The Little Mermaid was originally written by Hans-Christian Andersen and quite a bit of the original story actually made it into the popular movie correctly. Of course Mr. Andersen did not include any singing crabs or obnoxiously dumb sea gulls, but the actual plot lines, up to a point, are very similar.
In the original story, there is a sea king on the floor of the ocean. He has five beautiful daughters, the youngest of which is a fabulous singer. She is not named Ariel, in the story, but probably wishes she were. Her original name is Sirenetta.
Sirenetta is dying to get to the surface of the ocean so she can check out the sun and see the humans, but her parents (including her mother who is absent from the movie) forbid it until she is fifteen. Sirenetta is impatient, but obeys her parents. We should learn a lesson here, I think.
Finally, on her fifteenth birthday, Sirenetta’s father gives her a carved hair pin and instructions. He explains that mermaids
and mermen do not have souls like humans do, so only bad things can come from contact with them. With some of the humans I know, I can see where this would be good advice.
Sirenetta finally makes her great escape and swims to the surface so quickly her fish friends can’t keep up. When she gets there, she finds a rock, relaxes and enjoys the sun. Lo and behold a ship comes by shooting off fireworks for the captain’s 20th birthday. Just like in the movie, a sudden storm comes up and sinks the ship.
The handsome captain is on the verge of drowning when Sirenetta, who’d been watching him the whole time, catches him and drags him to shore. Here is where the story starts to go off track.
Sirenetta hears other humans approaching, so she goes back into the water while the prince is still unconscious. Three other humans find him and when he opens his eyes he sees the youngest of them – a beautiful girl. He’s instantly in love
Sirenetta goes home and sobs in her room for days the way any good fifteen-year-old should, and then goes to the Witch of the Deeps to ask for help. The witch is willing to help Sirenetta in exchange for her voice (just like in the movie), and gives her a potion.
The Witch does warn the young mermaid that taking the potion will give her legs, but will hurt excruciatingly. Then, every step she takes after that will be unbearably painful. Apparently love is blind and not very smart, because Sirenetta takes the potion anyway.
Once she is human, she can never again become a mermaid. She will simply dissolve like sea foam if she tries to return to the ocean.
The captain, who is also a prince, finds her on the beach and feels sorry for her. He takes her to the castle and becomes her friend. He is still in love with the other young woman, but she had returned to her home. Sirenetta is in agony with every step she takes and her heart is still broken because she knows he doesn’t love her.
A Happy Ending?
Then, one day the young woman the prince loves comes back. It turns out she loves the prince, too and agrees to a wedding. Sirenetta, the prince’s friend, goes along on the ship during and after the wedding. She is so miserable that she’s planning to jump back to the sea and dissolve.
Suddenly her sisters appear and offer her a magic knife. They’ve traded their hair to the Witch of the Deeps for it, and if Sirenetta kills the prince with the knife she can return to the ocean, and everything will be like it was.
Sirenetta goes to the prince’s room, but looking at his beautiful face makes her realize she can’t kill him. She goes back to the deck of the ship and throws the knife into the water. Then she gets ready to jump in herself.
Suddenly Sirenetta is drawn into the air and hears voices. She is suddenly able to speak again, and asks the voices what is happening. She learns that by doing good deeds to humans, she has been rescued from her soulless death and taken into the sky by the fairies
of the air. Now she can help humans for the rest of eternity.
I don’t know about you, but I like the movie ending a bit better. The guy gets the girl, the girl gets the guy, the Witch gets punished and they all live happily ever after (except the Witch, of course.) But as we know, most original fairy tales didn’t have a happy ending – at least according to our more modern definition. I guess becoming a fairy of the sky is the best a mermaid without a soul (or tail) can hope for.