlike the Disney movie, Andersen's The Little Mermaid is a dark and tragic tale. The little mermaid is the daughter of the sea king, and she lives with her father, grandmother, and her five older sisters. Each sister is allowed to go up to the surface of the water once at the age of fifteen to glimpse the world above. When the little mermaid does this, she sees a handsome prince in danger and saves his life. She falls in love with him and though she is forced to return to the sea, she cannot stop thinking about him.
Desperate to see the prince again, the little mermaid makes a deal with a sea witch - the witch demands the little mermaid's tongue in exchange for a pair of human legs. The little mermaid accepts this trade, even though walking on these legs causes her severe agony. The sea witch warns the little mermaid that she must get her prince to marry her - otherwise, the little mermaid will dissolve into foam.
The little mermaid finds the prince, and becomes one of his companions. However, the prince falls in love with a beautiful princess who lives in a temple, and marries her instead.
The little mermaid's sisters bring her a dagger so she can avenge herself on the treacherous prince and become a mermaid once again, but she cannot bring herself to harm the man she loves. In despair, she dissolves into foam. In some versions of the story, she becomes a spirit of the air and eventually obtains a soul.
The Little Mermaid contains numerous themes that also appear in Atlantia - a girl from the sea longing for a different world, loss and discovery of voice, sacrifice, sea witches, sisterhood, and love. In Atlantia, however, the heroine is ultimately victorious in gaining both the world above and her prince.