I’ve had several conversations over the years about the differences between original fairy tales and their Disney-fied versions. I decided this week to read Hans Christian Andersen’s original version of “The Little Mermaid”.
To my surprise, it is apparent that the Disney creators actually read the original story. Several small details that were exquisitely described by Andersen are in the movie. Specifically, this includes the fireworks on the prince’s ship and the little mermaid’s red hair. Well, in the story, she just has a lot of red flowers in her hair. In the movie, her name is Ariel, in the story she has no name.
However, there are differences. While the little mermaid is entranced by the world of humans, it is also told to her that humans have immortal souls, while mermaids do not. The only way a mermaid can get an immortal soul is to get a human man to forsake his parents for her (in other words, get married), then she can become one with his soul. If a man marries another woman then, the mermaid would turn into seafoam on the morning of the wedding. I will point out that the story does not indicate what mermen have to do.
Much like the movie, the little mermaid makes a deal with the devil…I mean, the sea witch… and exchanges her voice for the chance to have legs and live on land with humans. She attempts to attract the handsome prince that she saved from drowning (like in the movie).
The big difference between the story and the movie, though, is the ending. I believe this tends to be where most of the differences between stories and their Disney versions occur. As you may have guessed, the prince does not marry the little mermaid and she turns into seafoam.
But the story doesn’t end there. After the little mermaid is turned into seafoam, she is floating around in some sort of mermaid purgatory where other mermaids who have been turned into seafoam tell her that she can get an immortal soul and go into heaven if she does good deeds for 300 years. Every child that she makes laugh will take some time away from the 300 years. Every child that cries, will add time to the 300 years.
The movie version has Ariel live happily ever after with her prince on land as a human with her father’s blessing.
Given the fact that I am reading Rudyard Kipling’s stories, I may have to do some comparisons of his Jungle Book stories to the Disney version, although I’ve already read that Walt Disney simply used the characters from Kipling’s works to make his own movie.