Has it really been a year since we dreamed up this barmy idea of engaging in a very public journey of creation? Yes, it has!! This month, March, is the last one of our mission. One more fairytale…which shall it be? We both wanted to return to something a bit better known, and settled on The Little Mermaid, for my part, because, even though it is very well known, and even iconic, the actual details are often a bit hazy.
Andersen wrote it nearly 200 years ago, and yet it is ageless, a story of what we are doing for love. What I remember about it is that it was the book I read most often in the library. As a child, my mother worked in the same building as the library (i.e. the town hall), and as soon as I could read, I would often wait for her there while she would hop in to do a bit of work out of hours, or she’d go say hello to some colleagues while I was in seventh heaven in the children’s section.
The true version of the Little Mermaid is a tricky one to understand, because the ‘reward’ for hardship, unlike a lot of fairytales, isn’t ‘the prince’, ‘the money’, etc., but the chance to win an eternal soul….not even an eternal soul at tale’s end, but the opportunity to gain one. It fascinated me. And of course, Disney managed to put its own spin on it. But, looking at the ‘reality’ – first, you rescue somebody, but selflessly disappear before that somebody comes round to thank you. Then, you trade your beautiful voice for immeasurable pain, first in the transformation to gain a pair of legs, then every time you walk. Then, you put yourself through more and more pain, dancing to gain the same somebody’s love…until it becomes apparent that the somebody loves the person he *thinks* rescued him, even though that was you. Then, given the opportunity to kill him and reclaim your mermaid-ness, you choose to die. That is – I’m sorry to say – an awful lot of selflessness to sell to a kid! And, again I’m sorry to say – more self-sacrifice than seems viable. There are different kinds of strength at play here – being able to endure in the name of love, sure. However…the prince loves the ‘girl who he thinks rescued him’ – by sheer luck, she turns out to be the princess his family want him to marry. So…I’m imagining the pillow talk here. Prince: “Thank you for rescuing me when I nearly drowned.” Princes: “Erm…….sure……any time, love!” – did they genuinely never talk about his miraculous rescue? Is the princess – gentle though she is being described – a liar? And if you love somebody – love them so much that you’re willing to die for them – would you not want to make sure that they are able to have a relationship built on trust and truth, rather than on avoidance and/or outright lies?
However, even as a child, I remember that it was the details that caught me – the idea that mermaids, when they die, become sea foam. The complicated relationships of lesser characters – the mermaid’s sisters, for example.
But only in researching the fairy tale for this blog did I find out that Andersen originally had the mermaid simply dissolving into sea foam – no immortal soul, no reward at all. I think that would have been more consistent than a sudden morality ending – doomed to live for 300 years as a ‘daughter of the air’ – if she finds a well-behaved child, she can deduct a year, if she finds a naughty one, she will cry, and each tear will add time (depending on the version, a month or a day)…I think, at this point, at the very, very latest, I would have chosen to harden my heart, and not to shed tears because of a naughty little brat I know nothing about.