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The true story of The Little Mermaid

The red-haired mermaid with milky skin and huge blue eyes... Ariel from 1989 will have left a lasting impression on many children, now grown up. Although Disney turned her into one of the most famous cartoons of the 90s, the original story is far from the idyllic version that the giant with the big ears has chosen to bring to light. Hans Christian Andersen's tale, which was far less fairytale-like at the time, has evolved over the years, only to be revived in 2023 with Rob Marshall's live-action remake. Let's plunge together into the ocean world of a mermaid longing for dry land and surface adventures...

The Little Mermaid has travelled down the centuries, offering a whole host of derivatives, much to the delight of children and nostalgic adults alike. And while the portrayal of an intrepid, beautiful, curious and somewhat stubborn mermaid has left no child of the 1990s-2000s indifferent, she is a far cry from the one portrayed by her original creator. Here we tell you the true story of The Little Mermaid, told by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837.

No Happy End for the 1837 tale

Contrary to what is narrated in Rob Marshall's film, the mermaid in Hans Christian Andersen's tale does fall in love with a human whom she saves from drowning, but she dreams of earthly life for reasons other than love and curiosity. The souls of humans are eternal, so driven by the desire for immortality, she goes to meet the witch to get legs. At the cost of a severed tongue and legs "created" in excruciating pain. So much so, that when she walks, she will have the violent sensation of being "pierced by knives". Only by marrying a human can she gain the power of immortality. Alas, there is no happy ending and no romantic love story, as the Danish author decides that the prince will fall in love with another woman, leaving Ariel to her sad fate. In a last gasp of despair, Ariel is tempted to stab the prince to avoid being turned into sea foam and break the curse... An endeavour she ultimately fails to carry out, but for which she is rewarded by being taken to an imaginary paradise called "the daughters of the air". Den Lille Havfrue, or La Petite Sirène in French, is not at all fairytale-like in its origins. It is a lesson for those who would embark on a quest for the absolute, sacrificing everything in their path and ignoring the warnings.

A magical evolution

The taste for eternity, the boundless desire to be immortal, has been transformed into a passionate love affair, love at first sight (mutual) on an abandoned beach with the handsome Prince Eric. It's no longer a question of taking every risk in vain, including disobeying her father, King Triton, for a miserable future in the paradise of air, but of going to the end of her convictions and following her deepest intuition to (re)find earthly love. To touch the dream of becoming human, the beautiful Ariel, with her pure and tender heart, exchanges her magnificent voice for a pair of legs without physical pain. And it is to the witch Ursula that she makes the transaction, linking her fate to his. Only a kiss from the prince can free her from the witch's spell and give her back the power of speech. Only three days to hope that Eric will fall under her spell and place his lips on hers... Three days to lure the audience in and give them the bright hope of a Disney-style Happy Ending. An enchanting ending that, as you've probably guessed by now, does happen!

Forever Danish roots

Although mocked during his lifetime, particularly by his peers, Hans Christian Andersen was to enjoy enormous success in posterity! Although he died in Copenhagen in August 1875, he left real traces of his life in the Danish capital. In fact, the city is full of statues of the author, notably on City Hall Square and Rådhuspladsen. The bronze statue of The Little Mermaid, his most popular work to date, even stands in Copenhagen Harbour. Follow in the footsteps of little Hans? His childhood home in Odense is open to the public. And if his works have left a lasting impression on you, the Fairytale Wood at the centre of the Efteling theme park features many of his imaginary characters... Even more accessible, there are our merchandising products, figurines, POPs, games, geek bags, jewellery and other marine treasures to buy now in our geek shop!