The Little Mermaid was an American fantasy animated film released in 1989 by Walt Disney Feature Animations, and was based on Hans Christian Andersens’ Danish fairy tale, “Den lille havfrue”.
The film narrates the story of Princess Ariel, a young mermaid who falls in love with the human prince, Eric, and dreams on becoming a human to be with him. One night after a terrible storm, the prince’s ship is destroyed and Princess Ariel saves the prince from drowning. She sings to him while he’s unconscious and once he awakens he vows to find the young lady who saved him. Wanting to be with him, Princess Ariel then visits the Sea Witch, Ursula, to ask for help in becoming a human. The sea witch provides a spell that will last three days, during which the princess must enchant the prince with her beauty, and earn a kiss. Only then will she remain as a human. Though, Princess Ariel had to pay the price, so the witch removed her voiced which she later used to bewitch the prince. However, when the sun sets on the third day, Ariel turns back into a mermaid and Ursula takes her to the ocean as her prisoner. Prince Eric vows he will not lose the princess again, so he goes after them, battles the sea witch, kills her, and finally marries Princess Ariel.
Hans Christian Andersen published this tale in 1837 and unlike Walt Disney’s sugarcoated film, it presents many gruesome elements.
In this story, the young mermaid princess is informed that upon their death, mermaids become foam of the sea. Humans on the other hand, even if they won’t live three hundred years like the merfolk, have an immortal soul and are able to rise up to unknown beautiful places once they die. Furthermore, the only way for a mermaid to acquire an immortal soul, is by having a human love her so much that he is willing to marry her, and once they are united he will give her part of his immortal soul.
When the princess visits the sea witch in order to find help, the sea witch does prepare a potion for her, but in the original fairy tale, once she drinks the potion it will feel as a sharp sword is slashing through her. And although everyone will see the princess walking as the most graceful human ever, for her it would really feel as if she was treading upon knife blades so sharp that her feet would bleed. And yes, it is also true that the princess pays the price with her voice, but instead of it being magically removed, the witch cuts off her tongue. Finally, if the prince was to marry someone else, the princess would not be able to return to being a mermaid. Instead, on the day after the prince’s wedding her heart would break and she would become foam of the sea.
So, although the princess endures the pain and the suffering, unfortunately, in the end the prince does not marry her and instead marries a young woman he believed was the one that saved him from drowning.
The princess’s sisters then go to the sea witch to find some way to help their sister from becoming foam. Thus, the sea witch gives them a knife. If the princess kills the prince before the sun rises on the next day, she would become a mermaid and live her three hundred years. But, the princess loved the prince so much that she could not do it and threw the knife away and the next morning she let herself become part of the foam of the sea. However, by sacrificing herself for another, she was turned into a daughter of the air instead.
“We are the daughters of the air,” they answered. “A mermaid has no immortal soul, and can never get one unless she wins the love of a human being. Her eternal life must depend upon a power outside herself. The daughters of the air do not have an immortal soul either, but they can earn one by their good deeds. We fly to the south, where the hot poisonous air kills human beings unless we bring cool breezes. We carry the scent of flowers through the air, bringing freshness and healing balm wherever we go. When for three hundred years we have tried to do all the good that we can, we are given an immortal soul and a share in mankind’s eternal bliss. You, poor little mermaid, have tried with your whole heart to do this too. Your suffering and your loyalty have raised you up into the realm of airy spirits, and now in the course of three hundred years you may earn by your good deeds a soul that will never die.”
So, there you have it. The little mermaid does not end up with her prince charming, and instead she sacrifices herself for him. She endures the pain and suffering, and in the end she becomes a daughter of the air to spend her three hundred years helping the world doing good deeds. A bit heartbreaking, isn’t it?
It is said that Andersen’s story is about selflessness, self-sacrifice, and the endurance of pain, and Disney’s version kind of betrays that message of the story. Indeed, it presents a young princess changing her ways, and sacrificing her family for the sake of love. Of course, she succeeds and is able to conquer the prince’s heart, defeat the witch, and get her happily ever after; but where is the original story’s message of self-sacrifice? I mean, we can’t always get what we want…
Even if Walt Disney created a pleasing version of this story, I believe people should at least know about the unfortunate events that truly happen to the little mermaid and what it really means. So, here’s a link to Hans Christian Andersen’s story.
Well, until our next once upon a time… Adieu 😉