As with my Kingsman article, you can watch the video below for all the information, or read the article below if videos aren't your thing. Either way, the information is 100% the same! Though, the video has music and a lot more visuals.
Under The Sea
It’s no secret that almost all of Disney’s films have been adapted from various books, plays and even theme park rides. Now since Disney is a family company, some of these darker and less pleasant stories were given happier vibes and endings as not to scar little children for life. Today, we’re going to look at one such story:
The Little Mermaid was written by Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, back in 1837 and has since then seen a number of adaptations with the most popular being Disney’s classic take on the story. If that name sounds familiar then don’t be surprised. Hans Christen Anderson is responsible for creating some of the most memorable tales ever written such as Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Ice Queen (a tale that was used as the inspiration for Frozen). So needless to say, he was a brilliant story teller.
So, just how much of Andersen’s story did Disney change for their animated film? There are many similarities between the two works, but the endings for both couldn’t be more different. Let’s dive into the worlds of The Little Mermaid.
One night, 16-year-old Ariel swims to the ocean surface and sees a grand ship sailing in the waters. She gets closer as celebratory music only gets louder and sees Prince Eric – a human man that she falls in love with at first sight. Things take a turn for the worse rather quickly, and the ship is destroyed in a storm. Prince Eric almost drowns but Ariel saves him and sings to him until he regains consciousness. The prince then vows to find the singing maiden and marry her.
Triton eventually finds out about this and, in a rage, destroys all of Ariel’s human possessions. This allows Ariel to easily be manipulated by Ursula the sea witch. She tells Ariel that she can turn her human in exchange for Ariel giving up her voice. However, if Ariel can’t receive a kiss of love from the prince within three days, then Ariel’s soul would be trapped for all of eternity in Ursula’s collection. Ariel agrees and is given a pair of legs.
When it looks like Ariel is getting close to achieving her goal, Ursula disguises herself as the singing maiden that Eric is looking for (using Ariel’s voice) in an attempt to foil Ariel’s plans. Ariel exposes Ursula but it’s too late. The third day is over and Ariel belongs to her now. Triton makes a deal to take his daughter’s place to save her, and with a crown and trident in hand, Ursula becomes the ruler of the seas – that is, until Eric stabs and kills her with a ship. After the shrivelled King Triton is returned to his Mermaid form, he turns Ariel human and she marries Prince Eric, living happily ever after.
In Andersen’s story, The Little Mermaid is never given a name. She is 10 years old and has five older sisters instead of six. Like the Disney adaptation, her father is the Sea King and while she also has no mother in this story, she does, however, have a grandmother.
The Mermaid and her sisters are all born one year apart. In Anderson’s story, it is explained that on her 15th birthday, a mermaid is allowed to swim to the surface and look at the world above. Each year, The Little Mermaid listened eagerly to the stories of her sisters anticipating her own 15th birthday. All of the Mermaid’s sisters were fascinated with trinkets and items they found from the wreckage of human vessels. The Little Mermaid however, only cared for her red flowers, and for a marble statue of a handsome boy that had fallen to the ocean floor.
The Little Mermaid would constantly dream about life on the surface and how it would be. Unlike in the movie, traveling the surface is never forbidden by the Sea King. Once a mermaid has reached the age of 15, there are able to go and come as they choose. The Little Mermaid has an established relationship with her grandmother who tells her about the human world and the way the world works.
Eventually, her 15th birthday came and TLM travelled to the surface. Once there, she spotted a grand ship and could hear songs and celebration coming from on board. She approached the ship and listened to all of the music and cheers and spotted a handsome lad on the ship whose appearance captured her heart almost right away. He was a prince and the Mermaid couldn’t keep her eyes off him. However, a great storm soon thundered across the skies and the perilous sea proved to be too much for the prince’s ship, with the winds and waves knocking it over on its side.
The mermaid swam with all her might and rescued the Prince from drowning. She took him ashore and petted his head gently until she heard someone coming near. The Prince was found and taken back to his castle, but it saddened the Mermaid that he would never know what she did for him. The Mermaid returned to her home and told her sisters about what happened. The sisters knew about the prince and his kingdom and took their little sister to show her the prince’s home. After that, The Little Mermaid would always dream about life in the Human world.
Her grandmother goes on to tell her that Mermaids live for sometimes 300 years, and that upon their death, they become sea foam. Humans, however, have a much shorter life span, except when a human dies, their soul lives on eternally and ascends to heaven. The mermaid asks her grandmother if Mermaids could ever have souls, and she responds, telling her granddaughter that only if she were to marry a human who loved her more so than his own parents and family, that a part of his soul would enter her and she would have a soul of her own. It’s important to note that the Mermaid not only wants to be with the prince, but would gladly give up her extended life to have a soul.
