The Little Mermaid has been one of Disney’s most successful and beloved movies. The story of Ariel overcoming obstacles and winning the love of a prince (not to mention some of the catchiest music to grace any film) is the ultimate feel-good flick. Fortunately, for moviegoers, the version that made it to the screens is significantly different from the story originally written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. If that version had been made into a movie, it would have been R-rated and would probably have had a release date around Halloween. Disney has long been in the practice of rewriting fairy tales to have happy endings, as it did when it revised the original story of Pinocchio, which was downright horrifying.
Take a look at some of the ways the original version of The Little Mermaid differs from the movie.
- Ariel is tortured by oysters. Well, technically, it isn’t Ariel; that name was invented for the 1989 film. The way Hans Christian Andersen wrote the story, the title character is simply known as the Little Mermaid. In the original version the way she is able to get to the surface is with the help of eight oysters, who attach themselves to her tail. The experience is horribly painful, causing the mermaid’s grandmother to retort, “Pride must suffer pain.”
- The mermaid’s sisters are psychopathic murderers. We don’t hear a lot about the mermaid’s sisters in the movie. That might be for a very good reason. In the original version, those sisters apparently pass the time by indulging in their favorite hobby: drowning sailors. When they are not busy engaging in serial killing, they write and sing songs about the experience, mocking the sailors for being terrified of going underwater.
- She has to get married or die. In the movie, Ariel has to receive the kiss of true love in order to remain in human form and get her voice back. In the original version, the stakes are a bit higher: if she doesn’t get married, she will remain in human form, and she will die.
- Her human legs cause her excruciating pain. In the movie version, when Ariel receives her human legs, she is a little wobbly at first, until she gets used to them. In the original version it is a bit worse. Walking with her human legs makes the mermaid feel as if she is stepping on knives.
- She doesn’t get married. Movie fans remember the happy scene when Ariel and Prince Eric, newly married, sail off together amid cheering, music, and celebration. In the original version, the mermaid did, indeed, fall in love, but her heart is broken when the prince marries someone else. As the prince and his new bride sail off together, the mermaid watches in despair, knowing that she has lost the love of her life and that she is about to die.
- She can escape death by killing the prince. Broken-hearted, the mermaid returns to the depths to accept her fate for failing to get married. Her loving, helpful, (and did we mention homicidal?) sisters offer her another option. If she will only chase after the prince and stab him to death with a knife (which they helpfully provide her), she can go on living. If she will only let his blood spill on her feet, that will also cure her condition of being in human form, and she will return to being a mermaid.
- She actually gives the murder plan serious thought. Apparently homicidal tendencies run in the family in the original story. Rather than recoil at the thought of heartlessly killing the man she loves so much, the mermaid takes the knife, chases after the prince, and prepares to stab him to death as he sleeps. At the last moment, she decides that she cannot bring herself to kill him, so she throws the knife and herself off the edge of the ship and embraces her fate.
- She spends 300 years in “Purgatory.” Rather than just die off, the mermaid is told that her selflessness has earned her a second chance. If she spends the next 300 years as an air spirit, doing good deeds for humans, she will earn the right to ascend into the Kingdom of God.