FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF FAIRY TALES: (4) LITTLE MERMAID
“The Little Mermaid” – yet another dark fairy tale by that master of darkness, Hans Christian Andersen. Of course, fans of the loose Disney adaptation wouldn’t know its true darkness because they, ah, Disneyfied it with a happy ending…
In Hans Christian Andersen’s version, mermaids live for centuries but have no afterlife. (As opposed to the rest of us, who live for a century so or best without that otherworldly beauty – at best for last part of it, at worst for all of it – and have no afterlife).
The youngest mermaid of the royal family is something of a surface groupie, drinking in the tales her older sisters tell her until she is old enough to go to the surface and see it for herself – when she rescues a human prince from a storm and falls in love with him.
And it’s all downhill from there – or whatever the appropriate submarine metaphor is. Upwater perhaps? She then makes a deal with the Sea Witch – a more morally neutral character in the fairy tale than the villainous octopus drag queen in the Disney adaptation – to become human, but at a heavy cost. The Sea Witch grants her legs, but every step feels like walking on blades. Ouch!
She also gives her tongue (or voice) as payment (and not in a good way). If she can make the Prince fall in love with her and marry her, she can gain a share in his soul and be human all her life, but if he marries another, she will die at the next dawn after his wedding day – which seems to be as stacked against the little mermaid as a Vegas casino. The witch always wins.
And you know how it turns out – in Andersen, not Disney. The prince initially takes her in, but then he is betrothed, and his intended bride turns out to be the temple maiden he fell in love with at first sight when she found him on the shore after the little mermaid rescued him from drowning. As the mermaid mourns, her sisters appear to her with another option — she can kill the prince with the enchanted knife they give her and live out her centuries as a mermaid — or she will die at dawn. While I’d give the former serious consideration (for a few seconds before I chose it), the mermaid is made of better stuff – sea foam as it turns out, which she dissolves into at dawn, unable to kill the man she loves.
Wow – Andersen really needed to get laid more. Or at all. Dark, Andersen, dark. So dark, he revised it twice, first to change the sad ending to a bittersweet one where she becomes a “daughter of the air” (so…an airmaid?), who after 300 years of good deeds will earn an immortal soul and go to heaven – and second to one in which good and obedient children can shorten her sentence.
Despite the bittersweet ending, the story is one of Andersen’s most popular and has been adapted numerous times “from ballets to musicals” as well as film and television – notably also a statue in Copenhagen as well as the Disney film, which made it end happily ever after.
And it is her Disney incarnation as Ariel which has proved most popular with artists and cosplayers.