The Original ‘Little Mermaid’ Was A Very Tragic Story

Shreemi Verma

The Little Mermaid is mostly associated with the red-headed, curious and adorable Ariel and her best friend (and the cutest fish in the world) Flounder. Disney’s 1989 blockbuster has created such an impact that we, mostly millennials are lulled into the false sense of security that Ariel did end up with Prince Eric and they lived happily ever after.

The original story though, was a tearjerker. A fairytale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, who has also written popular stories like The Emperor’s New Clothes, Thumbelina and The Ugly Duckling, this little mermaid (whose name has not been mentioned) is not as lucky as Ariel. First published in 1837, the story begins on the same note as Disney’s adaptation, where the mermaid (who has five sisters, a widowed father and a grandmother) swims up to the surface on her 15th birthday for the first time and sees the world above. She falls in love with a prince after watching his birthday celebrations on a ship.

Due to a violent storm, the ship starts sinking, but the mermaid brings the unconscious prince to safety by taking him to the shore which is near a temple. A young woman and her ladies in waiting come to the shore to see the prince, who regains his consciousness. The not-so-bright prince believes that it was this woman who saved his life. The lady too, doesn’t really correct him, so I guess she isn’t a great person either

The story we’ve seen in the Disney movie is faithful to its source material till the mermaid gets a pair of legs and loses her voice. Also, the sea-witch here is not half as awesome as Ursula. Anyway, from here, the story diverts quite a lot. While in the movie Eric falls in love with Ariel, in the fairytale, he tells his parents he’ll marry the woman who saved him. Now if you remember, the prince thinks it was the temple woman who rescued him, and the poor mermaid, who has no voice, is unable to correct this huge mistake. Turns out, the woman from the temple is also a princess so everyone’s happy except our poor heroine. The prince’s marriage also poses another problem for the mermaid because her deal with Ursula the sea-witch had certain conditions – that she will get a soul only if she wins the love of the prince and marries him. A part of his soul will flow into her. Otherwise, at dawn on the first day after he marries someone else, she’ll will die with a broken heart and dissolve into sea foam upon the waves. Ouch!

After the prince and princess are married, the little mermaid is devastated as she thinks about all the sacrifices she has made for her man, she’s also terrified that she’ll die when it’s dawn. But her sisters try rescuing her by giving her a knife they took from that damn witch by sacrificing their gorgeous hair. They tell her that if she kills the prince with this knife and lets his blood drip on her feet, she’ll become a mermaid and live with her family again in the ocean.

While she does take the knife from her sisters, the mermaid eventually decides to not kill the love of her life, because she’s a self-sacrificing soul. She throws the knife and jumps off the ship before dawn breaks. But because of the sacrifice, instead of turning into foam, she becomes a spirit and is called the daughter of air. Being a spirit gives her a chance to earn her own soul by doing good deeds for 300 years and join the Kingdom of God.

Unsurprisingly, I prefer the Disney movie to this bittersweet fairytale. And while Disney is making a live-action version of their animated adaptation with Lin-Manuel Miranda, there’s an indie movie based on this darker story which I’d really like to see. Which version do you prefer? Tell us in the comments below!

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