Tag Archives: Childrens Books

The Real Little Mermaid

July 26, 2019


There’s a lot of chatter on social media recently on the issue of the casting of the little mermaid with a black actress. Media platforms are lit up with the hashtags #notmyariel and #notmylittlemermaid. While I do not want to get into cultural representation and appropriation, (Does a fish have a culture?) I would like to state that the little mermaid is a fish so therefore she should be green!

All this fuss about the mermaid negates the real tragedy of the representation of the story. The real tragedy of The Little Mermaid is the disneyfication of the original fairytale written by Hans Christian Anderson.

The real Little Mermaid was one of my favorite books as a child. I distinctly remember it’s black almost vinyllike cover and the “Magic Motion” tilt card image (called lenticular printing) on the front of the book. By tilting the image she would magically wave to me! This pre-Disney book was but a short story of the original Hans Christian Anderson tale, but it kept true to the origins of the tale.
For those who are only familiar with the Disney version where the mermaid gets the prince and becomes a Disney princess, they may be surprised to learn the deeper ending of the original.

In the original version (and the short story version from my children’s book memory) the Little Mermaid still falls in love with the prince, still trades her voice for feet and the prince still mistakenly thinks the girl who saved him (the mermaid) is another girl. The original version ends with Ariel (though she is never named in the original story) sacrificing herself and eventually finds her way to heaven. Sound familiar? That’s right, the real version of the little mermaid is about self-sacrificial love and not about getting the man. The real version of the little mermaid is where Ariel is an archetype of Christ. Now, that is a story worth lighting up social media!

I suppose the producers who turned the little mermaid into a princess instead of a Christlike figure thought the death of the mermaid was too dark of a tale for children in this modern age, despite the fact that cautionary tales throughout the ages have appealed to children. What else is Little Red Riding Hood but a cautionary tale to remind little children to stay on the path to grandma’s house and not talk to strangers (or strange wolves), My children’s favorite story was I Don’t Care Said Pierre written by Maurice Sendak and depicts a cautionary tale of an indifferent child who eventually gets eaten by a lion. Roald Dahl has a dark side in his stories. (Lets not forget the poem The Pig). No, I don’t think it is because the real Little Mermaid story had a dark side that it was changed, I think it is because it actually has a higher meaning.

It is sad that we are not in an outrage for the watering down of this tale.

If we focus on the argument of what actress portrays Ariel, we forget that she was originally a Christlike figure that has now been lost along with the lessons the story taught. The washed down Disney version created over 25 years ago misses the conversation between the little mermaid and her Grandmother that explains an eternal soul.

“Human beings, on the contrary, have a soul which lives forever, long after their bodies have turned to clay. It rises through thin air, up to the shining stars. Just as we rise through the water to see the lands on earth, so men rise up to beautiful places unknown, which we shall never see.”

What a beautiful way to introduce children and remind adults of the beauty of an eternal soul and the transformation of sacrificial love (agape).

The real little mermaid’s goal is not to become a Disney princess.

“Why weren’t we given an immortal soul?” the little mermaid sadly asked. “I would gladly give up my three hundred years if I could be a human being only for a day, and later share in that heavenly realm.”

So when [spoiler alert] the mermaid chooses not to kill the Prince’s new wife and faced her own death instead she is granted a human soul and eventually taken up to heaven – her ultimate home.

Yes, maybe the real tragedy of The Little Mermaid is not what color the actress is that plays her in the movie- it is that the story no longer represents the Paschal Mystery.

Maybe we can start a new hashtag.  #thereallittlemermaidischrist

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