One night, when the underwater kingdom is having a ball, The Little Mermaid decides to go to the Sea Witch, hoping for a way to become human. The sea witch tells her that she is foolish, and that it would only end in heartbreak for her, but the mermaid persists. The sea witch tells her that in exchange for her ability to speak, she could be human. However, every step she takes will feel like a knife through her legs, and if the prince does not marry her, then the morning after his wedding, the Mermaid would die and become sea foam. The mermaid agrees and the Sea Witch takes a knife and cuts the Mermaid’s tongue out.
The Prince finds the Mermaid and takes her back to his castle where she is dressed richly. The prince and his parents are then entertained by…um…female slaves…who put on a dance for the royal family and their mute guest. The Mermaid starts to dance as well despite it causing her great pain and she gains the prince’s attention. The prince wanted her to remain with him always, and the Mermaid would sleep by his door, they rode together through the woods, and she even climbed with him to the top of mountains, always being happy despite her tender feet starting to bleed.
One night, the Mermaid spotted her sisters in the water and beckoned for them to approach her. Once they recognized their human sister, they told her how much sorrow their family was in that she was gone. After that, her sisters would come every night to visit her and one evening, the little mermaid even saw her grandmother – who hasn’t come to the surface in a long time – and her father looking at her from the ocean surface. They outstretched their hands towards her longingly, wishing for her to return to them, but they didn’t dear go near land.
The prince loved the mermaid, but he loved her as he would a little child. He told her that she was dear to him, but that he was in love with the temple maiden that had found him on the beach after the ship wreckage. He had only seen her twice, but he told the Mermaid that she had almost driven the temple maiden from his mind. The Mermaid is happy, thinking that she is close to winning over the prince’s heart, but then the unexpected happens.
The prince and Mermaid sail away to another kingdom after his parents forced him to meet its princess. On their way there, he tells the mermaid that his parents cannot force him to marry the princess, and that he would rather marry the mermaid who has been so loyal to him. The mermaid grows happier but when they arrive at the town, her world – and heart – is shattered. The princess is the same girl from the temple that found him on the beach, and the prince had finally found the girl that had rescued him. Even the mermaid acknowledges that she is the most beautiful thing she had ever laid eyes on.
The prince married the princess. The mermaid even attended the wedding, walking behind the princess helping her to hold her train. That night, on the prince’s ship, the little mermaid waited for the sun to rise and for her imminent death. It was then that she saw her sisters surface from the ocean depths with all of their beautiful hair cut short. They gave her a dagger, saying they all sacrificed their hair to the sea witch in exchange for a way to save their sister’s life. The Little Mermaid would have to plunge it into the heart of prince and let his blood drip over her feet, then, she would turn back into a mermaid and would be able to live out the rest of her life.
The mermaid – holding the knife in her hand – walked into the prince’s chambers where he and his bride slept, and couldn’t muster the strength to kill him. After everything, she still loved him so much. She threw the dagger overboard, and as the sun started to rise, she threw herself into the ocean, her body turning into foam.
However, something peculiar happened, the little mermaid started to rise up into the sky. Her body was destroyed but she was now an ethereal being, and there were a lot of other ethereal beings around her. They explained to the mermaid that because of her struggle to achieve a soul, that she had become a Daughter of the Air. After 300 years of doing good deeds for mankind, a Daughter of the Air is rewarded with a soul and is given entry into the Kingdom of God. However, for every good child that they encounter, one year is taken off of their service, and for every bad child, one year is added on.
Arguably the biggest change from the story to the film is the character of the Sea Witch. In Andersen’s story, she doesn’t have an ulterior motive. She even advises the mermaid not to pursue the prince. Disney was 100% behind the character of Ursula as well as her motivations and with the exception of the movie’s ending, made the Disney version a hell of a lot darker than the source material. Which is not something you can say too often.
There are quite a few literary scholars that debate the ending for Anderson’s original story as well. They were fine with The Mermaid dying and becoming sea foam, but some felt like Anderson’s inclusion of The Daughters of Air was just a cheap gimmick to manipulate children into behaving themselves. A tactic that they felt was almost too transparent.
I know there are some people that find a fault with the story of The Little Mermaid because they feel like it’s about a girl that gives up everything to be with a man, but in my opinion, that shouldn’t be the take away from the story. In the Disney version, Ariel was obsessed with the human world way before she ever met Eric, and in the story, one of her main motivations was her desire to obtain a soul and live on in heaven after she died.