The Apotheosis of The Little Mermaid

The following is an image and thread procured from Tumblr. Unfortunately, the “first” person in that thread (that I could find) didn’t bother to source the artist, so I have no idea who to credit —I thought it looked like it was by someone whose work i know from deviantART, but I guess this artist just has a similar style. It’s possible it was made by the first person to post / comment, but I have no indication frm this person’s Tumblargh that they’re artistic, since they seem to be one of the thousands of people on Tumblr who seldom posts original content.

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xxdardarxx: The original story of the little mermaid is that she must kill the prince in order to be human, and in the end, she loves him too much and kills herself instead.

[name clipped]: Ok, ok – important expansion: she only has to kill the Prince because the deal was if he fell in love with her she could be human forever, and he didn’t. By which I mean, he was a good person and genuinely nice to her, but he didn’t fall in love. He fell in love with someone else, also perfectly nice – not the seawitch in disguise, fu Disney. The Mermaid is told she can only return to the sea now if she kills the Prince. She goes into the room where he and his lover lie sleeping and they look so beautiful and happy together that she can’t do it.

That’s why she kills herself. And because it was a noble act she returns to sea as foam.

One moral of the story was that women shouldn’t fundamentally change who they are for love of a man, and in theory Hans Christian Anderson wrote it for a ballerina with whom he fell in love. She was marrying someone else who wouldn’t let her dance.

ulfelska: Don’t mean to be particular but I did want to point out that I read Hans Christian Anderson actually wrote this as a love letter to a fellow male writer who was his best friend. Said man was getting married to a woman (Who I believe he may not have loved) and as the story goes, Hans loved him so much he wrote this to symbolize that he was the Mermaid that could never have her prince.

myself (as modpagan): Was going to say this, myself, if I couldn’t find a similar response [to ulfelska]. The “love story for a ballerina” thing was partly invented for the 1962 biopic starring Danny Kaye, who himself may or may not have been a lover of Lawrence Olivier.

The original story also carries the theme that even unrequited love is nobler than revenge [in addition to the argueable theme of “it is unwise to change oneself for love”]. Not the “love conquers all” theme that seems more popular than realistic, but that it’s nobler to act compassionately because of the love, than to act selfishly because it’s unrequited. Disney certainly made a cute story using Andersen’s work as an inspiration, but the morality and themes he infused into his prose are all gone for a basic message of “if you want something bad enough, your Sea God father will give it to you, in the end” [seriously, watch the end of that film; it was a perfect tragedy until Daddy Triton suddenly caves] —which I’m sure is true is your father is a Sea God, but what good is that for the rest of us?

I also really hope I’m not the only one on Tumblr who noticed (even from a young age) that the “returned to the sea as foam” thing seemed an intentional nod to the conception / birth of Aphrodite in Greek myth. [“The Little Mermaid” is] a story about the nobility of compassionate love, so in spite of the fact that I have yet to see one of Anderson’s biographers directly stating the intent of allusion to Aphrodite made there (maybe someone did, but I haven’t read about it, yet), his education was funded, in part, by the King of Denmark, and as was standard at the time for such an education, this would’ve included a fluent familiarity with the Greco-Roman classics, including Platonic philosophy and Classical myth. This is a modern retelling of an apotheosis (as I recall, in the original, as her body dissolves into foam, she becomes a Heavenly Spirit) of Ouranic Aphrodite, in addition to a clear allegory of a chapter in Andersen’s own life (as most of his stories are).


Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always thought this was fairly obvious. Hans Christian Andersen seems to have inserted some clear Classical / Graeco-Roman paganism (and likely allusions to Scandinavian mythology I’m less familiar with) into his works for children, and I’m sure if I find my old volume of his fairy-tales, I could cite other examples. This is the best-known, and most fitting one I can think of off the top of my head, though.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.