Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Little Mermaid

The little mermaid drew back the crimson curtain of the tent, and beheld the fair bride with her head resting on the prince’s breast. She bent down and kissed his fair brow, then looked at the sky on which the rosy dawn grew brighter and brighter; then she glanced at the sharp knife, and again fixed her eyes on the prince, who whispered the name of his bride in his dreams. She was in his thoughts, and the knife trembled in the hand of the little mermaid: then she flung it far away from her into the waves; the water turned red where it fell, and the drops that spurted up looked like blood. She cast one more lingering, half-fainting glance at the prince, and then threw herself from the ship into the sea, and thought her body was dissolving into foam. The sun rose above the waves, and his warm rays fell on the cold foam of the little mermaid, who did not feel as if she were dying. She saw the bright sun, and all around her floated hundreds of transparent beautiful beings; she could see through them the white sails of the ship, and the red clouds in the sky; their speech was melodious, but too ethereal to be heard by mortal ears, as they were also unseen by mortal eyes. The little mermaid perceived that she had a body like theirs, and that she continued to rise higher and higher out of the foam. “Where am I?” asked she, and her voice sounded ethereal, as the voice of those who were with her; no earthly music could imitate it.
~from Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid (1836)

The original fairy tale is remote from the Disney rendition, for Andersen's story of forbidden and impossible love is characterized by sacrifice on the part of the heroine for her beloved. In failing to win the prince's heart, the mermaid must stab him if she wishes to return to the sea. The little mermaid, however, chooses to die herself rather than to kill.

One has a sense of the heavy price that is paid for disobedience, especially disobedience to a parent. Although it is obviously a story for children, there is the underlying theme of the consequences of bending the laws of nature. The little mermaid wanted to be human; she wanted to be other than what she was, and was willing to make a pact with the powers of darkness in order to have her way. As with all such bad bargains, the naive party cannot win. The little mermaid is doomed, but she ultimately finds redemption in her self-renunciation, and comes to a better place.

(Artwork by Edmund Dulac) Share


Anonymous said...

Hans Christian Andersen would be horrified with the Disney thing, along with all the other authors of such wonderful children's stories, i.e., Winnie the Pooh, Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, etc.

Anonymous said...


This was my favourite fairytale when I was a girl! The Disney version is cute, but the message that true love demands sacrifice (which it does even when love is requited) is completely lost. :(

I remember being shocked to find out that Bambi, The Rescuers and other early Disney films were books before they were movies. Then I just felt sad that Walt Disney's intention to honour these children's classics by producing movie versions of them has only ensured that most children will now simply watch the movie instead of reading the book. Some may never know that there is a book! :(

elena maria vidal said...

I agree with you both. Parents need to make certain that their children read the original stories.

Anonymous said...

As a little boy my brother, who is now 70, loved The Jungle Book and would mention it quite often. I wonder had he been a little boy at the time of the release of the Disney version would he ever have had the experience of reading Rudyard Kipling's enchanting story.

Anonymous said...



At least Disney stayed faithful to the original material. His love for the books also shone through each film, making many of them classics in their own right. In contrast, the newer adaptations (The Little Mermaid onwards) take so many liberties that they might as well have different titles. I'm glad that Disney has started coming up with original stories, because at least they now leave the classics alone.