Why the story of The Little Mermaid should be taught to every single child

September 12th, 2007

(No. Not the horrible Disney version. The original version: Andersen’s at a push, but he probably ripped it off from a cautionary tale mothers used to tell their daughters before bedtime. Andersen’s version is on Wikipedia, complete with a fairly Christian spin.)

In my recent column for Gorgeous Dating I wrote about the Seinfeld Dating Syndrome and how people often subconsciously turn insignificant faults into deal-breakers and ruin their own chances of happiness.

To compare and contrast, I briefly touched upon the subject of how we are often willing to sacrifice our own happiness for the illusion that a bad relationship with an inconsiderate person could turn around and be a “happily ever after” affair after all.

Surprisingly (or not!) it’s often those people we find “perfect” who end up mistreating us again and again. We put up with it without saying anything, like the little mermaid who swapped her voice for legs and hurt every time she walked or danced.

It’s not just women who make such compromises. Men are exactly the same when it comes to sometimes allowing themselves to be abused in relationships.

In most cases, the end of such relationships is as nasty as the Mermaid’s (Christian salvation symbolism and emotional blackmail issues aside).

The moral of the story is simple: never sell yourself short. If you are in a relationship that demands the sort of sacrifice that feels like losing your voice and walking on knives (or eggshells), then it’s probably time to slay the prince (or rather, the attachment you have for him), go back to the sea and find yourself another fish.

Anyone who says differently (I’m looking at you, Disney studios!) should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

If you’re interested in the concept of fairytales as cautionary tales for women, I heartily recommend the book: Women Who Run with the Wolves(UK edition here). Some of the blurb on Amazon seems to slate it a bit, but it’s actually a brilliant book that links fairytales and the female psyche.

Angela Carter’s rather strange but beautiful book The Bloody Chamber (UK edition can be found here) is also pretty cool. She reworks famous fairytales into some very well crafted cautionary tales with a rather sensual spin.

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Entry Filed under: Relationships and dating

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. amy  |  February 12th, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    how dare you say that the disney version was rubbish. i admit, the both story were slightly different in some part of the stories. in other words, do you really want children to know the original story. where all the struggles and sacrifices was for nothing.

    it was sad enough that she died and did not have her price and it was worse enough that any reader would cry or mourn for her death.

    beside, you should of known better that disney will always have a happy ending no matter what

  • 2. jags  |  February 14th, 2009 at 11:21 am

    /i dont understand why a simple love story has to be interpreted in such a way??

  • 3. Shimrit  |  February 22nd, 2009 at 8:30 am

    There is nothing simple about fairytales. They’re always full of symbolism and stuff to teach us.

  • 4. Jables  |  April 8th, 2009 at 4:43 am

    I am a college student doing a paper on this very subject! Thank you so much, your point of veiw is extremely helpful! :)

  • 5. Joni  |  May 15th, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    personally i think there are more than one point of views. in this post i underatnd your pointof the moral of the story. in the disney movie i feel that it is about idealism. just listen to the music and lyrics and make inferences in the movie:)

  • 6. Eirin  |  August 23rd, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    hello.

    I am a storyteller from Norway, and I have worked a lot with fairytales, and has also read the amazing book Women who run with the Wolves. Whwen I read that book about 14 years ago, it opened my eyes, and I saw how I myself had been a woman who ran with the wolves.

    As a storyteller I have sometimes been critisied for telling children rubbish, and filling their heads with ideas of how little girls should be pretty princesses and sacrifies averything for finding prince charming.

    That is whwn I have to tell them, that if they think fairytales are like Walt Disney they are so wronge! Because fairytales carries wisdom that can be helpful for children growing up. And that there are much more to fairytales then living happily ever after.

    But I admit being charmed of those walt Disney movies too. But it is about keeping the balanve, I think.

    best regards

  • 7. Eirin  |  August 23rd, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Sorry! I left the wronge web-adress on my comment. This is the correct one.

  • 8. Adriane  |  October 18th, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Yes, the Disney version was rubbish. The whole point of the story was she sacrificed everything that made her unique and still didn’t get the prince. The whole point is what happens when you don’t get the prince. In the mermaid’s case, by joining the Daughters of the Air, she was able to achieve BY HERSELF the immortal soul she thought she could only win through the prince. The bull about children’s behaviour — I think Andersen’s publisher made him add it. I agree with the writer who said that the purpose of these stories is preparation for life and instruction, not necessarily “entertainment.” The symbolism of the mermaid’s death is that the experience of loving, no matter how it turns out, changes us forever, our old self “dies”. And then we realize that although we may love our “princes” we don’t really need them.

  • 9. sara  |  January 10th, 2011 at 10:33 am

    These films do have a lot to answer for! I do wonder if they are the right message, especially to daughters. That love is the ultimate goal, you must find a good husband or you’ll never be happy. You must follow him and give up your magical life under the sea for this man. Its never the man giving up anything for the woman.
    And… is that all a daughter, a little girl, is worth? That she can’t be anything without love, she can’t do anything, achieve anything, have any value or worth? without a romantic ‘prince charming’ she is nothing?
    I wish we had more films to show kids where the girl becomes an astronaut and discovers secrets of the stars, or the princess girl finds a way to feed the people in her magical kingdom and the film is the story of her quest to do this, not to find love!

  • 10. Maya  |  February 8th, 2013 at 5:10 am

    Yes, the Disney version was rubbish for sure. The whole point of The Little Mermaid is that in the end she doesn’t get the prince and finds her own solution by achieving immortality through good work. This is something every little girl should learn. Don’t depend on some man to bring you happiness, make yourself happy through your own actions.

    Likewise, the original tale is quite realistic in that people who give up everything will very likely end up with nothing.

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