Sunday, 9 February 2014

The analysis of The Little Mermaid Or How I learned to stop worrying and started loving seafood

The Analysis of:
The Little Mermaid
How I learned to stop worrying and started loving seafood


Along with Goldilocks and Snow White the story of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersons has lasted so long is because it's one that fits so very easily into any age group.
For the very young there are the pretty mermaids and for the older children there's the love story.
The cynical child gets to hear about binding contracts with the forces of evil and for those of us who read it as adults there's the elephant in the room regarding the Disney adaptation.

Wait, what?
It all stems from the fact that, in the original story, the mermaid was given the opportunity to become a mermaid again but since it would have been at the cost of her princes life. She threw the knife away, jumped into the ocean and died
The Disney version, on the other hand, named the mermaid after a typeface, added some catchy musical numbers, one of the greatest villians ever and then changed the ending from a tragic suicide to an epic battle at sea which any pirate worth his parrot would be proud of.

Leaving all that aside exactly what is this story really about?
Well on the one hand it's about love and what people go through to hold onto it and on the other hand its a training guide on how to obtain that perfect man and what to do when he favors someone else.
But on the third hand which, it should be noted, is really more of a tentacle this story is an example of how an entity without a soul can not only get one but also get into heaven on a technicality.


It was underneath the ocean waves that the sea king lived in a palace of coral with his wife and five daughters. It was a happy life since, as the king was wont to remark, "Not only are we mermaids but we're royal mermaids. It doesn't get much better than that"
His wife and five daughters agreed even though technically speaking the king wasn't a mermaid [2] but when kings and father say things like this it's sometimes better to just smile and nod.

Sirenetta was the youngest and loveliest of all the mermaids and when she sang the fish flocked from all over the sea to listen to her. Their shells gaped wide and even the jellyfish stopped to listen.
"Oh how I'd love to go up to the surface and see the sky and hear the humans and smell the flowers"
"You're still too young" said her mother who promptly died and had no further part in the story at all.

I'll spare you the few rather pointless paragraphs detailing what she did for the rest of the year and sum it up by saying that a year passed without anything happening that would (a) develop the plot of this story further or (b) run the risk of me mocking it [3].
Then one day her father called and slipped a carved flower into her hair which we can assume is magical in some way.
"This flower is magical" the king said [4] "when you wear it you can breath air and see the sky. But remember it isn't our world and we can only watch and admire [5]. We're children of the sea and have no souls as men do. Keep away from them they bring bad luck!" [6]
Of course all these warnings were wasted on the young mermaid and if anything only made her swim to the surface faster because anything that's worth three different keep away messages must be worth seeing. [7]

"It's all so lovely" she exclaimed at the sight of the endless blue sky which looked nothing like the endless blue ocean in which she lived. The highlight of her trip was a ship that sailed towards the rock she was sitting on "I'd love to speak to them" but she looked down at her long flexible tail "I can never be like them" [8]

Presently the ship dropped anchor and a celebration took place. Fireworks lit the sky and the crew cheered for the captain of the vessel who just happened to be a rather dashing prince but while all this was going on the ocean was becoming rougher and by the time anyone realized what was happening an icy wind was sweeping over the waves and the ink black sky was torn by flashes of lightning. The ship was soon swamped and broken in half against the cruel rocks which quite dampened the whole party atmosphere really.

Sirenetta swam about the wreckage looking for the captain and disregarding any of the other sailors who were in the water because it was the prince who was the handsome one. She kept his head above water and clung to him for hours trying to fight the tiredness that was quickly overtaking her.
When the sun finally broke through the last of the storm clouds she was able to strike out in the direction of land where, aided by the now gentle waves, she brought the prince to rest.

Of course you would think that the Prince woke up and looks at the mermaid with true love because that's what happens in 99% of fairy tales. True love is so hard to avoid that I'm amazed nobodies thought of developing a repellent spray [9]
However this tale doesn't being to the 99% which is going to be a big problem when Occupy Farfaraway starts up.
Anyway, long story short the mermaid gets the prince to the beach and when he wakes up it's in the arms of a beautiful woman who takes him up to the castle while the mermaid is left to reflect on her good deed and the fact that she saved a sailors life.

Oh wait, she totally doesn't. For the next few days the entire ocean gets to watch her swim about with a lump in her throat and a pain in her heart because she was a mermaid and, leaving aside the small and relatively important fact that he didn't know she existed, could never marry a human.

Sirenetta couldn't stand it anymore and went off to talk to the Witch of the seas.
"I see you're in love princess" the witch emerged from her cave which was guarded by a giant squid because why not.
"How did you..."
"Give me a little credit. Why else would you be coming to me? Anyway I've got some magic that'll give you a nice pair of legs but you'll suffer horribly as though a sword were cutting you apart and every time you place your feet on the earth you'll feel terrible pain"
"It doesn't matter. Why are you telling me all this? Why aren't you casting the spell already?"
"I'm about to turn the princess of the merpeople into a human. When your dad finds out about it I don't want any there to be any misunderstandings that might, oh I don't know, end up with me impaled by a ship after I take control of his magical trident"
"We're not doing the Disney version you know" the mermaid whined "Just make with the abracapocus"
"In a minute, in a minute. we've got to get the rest of this legal stuff out the way first" the witch leafed through a few more pages "Right then party of the first part, that's you, been advised of the physical risks agrees to trade your voice to the party of the second part which is me in exchange for human legs which will, as aforementioned, hurt a lot and furthermore if the man you love marries someone else you'll not be able to become a mermaid again but will just dissolve in the water like the foam on a wave"
"Whatever. I don't care!" Sirenetta scribbled at the bottom of the contract and initialed each page hurriedly before taking the little bottle "I want to be with my love"

At the little beach she pulled herself up onto shore and drank the potion with nothing but love in her heart. The pain was so agonizing that she blacked out and when she awoke she saw the prince smiling down at her.
Although this might seem like the largest of coincidences even by fairy tale standards it was actually the witches magic bringing them together which was nice of her. The prince placed his cloak over the mermaid and told her how he'd been washed ashore on this exact same beach but Sirenetta couldn't reply because of the whole voice thing and because of the aforementioned magic and the fact that he was kind of a nice guy anyway the prince took her up to the castle.

