Years ago, when I was in school, the entirety of students were shuffled into the gym for a long-forgotten reason, sat down on the hard, wooden floor and “The Little Mermaid” was projected for us all to watch. I think that my favorite part of this Disney version was the singing seagull who walloped through the hit song “Kiss the Girl” with guttural la-la-las until he was physically silenced by the little red crab. I loved the juxtaposition of a happy little tune on a romantic date trying to set the mood for some smooching and this seagull is bellowing in the background just trying to fit in…why is he the only animal in the whole Disney-oceanic world who can’t sing? In this well-known version of this cartoon the foul-singing fowl is painful on the ears, but the original story is filled to the brim with pain and misery.
Hans Christian Anderson wrote a tale of a young mermaid who indeed falls in love with a human. However, there is no human-octopus Sea witch and the mermaid’s voice if not used as barter. She chooses to trade in her tail for legs, but with no hope of ever changing back into a sea creature. Her legs, however, are cursed. Each step she takes feels as though she is walking on glass. But searing pain for a lifetime is a small price to pay for love, right? Someone should have told that to her prince. He falls deeply in love….with someone else! The prince marries another woman and the mermaid wallows in sadness. In time, her sisters provide her with an opportunity to change back into her mermaid form and return home. They supply the mourning child with an enchanted knife and the information that if she murders the prince she will return to her natural form and reunite with her family under the sea. Torn, she realizes that she will never be able to harm the man she loves and violently throws herself off of a cliff into the ocean. Anderson unmercifully reminds us that mermaids have no souls or afterlives and the protagonist melts away into sea foam. The end.
I continue to believe that fairy tales are the origins of horror. Too bad that they are watered down and have lost their beautifully macabre didactic roots.
There is a bright spot, however. Back in 2011 Nicholas Humphries presented a short horror film about the mermaid princess. It was so well received — winning Best Horror Short Film of the festival — that he has been green-lit to develop it into a full-length film. I, for one, am incredibly intrigued.