this entry was written after several weeks of hearing commercials for Disney's Little Mermaid, the muscial. I snapped.
Even as a child, I considered the Little Mermaid to be an idiot. There's a storm, the Prince is swept overboard, and the Little Mermaid finds him floating, unconscious, in the sea. She takes him to the shore. He's still unconscious. She drags him onto the beach. He's still unconscious. She waits just offshore. He's still unconscious. Villagers find him and carry him off. He's still unconscious.
The Little Mermaid decides she's in love, and wants to change who and what she is to win the love of the Prince. The Prince whom she doesn't know anything about (aside from that he's handsome) because for the entire time she's been around him, he's been what? That's right - unconscious.
What happens when our pathetic little mermaid goes to the Sea Witch for help? Let's consult the text:
"I know what you want," said the sea witch; "it is very stupid of you, but you shall have your way, and it will bring you to sorrow, my pretty princess. You want to get rid of your fish's tail, and to have two supports instead of it, like human beings on earth, so that the young prince may fall in love with you, and that you may have an immortal soul."And then the witch laughed so loud and disgustingly, that the toad and the snakes fell to the ground, and lay there wriggling about.
"You are but just in time," said the witch; "for after sunrise to-morrow I should not be able to help you till the end of another year. I will prepare a draught for you, with which you must swim to land tomorrow before sunrise, and sit down on the shore and drink it. Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you."
"Yes, I will," said the little princess in a trembling voice, as she thought of the prince and the immortal soul.
The price for this potion? The little mermaid gives up her voice (and her tongue) to the Sea Witch. She gives up who and what she is, she gives up her power, she gives up her truth and the ability to speak it, she chooses the way of pain - all for someone who is unaware of her existence. And, there's a catch. If she fails to win the Prince, if he chooses another, the Little Mermaid dies. Which is what happens. (Yes, Disney sanitized and ground into meaningless musical fluff yet another story. FYI - Cinderella's stepsisters mutilate their feet to fit the glass slipper and have their eyes torn out by birds at the reception, Sleeping Beauty's mother-in-law hates her and steals her children, Esmerelda is hanged, and Pocahantas goes to England and dies of tuberculosis). The Prince chooses someone else, the Little Mermaid dissolves into the foam on the sea. As a reward for what Hans Christian Anderson termed her patience and devotion, she gets 'promoted' to an air spirit, with the chance of someday earning a soul.
Some people look at the Little Mermaid as a tale of spiritual yearning, striving, sacrifice and fulfillment. On some level that fits - there's definitely yearning and sacrifice. There's also a presumption on the part of the author that only humans have souls. Which irks me. Although the idea that souls are earned is interesting; the idea sounds familar, but I'm not sure where I've heard it before.
The Little Mermaid doesn't love the Prince - she loves her perception of him. The Sea Witch,although cruel, is honest - only pain and sorrow will come from this choice. The Little Mermaid makes it anyway. I see the underlying message of the Little Mermaid as follows:
If you try to make yourself into something other than what you are in order to make someone love you, the result will be misery, pain, and failure. If you make this mistake, then learn something, and move on. Be who you are, and stop walking on knives.