Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Little Mermaid Wrap-Up

The Little Mermaid Wrap-Up

So, here’s what I have discovered this month:
1. Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” is not a terribly popular fairy tale for adaptation
2. 2 out of every 3 adaptations of “The Little Mermaid” suck because authors don’t take the time to identify what is so powerful and compelling about the original, and
3. The idea that I could find the time to write a book review the week the show I’m directing goes up was really, really silly of me.

That being said, it’s actually really convenient that I ended up doing this fairy tale this month, because of the first two points that I discovered: There really aren’t that many adaptations out there. Oh, there are plenty of mermaid books, and there are plenty of books about the Siren legend, but there are very few “Little Mermaid” adaptations.

And you know what? I’m okay with that. Really. To be perfectly honest, if you’re going to adapt a fairy tale poorly, I’d rather you not adapt it at all, and while I wish Anderson’s original version of this tale was more widely known than Disney’s, I appreciate the fact that most adaptors are taking the ideas that inspired Anderson and going in their own direction with them.

Because here’s the thing. If you read “The Little Mermaid” and you come away thinking, “Gosh, that would be a great story if it only had a happy ending!” then you’re kinda missing the point, and also, you don’t want to read “The Little Mermaid.” You want to read a story about forbidden love between two people from very dissimilar walks of life who overcome the obstacles in their paths and find a way to be happy together. And that’s fine. That’s perfectly good story, and it’s been written over and over again, and it’s been written over and over again about a mermaid and a human, and I fully support that! Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli does it really well, and is one of my favorite novels by her.

So, yeah. I’m well aware I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to this story – but here’s the thing. It isn’t just this story. It’s any story in the public domain with an actual author. You wouldn’t rewrite Peter Pan and have Peter decide to abandon Neverland and stay with Wendy. You wouldn’t rewrite Alice in Wonderland and have the Mad Hatter kill Alice before she can return home. You wouldn’t rewrite Little Women and have Laurie end up with Jo. Those examples would completely disregard the author's work and endings, and to me, villainizing the Sea Witch and the girl on the beach and giving the mermaid a happy ending with the prince is the same thing. Books belong to their readers and all that, but you have to have respect for the original. You can’t just completely disregard something you don’t agree with.

So yeah. Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon gets a Strongly Recommended, and Teenage Mermaid by Ellen Schreiber and Midnight Pearls by Debbie Vigue both get Not Recommends.

Other notable novels: No adaptations of the story per se, but Fortune’s Fool by Mercedes Lackey and The Mermaid’s Madness by Jim C Hines are both excellent novels that play on the mermaid trope, as does Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli mentioned above.

October’s fairy tale is Rapunzel! See you tomorrow!


  1. Actually, Alice in Wonderland has gotten adaptations with a way darker tone and there's one film adaptation that has the backstory of Peter Pan leaving Neverland to be with Wendy. That said, I think you hit the points of why this fairy tale hasn't gotten many adaptations pretty well, even if the overall quality of the adaptations you read didn't make for a very long analysis.

    I also love that you mentioned Sirena; I was actually thinking about how it had a couple of parallels with "The Little Mermaid" in spite of its protagonist being a siren instead of a mermaid. It's definitely my favorite siren tale.

    As for next month's fairy tale, I'm really hoping that the adaptations will include Golden, Zel, and Tangled. Plus, considering how "Rapunzel" is kind of a problem tale like Rumpelstiltskin, I can't wait to see your (hopefully snarky) take on it. :)

    1. Fair enough, your response to Peter Pan and Alice, but in my mind, the point still stands. And though it would have to be taken on a case by case basis, of course, I think I'd have the same problem.

      And Rapunzel being a problem tale depends on which version you're reading, which I'll address, have no fear. And yes, Zel and Golden are on the list, and Matthew will be guest posting a review of Tangled. I'm looking forward to October!