The Little Mermaid

The 1989 Disney movie The Little Mermaid is based on a story by which author?

And the answer: Hans Christian Andersen.

Photo credit: public domain.

First published in 1837, The Little Mermaid is a fairy tale written by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The story follows the journey of a young mermaid who is willing to give up her life in the sea – and her identity as a mermaid – in order to gain a human soul.    

While the Disney adaptation is a classic tale of a charming prince and a wishful mermaid, the original story is a bit... darker. This 1837 creation more closely resembles the Grimm Brothers' tales of trial and tribulation – for example, rather than wasting away from the boredom of the sea floor, "the mermaid" (Ariel is nameless in this version) is burdened by painful oysters attached to her tail just by nature of her royalty. When she objects, her grandmother reminds her that "pride must suffer pain." Jeez, thanks, Grandma.

What's more: the Hans Christian Andersen version is deeply concerned with souls. Rather than seeking love and the ability to walk freely on land, the mermaid seeks the powerful immortality that a soul offers. Another painful aspect of being a mermaid is that their 300 year lifespan ends in not much more than sea foam – Andersen continually reminds the reader that humans alone possess the superior quality of a soul.

If that wasn't enough, in Andersen's version the prince is a jerk. Forget the dim-witted yet charming prince of the Disney version – Andersen's prince keeps the mermaid at the foot of his throne and tells her all about the wonders of the sea (I'm rolling my eyes on Ariel's behalf). When the mermaid becomes a human, she must convince him to marry him, or she will perish (soul-less, mind you). Talk about a bad deal!

The original story is imbued with a whole bunch of other really bad deals: dissolving into sea foam, dancing at the wedding of her ex-lover, and more. Read the original here (if you dare).


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Amelia Earhart
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