When Will Ariel Become Part Of Our World?

The LARB continues its series on fairy tales, introducing Hans Christian Andersen’s 1836 story The Little Mermaid. Sarah Kuhn defends her motivations:

The Little Mermaid, no matter how her tale is told, is a heroine with the ultimate mundane dream: to be a boring human instead of the utterly fantastical creature she already is. She gets a lot of flack for transforming her body to pursue what is basically a crush, but I can’t help but feel her quest is bigger than that — a yearning for an unknown that seems fantastical to her because it’s the complete opposite of her daily existence.

A. N. Devers prefers the conclusion of Andersen’s original story – the mermaid dissolving into “a daughter of the air” – to the Disney-fied ending of the 1989 movie:

Andersen’s heroine may lose her soul, but Disney’s mermaid sacrifices her physical identity in order to claim her man. There’s no question that around the time this film came out there was a cultural shift. Is it a coincidence that the media started reporting stories about teens requesting boob jobs and liposuction for their birthdays around the same time as this film’s release? Maybe. Or more likely, Disney’s fairy tale reflected the contemporary culture that had already made a disturbing change. …

I wonder what the tale might look like decades from now, when it is adapted to reflect a new cultural moment. Instead of validating stereotypical gender roles and/or reflecting our culture’s acceptance and near-celebration of plastic surgery, I like to dream there will be a little mermaid who can have her man and keep her tail too.

LARB has also covered Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.