What is the Little Mermaid?

The Little Mermaid is a fairy tale written Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and published in 1837. It was adapted into a Disney film and a Broadway musical.

The Plot

The mermaid family, which includes the Sea King, grandmother, and six mermaids, the youngest of whom is the Little Mermaid, lives at the bottom of the sea in the fairy tale. It is said that when a mermaid reaches the age of 15, she is given the opportunity to see the world above the surface. The youngest sister listens to her older sisters’ tales and longs to tell her own. When it arrives, she notices a ship with a prince, whom she falls in love with but does not approach until a storm strikes and she saves him from drowning. The mermaid takes the prince ashore near a temple and stays with him until a girl from the temple discovers the prince, who never sees the Little Mermaid.

When the Little Mermaid returns home, she inquires about humans with her grandmother, learning that they have a much shorter lifespan than merfolk but possess an immortal soul that resides in Heaven, whereas merfolk cease to exist when they die. The mermaid trades her incredible singing voice to the Sea Witch in exchange for a potion that will give her legs and allow her to join the prince and have a soul. However, the prince must love her and marry her in order for her to share his soul.

The Prince finds the Little Mermaid attractive, but she finds movement on her legs excruciatingly painful. The prince’s father then orders him to marry a neighboring princess, but he refuses, claiming that he can only love the temple girl, whom he believes saved him, but he tells the mermaid that she is beginning to take her place in his affections. The Little Mermaid is devastated when he discovers that the princess is the temple girl and they marry. Her sisters, too, strike a deal with the Sea Witch: in exchange for their hair, they receive a knife, which they give to their youngest sister, along with the promise that if she kills the prince with it, she will be restored to her mermaid roots. The Little Mermaid, unable to kill the prince, casts herself into the sea, but instead of dying, she transforms into a spirit.

Disney’s Version

The Disney film The Little Mermaid, with lyrics Howard Ashman and music Alan Menken, was released in 1989, and it made some minor and major changes to the Andersen story. The addition of a sidekick, Flounder, and other sea creatures to the cast of characters, the elevation of the Sea Witch to a more traditional villain role who threatens the Little Mermaid’s happiness attempting to wed the prince herself, in disguise, and a happy ending in which the Sea Witch is defeated and the Little Mermaid transforms into a human and marries the prince The film was nominated for Academy Awards and Golden Globes for Best Music, Original Score and Best Music, Original Song, as well as a Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television. It also won a Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television.

In January 2008, the Broadway musical The Little Mermaid premiered, with additional lyrics Glenn Slater and some plot changes. In the musical, the Sea Witch is the Mer King’s sister who shared the sea’s power until the King deposed her to put an end to her evil. Instead of the Sea Witch attempting to marry the prince, a singing competition is held, and the Sea Witch is killed in a different way.