Of course, just as the witch had said every step that she took was agony but she smiled through the pain as she was given splendid dresses, went out riding with her love and attended balls where they danced the night away.
However the princes heart really belonged to the lady who had rescued him from the beach and as fond of the mermaid [10] he still yearned for her and the mermaid, knowing that she was not his true love, suffered even more because clearly more suffering is exactly what this story needs.

From the castle ramparts one day a huge ship was sighted sailing into the harbor and the prince and Sirenetta went down to meet it. When the prince saw that the lady who had rescued him from the beach was on board he ran to greet her while the mermaid felt a painful feeling in her heart and felt herself turn to stone [11]
Naturally there was a wedding but the princess wasn't the bride and, remembering the witches prophecy viz a ve the prince marrying someone else, she prepared to throw herself overboard.
"Wait sister!" the cry came from the waters "it's your sisters and we've heard all about what happened! This knife is magic which the witch gave to us in exchange for our hair [12] If you kill the prince before dawn you'll become a mermaid again and forget all your troubles!"

She tried, she really did but in the end couldn't bring herself to kill the prince who's only mistake had been to marry the woman he loved rather than the merprincess who couldn't talk and had no way of taking credit for getting him to the beach in the first place.
With the rising of the sun she threw the knife into the sea. Then she took one last look at the surface world before diving into the ocean and becoming nothing more than the foam on the ocean wave.

Or it would be if this didn't happen.
she was drawn up into the sky by a "mysterious force that certainly wasn't the hand of God"
"Who are you" she asked "where am I?"
"We're the fairies of the air! We've got no souls like men do but our task is to help them"
"There's some pretty unrealistic guidelines and if we manage to achieve them then we get into heaven"
"Sign me up!" the ghost of the princess said completely forgetting that in order to have a ghost you first have to have a soul and thus she was already eligible to enter heaven on a technicality.

  • Why does she wait the year like her mother said to?
    Stories like these [13] are filled with people getting into trouble because they've done something they were specifially told not to do and either gotten away with it in the tradition of Red Riding Hod or haven't in the tradition of The Little Red Shoes.
  • Keep away from the humans and assorted dire warnings:
    If I've got this straight the king of the mermaids is telling his daughter that their entire race are souless monsters who can only lurk on the outskirts peering in at humanity. I personally will not suprised to find out that dear old dad is our good friend Cthulhu.
  • The sinking of the ship:
    The princes party was so fantasically wonderful that actual sailors didn't realise that an actual storm was actually happening until it was actually too late. It kind of puts Cinderella and her foot fetishists ball to shame really.
  • Moping about after she'd saved the princes life:
    I think that it would have been a much more interesting story if she'd stayed under the ocean and ralied the other mermaids to become more proactive in saving the lives of drowning sailors. The king wouldn't like it and would try to stop her so there's your conflict right there and she would have had a hard time convincing the other mermaids which would add even more drama to the whole thing. But then Anderson never listens to me because I don't speak Dutch and also he's dead which puts a major damper on our conversations.
  • Exactly who is the villian in this version?
    It's not the witch who is relegated to a very minor role and neither is it the woman who actually marries the prince. If anyone has to be the villian in this story then it's the mermaid princess but only because she's such a mary sue character that she has to be everything.
Right then. looking back at this story it's not exactly surprising that Disney changed a few of the details and by changed I mean rewrote the majority of the work by putting in a villian, giving the whole thing a happier ending [14] and stuffing it full of catchy musical numbers with singing fish.

It isn't that this is a dark tale for Anderson to write, indeed some of his work can be very Grimm indeed [15], it's just that usually there's a thread of hope running through his stories and there really doesn't seem to be one in this book. We're reminded several times that only men have souls, the mermaid mopes about the place and quite frankly I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that this was written after he'd suffered a bad breakup of the kind where it seems that every other person on the planet has someone and are going out of their way to make certain you know about it.

Taking everything into consideration I question whether or not there's really a lesson in this story and really the more I think about it the more I think it's something along the lines of
"If you can't be with the one you love then clearly suicide is the only answer, or murder. Why not both if you've got the time?"


  1. To be fair it should be noted that it's impossible to do anything without upsetting someone.  I offer any forum or chatroom on the internet as evidence of this.
  2. After five daughters the queen didn't really qualify for maiden status either of course anyone crass enough to point this out would do well to remember that there are always the possibility of mereunichs.
  3. ...any more than I already have done.
  4. Told you so.
  5. “We're essentially reverse Jacques Cousteau's if you think about it.  Only without the accent”
  6. Am I the only one thinking that's kind of racist?
  7. Which she should have done a year ago when she was 14 and it still could have been blamed on teenage rebellion.
  8. “I'm just going to go home to the palace where I live with my loving family and my complete lack of worries about anything"
  9. It wouldn't be permanent but there having your employees singing about love during the big tax audit is not conducive to a productive working environment
  10. Or, rather more accurately as fond as the witches magic had made him
  11. Er...metaphorically speaking
  12. “Can't you see we're suffering in support of you?”
  13. and especially Hans Christian Anderson ones
  14. What you mean dying and finding out that you've got a chance at heaven isn't a happy ending?”
  15. ba dum tsh!

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