sunnuntai 13. joulukuuta 2015

Fairy tale origins: Little Mermaid


Hello blogging world

Last month I took part on fascinating on-line course about Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales.
I was very inspired by the course and started fairy tale origin series to my YouTube channel and now will do separate blog posts about them as well.

First fairy tale origin I'm going to write about is little Mermaid.

Some years ago I was visiting Copenhagen. I only spent two days there and didn't have much time to get familiar with city sights but Little Mermaid Statue was a must.
Indeed it is a beautiful statue and very well represents mermaid in the Andersen's story.


Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. Sculpted by Edvard Eriksen.

First touch I had with little Mermaid was probably with the Disney animation and I believe majority of people now days are more familiar with Disney's Ariel than the original fairy tale.

(c) Disney

I think I was 15 when I read the Andersen's fairy tale.
Here is link to the English version if someone wishes to read it:

If you've been planning to read it better to read it before you continue reading my blog post. Spoilers ahead!  You can also find it pretty much every library.

Quote from the fairy tale
"She was a strange child. Quiet and thoughtful"

Character of little Mermaid is very different in the original fairy tale than Ariel in the Disney version. Ariel is bubbly and cheerful. Andersen's mermaid is quiet, thoughtful and also bit melancholic character. Story is sad one.

Little Mermaid is 12 or 13 in the beginning of the fairy tale. She lives in the underwater Kingdom with her father the king,  her grandmother (queen mother) and her mermaid sisters. Every year on their birthdays each mermaid sister gets permission to go to the surface and take a look at the human world. Every time when they come back they tell the wonderful things they saw and little mermaid is mesmerized by their stories. She starts dreaming about living among humans in the human world.

Her grandmother also tells her stories about humans and also that humans unlike mermaids have an immortal soul. Mermaids can live up to 300 years but when they die they can only become sea foam and there fore can't live forever like humans with their immortal souls.

Finally her 15th birthday arrives. First thing little mermaid sees is a massive ships, fireworks, sailors dancing on the deck of the ship and the most handsome prince. Little Mermaids finds herself caught in a storm. She sees that ship is about to drown and saves the handsome prince.

Prince gets to see glimpse of her face and hear her beautiful singing voice before the little  mermaid disappears back to the depths of the ocean.

This event makes little Mermaid even more obsessive about living among humans. She has collection of human items, little garden where red flowers grow and they are shaped like the sun. She also has real-like looking statue of the prince.

At some point little Mermaid realizes that to fulfill her dream to live among humans she must go to meet the sea witch. Sea witch makes a bargain with her. Mermaid gives her her voice and she gets pair of legs but walking with those legs is painful. Every step is like walking on needles.

Mermaid finds her way to kingdom and to the court. Prince becomes very found of her but only as a friend. Soon prince is getting married with princess from another kingdom. This makes little Mermaid extremely sad but she silently accepts that prince doesn't love her enough to marry her. Little Mermaid comes to the tragic decision to end her life. Neither she is part of the sea world anymore but not part of  the human world either.

She drowns herself and becomes daughter of the air and after 300 years as a blowing wind she finally gains her immortal soul.

Ending of the fairy tale is very dramatic at least compared to the Disney animation. Then again I don't think Disney animations would accept leading character committing suicide.

Little Mermaid is said  to depict Andersen's own life. He became famous through his fairy tales and he lived 'till old age. Women who he felt connections with didn't respond to his feelings and Andersen was very lonely man. He was also very devoted Christian and in many of his fairy tales one can find Christian moral teachings and some stories have similarities with biblical tales.

In Andersen's fairy tale the underwater world represents wild, free, pagan world. Mermaids live happy and balanced life, singing and dancing. Little Mermaid wishes to be part of the human world. Human world in the fairy tale is opposite to the underwater world. It is Christian / patriarchal world. Little Mermaid lives in a constant conflict between pagan and Christian beliefs.

Language is very vivid and Andersen depicts his characters with depth. Story is beautifully written. There is melancholic beauty and sensitivity in the fairy tale that reader in all age groups can relate to. 

As a character little Mermaid is very pure, bit naive, she is kind and forgiving. If she would be a human I think she would make a great nun. She is leaded by some higher powers.

As a creature mermaid is literally only part human. She has human torso and human conscience. She is also part fish, part animal, that makes her also wild and unattainable.
So fairy tale is not just about inner spiritual conflict but also the physical differences.
It's not easy to learn how to walk if you haven't ever walked before. Part where mermaid walks painfully on land is very realistic when you think about it.

If I would be in a similar situation I would try to make my way of living in the both worlds and enjoy my life best way I could but little Mermaid only wants to live in the human world. In away maybe she is ashamed of her mermaid heritage just like in the Victorian Europe of 19th century people had to hide their backgrounds if it was even slightly different from the social acceptable norms of those  patriarchal times. 

Andersen was very interested from European folklore. In the 19th century when story was written mermaids were seen as erotic creatures and characters that represented female powers, chaos and evil. Victorian Europe and Denmark of the 19th century were extremely patriarchal societies and women were seen as lower level citizens towards to men. 

When Little Mermaid was published it became very famous book and it also made a big cultural difference the way people started to see mermaids. They weren't anymore just evil erotic sirens. Mermaid could be lovable creature and very human-like. That is one of the reasons I like the story of Andersen's Little Mermaid. Not just the beauty and the philosophy there is but also the cultural impact it has made to the history of mermaids.

2 kommenttia:

  1. I think spirits (both good adn evil ones) can take on many forms--certainly mermaids or sirens could have been some of them. Yes, Ive read the original tale too--far better than the disneyfied versions.

    bTw, fun to see your youtube channel and hear your voice etc!

    VastaaPoista
    Vastaukset
    1. Thanks Michael. I hope you are doing good. Yes spirits can take many shapes and forms. I love the Disney version as well and one needs to remember that original fairy tale and Disney animations are both linked to their time and their target groups as well.

      Poista