After reading the real story of The Little Mermaid which was written by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, who coincidentally is also one of my favorite authors, I was inspired to write about the differences between it and what Disney had shaped their movie into. Also, there is a Japanese adaptation of the real story which you can find link if you're interested. Now onto the comparing between the two! Also, spoilers ahead.
In Hans Christian Andersen's tale, the mermaid is nameless. At the age of fifteen, a mermaid is deemed ready to see the human world for themselves. The Little Mermaid's sisters recount their stories of what they have seen and The Little Mermaid (who I will call TLM from here onward since the entire name is a bit of a mouthful) listens longingly and yearns to go to the surface. When she finally turns fifteen, she swims up and watches a birthday celebration being held on a ship. She falls in love with the prince and soon after, a storm hits and the boat sinks, leaving TLM to save the prince. She takes him to land and keeps him there, unconscious, and when a few women find him, she leaves.
This is somewhat similar to Disney's portrayal of the story, except they've named the mermaid Ariel and gave her a sort of stubborn personality, where she would much rather fantasize about the human world than anything else. Her father, King Triton, is extremely against humans and anything to do with them and forbids her to never swim to the surface. We later find out, in a Little Mermaid prequel, that Ariel's mother was killed by humans and this might be the reason why Triton holds a grudge against them. At night, Ariel watches a birthday celebration being held on a ship. She falls in love with the prince and soon after, a storm hits and the boat sinks, leaving Ariel to save Prince Eric. She takes him to land and sings to him, and he slowly recovers from unconsciousness only to remember that a girl with a beautiful voice saved him before someone comes along and takes him back.
In Andersen's story, TLM asks her grandmother about humans and the grandmother tells her about how the humans, though they have a shorter lifespan, can live forever in heaven. Whereas mermaids can live for up to 300 years but later turn into foam. Hearing this, TLM goes to the evil Sea Witch and makes a deal with her—her tongue in exchange for legs. The Sea Witch chops off her tongue and gives her a potion that will give legs and then warns her that if she does this, she will never be a mermaid again. The Sea Witch tells her that when she drinks the potion, it will feel as if a knife is passing through her. And after she gains her legs, she will be as graceful as a dancer, but every step she takes will feel as if she is treading on knives. She also tells her that if she wins prince's love, then she will get an eternal soul. If not, she will die with a broken heart and turn into foam.
In Disney's version, Ariel collects human objects in her grotto. After falling in love with Eric, she is lovesick and this catches the attention of King Triton. He asks Sebastian to tell him what it is that makes Ariel so happy and Sebastian accidentally tells him about the incident with the human Prince Eric. King Triton is angered and he destroys Ariel's grotto. Overcome with grief, Ariel weeps in her grotto, only stopping after Flotsam and Jetsam, two eels with a purpose, convince her to visit Ursula, the sea witch. Ariel agrees and and makes a deal with her—her voice in exchange for legs. Ursula warns her that she should cause the prince to fall in love with her in no less than three days, or the princess would be hers for eternity. She removes Ariel's voice from her vocal cords and keeps it in a shell around her neck.
In Andersen's story, the prince finds TLM, who he perceives as beautiful but mute. He loves watching her dance and she does it often for him, despite the pain that strikes her with every step. They soon become close companions. When the prince's parents tell him to marry the neighboring princess, he tells TLM he will not because he doesn't love her and only loves the woman who rescued him from the storm. He believes it is a young woman from a temple, and when he finds out that the neighboring princess is the same temple girl, he arranges to get married to her. TLM heart breaks and she thinks about all the pain she has endured for the prince. She waits for her death but her sisters suddenly rise out of the water with a knife the Sea Witch gave them in exchange for their beautiful long hair, and tell TLM that if she kills the prince and lets his blood drip on her feet, she will become a mermaid again and be with her family.
In Disney's version, Eric and his dog Max find Ariel on the beach. At first, he believes she's the one who saved him, but when he finds out she cannot speak, he discards the idea. They spend time together and soon become close companions. At one point, they almost kiss, but are disrupted by Flotsam and Jetsam. Ursula realizes that Ariel might be close to receiving the prince's love and transforms herself into a human and sings with Ariel's voice, casting a spell on Eric and forcing him to believe that she is the girl with the beautiful voice. Ariel later finds out that Eric is engaged to the woman, who calls herself Vanessa, and breaks out into tears. She watches as the wedding ship leaves the shore. While flying, Scuttle finds out the true identity of Vanessa and reveals it to Ariel who quickly straps herself to Flounder, her fish friend, and has him take her to the ship. Scuttle is given the job of stalling the wedding, which he successfully does with the help of other animal friends. The shell with Ariel's voice breaks and the spell on Eric is lifted, allowing him to see that Ariel is the girl who saved his life, Just as they are about to kiss, the sun sets and Ariel is transformed into a mermaid again. Ursula sweeps in and takes Ariel away.
In Andersen's story, TLM cannot kill the prince no matter what and she throws herself off the ship. When she hits the water, she dissolves into foam, but doesn't die. She is instead made into a spirit and she rises up and is welcomed by other spirits who tell her that because of her selflessness, she has the chance to do good deeds for 300 years and then ascend into heaven.
In Disney's version, King Triton gives himself up in return for his daughter, which Ursula willingly accepts. She turns him into a polyp and takes his crown and trident and begins to rule the sea. In the midst of the turmoil she has created, Prince Eric runs his bowsprit into her and the sea witch dies. With her gone, everything returns to normal. King Triton sees Ariel's love for the human and transforms her into a human and she happily steps into her prince's arms and they get married.
I personally believe Andersen's story is more meaningful as it holds a lot of morals, but if it were adapted as it is into Disney's animation, I doubt it would be the much-loved tale it is today. I really love Disney's ending since it didn't have the dark element of Andersen's, but at the same time Andersen's story is very compelling. In the end, I am happy with Disney's version, which had its own little darkness but still ended with a happily ever after.