Stories Behind the Symbols
Published in 1837, Hans Christian Anderson's famous fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, is arguably the most famous literary mermaid story. It is a mostly somber tale with a controversial, but somewhat hopeful ending. The animated Disney movie premiered in 1989 and greatly departed from the fairy tale that inspired it.
Read on to learn more about these famous mermaid works:
The novel has a few important differences from the popular 1989 animated film adaptation from Disney. First, Andersen’s version is notably darker and has religious undertones. Similar to some of the other European myths, Andersen’s mermaids have no souls. When The Little Mermaid, goes to the sea witch to bargain for legs, she is also bargaining for the chance to have a soul and pays accordingly. The sea witch doesn’t just want her voice as payment. She cuts out Ariel’s tongue in exchange for the legs she grants, legs which cause Ariel incredible pain and make her partially disabled. The ultimatum is also more sinister, as Ariel is to die if she does not enamor the prince in time.
A little-known fact about Hans Christian Andersen is that he was in love with one of his close, male friends. He suffered as he watched his friend marry a woman, even after begging him not to. Andersen wrote Ariel as a metaphor for his own suffering as someone who wished to change their nature in the pursuit of unrequited love. The soulless aspect of his mermaids also reflected society’s views on homosexuality at the time, who were said to be barred from heaven.
The Disney film is undoubtedly a more chipper affair. Ariel only bargains with her voice. The biggest departure from the book is the ending. Anderson's ending had The Little Mermaid sacrifice her life, turn into a spirit "daughter of the air", with the promise of eventually being admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven after 300 years of doing good deeds for mankind. The Disney film, however, resulted in Ariel's father allowing Ariel to permanently become a human and ride off into the sunset with her Prince.
An important theme of both stories is the mermaids willingness and give up her true form, home, and very identity for love. Interpret this as you will: a virtuous gesture from a selfless being or, a misguided and rash decision. Perhaps, a little bit of both?
When people hear "mermaid," they think of Hans Christian Anderson's famous work or Disney's Ariel. Sure, there are some other famous mermaids in books and film, but these two top the most well-known list. While one was inspired by the other, and both written for children, the two works differ greatly.
Which one do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!