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The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales: The Little Mermaid

Today's installment of The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales we are covering The Little Mermaid. We all know what the Disney version is, Ariel falls for Prince Eric and signs away her voice to spend time on land with him hoping he falls for her. Obviously the ending is a happy because it is a Disney movie. Which can't be said about the Hans Christian Andersen original. There are still lessons to learn from the movie. One lesson that I take from this movie was that don't change yourself for someone, be yourself.


Hans Christian Andersen Original

The Little Mermaid was created by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen in 1837, about 150 years before Ariel was singing Under the Sea with Sebastian and Flounder. Andersen's little mermaid endured a far grislier life than the bright-eyed Ariel we know, and her desire to be human is far more dramatic than Disney lets on.

They say everything's better where it is wetter, but in 1837 our little mermaid certainly didn't think so. Andersen's mermaids were soulless creatures destined to dissolve into sea foam when they died, whereas humans were promised a beautiful afterlife. Terrified of her abysmal fate, the little mermaid wanted nothing more than a human soul, but as her grandmother explained to her, the only way a mermaid can grow a soul is to wed a man who loves her more than anything, and should the man not marry her, she will die.

When the little mermaid spots a handsome dark-haired prince on shore, her desire to be human only worsens, and as desperate times call for desperate measures, the mermaid visits the Sea Witch to strike a deal, but first she must travel through thousands of polypi (think sea anemone), who cling to anything including skeletons and a mermaid they had caught and strangled.

Without even asking her wish, the Sea Witch offers the little mermaid a draught that will give her legs at a high cost: "I will prepare a draught for you, with which you must swim to land tomorrow before sunrise, and sit down on the shore and drink it. Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you."

As if the pain of a sword passing through her wasn't enough, the witch cuts off the little mermaid's tongue for payment. What follows is nothing but heartbreak. The prince loves the little mermaid, but not more than anything, and he marries another woman. The only way the little mermaid can save herself from her imminent death is to stab the prince to death, but she refuses, ending her life on earth and ocean.


So which is better?

In my opinion neither story is better than the other. I think that they each have their lessons and everyone will take something from each story. So the question is which do you like better?


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