As most of you know, Disney Studios doesn’t always come up with their blockbusters from scratch. They borrow from some of the most well-known creators of fairytale lore: Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm. They pepper the plot with a little pixie dust (for the kiddies) and out pops a smash hit, along with a love ballad.
But what some of you may not know are the REAL stories. On that note, I introduce to you The Real Story series. We’ll focus on the original stories of Disney’s most coveted; down to the sordid details.
To kick the series off, I bring you The Little Mermaid (or The Little Sea Woman, as it was originally titled).
The story takes place in the deepest of the deep ocean, a place no human could ever travel. The Little Mermaid was a princess who lived in this bottomless abyss with her father (the Sea King), her grandmother, and her five older sisters. Each princess had a plot of land in which to grow a garden, and days were filled with play and laughter. Only, the Little Mermaid spent most of her time tending to her garden. She wasn’t like her sisters, who delighted in swimming around the castle. The Little Mermaid had once come upon a shipwreck where she found a human statue. She placed this statue in her garden alongside her favorite flowers.
The Little Mermaid was always asking her grandmother to tell her stories about life outside the ocean; she learned of humans and other animals. The mermaids had beautiful voices, and none were so beautiful as the six princesses. Now, the mermaids’ lives spanned for 300 years and at the age of 15, they were allowed to swim to the surface of the water to see the earth. When the Little Mermaid turned 15, she swam up with vigor and excitement.
As she breaks the water, she rises upon a ship and looks through its windows. She sees the prince and instantly falls in love with him (side note: the prince has just turned the manly age of 16). A massive storm hits that night and the ship is smashed into bits by mighty waves. At first, the Little Mermaid is happy to see the prince sinking into the depths, until she remembers that her grandmother said that humans can’t live in water. So she saves the guy.
She works very hard to keep him alive and drops him off at a temple built off the sea’s coast. The Little Mermaid hides behind a large rock to make sure the prince recovers, before he does; a young woman approaches him and then calls for help. He soon awakens and is shaking hands and smiling with everyone...everyone, except the Little Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid was devastated and broken hearted. She longed to be with the prince. In her sorrow she neglected her garden, stopped talking, and refused to tell her sisters what she had seen at the surface. She finally broke down and told one sister, who told the others. Together, they found the palace and took their little sister to the prince. The Little Mermaid spent her days and nights watching the young prince from the sea, falling deeper in love with him.
She asks her grandmother if humans live as long as mermaids and her grandmother tells her that humans have shorter life spans. However, she explains, humans are given eternal life after they die, unlike mermaids, who after their 300 years basically become sea foam. The only way a mermaid can have eternal life is to get a human to love her more than anything in the world and part of the human’s soul will transfer to the mermaid. She also reminds her granddaughter that humans have legs and find fishtails quite repulsive.
The Little Mermaid decides to see the Sea Witch for help, crossing over to her part of the sea wrought with death and decay and mutant animal/plant hybrids. The Sea Witch lives inside a house built from human bones, she allows a toad to eat from her mouth, and sea snakes to “crawl all over her bosom.” The sorceress knows what the foolish princess wants. She tells her that she will give her legs, make her the finest dancer, and that every human will see her as the most beautiful girl they’ve ever seen, but warns that each step she takes with her human legs will be like stepping on the blades of the sharpest of knives.
The Little Mermaid agrees, but there’s more fine print. The Sea Witch also tells her she can never return to the sea, never see her family again, will never be able to speak again, and that if the prince marries someone else, then she’ll die from a broken heart. Still, the princess accepts the terms. The witch makes up a pot of magic potion, finally pricking her breast with a needle and allowing her black blood to drip into the pot. She bottles the concoction and hands it to the Little Mermaid before cutting out her tongue.
The mermaid swims to the shore and drinks from the twinkling bottle, waking up naked and with two long legs and small feet. The prince finds her and she covers her body with her long hair. He takes her back to his castle, fits her in the finest robes, and she tags along wherever he goes. She dances for him and he is so enchanted by her gracefulness, he tells her she shall be with him always. So the princess is allowed to sleep outside his door on a red cushion (sweet!). She follows the prince everywhere he goes like a willing and happy little lovesick puppy. Her sisters find her and they cry for their loss.
One day the prince tells the Little Mermaid about his love for her, you know, the kind of love he would have for a small child. He tells her how he’s in love with a woman that saved his life when his ship wrecked in a storm. He says this is the only woman he could ever love. When his parents arrange his marriage to a neighboring princess, he tells the Little Mermaid he will not marry the princess and, “I would rather choose you, my dumb foundling, with those expressive eyes.” (What a sweet talker.)
But of course, when he goes to meet the princess, he finds that she was the woman in the temple who he thinks saved his life. The pair are married immediately.
The Little Mermaid waits for death to come, but instead, her sisters appear before her on the ship on which the wedding was held. Their long beautiful hair has been chopped off and they tell her they gave their hair to the Sea Witch in exchange for the Little Mermaid’s life. The witch has given the sisters a knife that the Little Mermaid must use to kill the prince, allowing his blood to touch her feet. His blood will transform her legs back into a fish tail and she can return to the sea. But the Little Mermaid cannot kill the prince. She tosses the knife into the sea and throws herself into the ocean, dying upon impact.
But this isn’t the end for the Little Mermaid. She is met by the “daughters of the air” – pretty much ghosts. These ghosts tell her that she has earned immortal life, but before she can reach Heaven, she has to serve out a 300 year sentence, wandering the earth as a ghost.
However, if she finds good boys and girls who love and listen to their moms and dads, then she gets a year taken from her sentence. For every naughty kid, she gets a day added to her sentence.
And that’s it, Literati, the true story of the Little Mermaid. No happily ever after for the sea princess. That’s actually one of the more tame stories I’ll be sharing with you during this series.
As always, happy reading and writing!