As anticipation builds for the new live-action adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, set to make a splash in cinemas on 26th May, we decided to delve into the depths of this beloved tale. But did you know that the original story of The Little Mermaid is quite different from the Disneyfied version we all know and love? Explore the true origins of The Little Mermaid and discover the real story of Ariel (if that’s even her real name) that has captured hearts for generations.

The Original Danish Tale

the original story of the little mermaid

The Little Mermaid’s story first swam onto the scene in 1837, penned by the legendary Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. This classic fairy tale, originally titled “Den lille havfrue” (The Little Sea Lady), wove a tale of love, sacrifice, and longing that was decidedly darker and more poignant than the animated film you might be familiar with.

The Danish influence

the little mermaid set in denmark

In crafting his enchanting tale, Hans Christian Andersen may have drawn inspiration from local Danish folklore and legends. Scandinavian mythology is rife with stories of water spirits and sea creatures, such as mermaids and selkies, which could have influenced the creation of his captivating underwater world.

Furthermore, the portrayal of Danish coastal life in the story may be reminiscent of Andersen’s own experiences growing up near the sea. The vivid descriptions of the ships, the ocean, and the human world may have been informed by the author’s familiarity with the coastal towns and seafaring culture that defined 19th-century Denmark.

What is the original story of The Little Mermaid?

the original story of The Little Mermaid
Source: Disney

The original story centres around a young mermaid, who, on her 15th birthday, becomes captivated by the human world after rescuing a handsome prince from a shipwreck. Desperate to be with him and yearning for an immortal soul, the mermaid seeks out the sinister Sea Witch. In exchange for her beautiful voice, the witch gives her a potion that will transform her tail into legs, but there’s a catch – every step she takes will feel like walking on knives. This is something Disney decided to omit! Walking on knives don’t really scream kid-friendly. Oh, and there’s one more tiny detail: to gain an immortal soul, she must win the prince’s love and marry him. If she fails, she’ll turn into sea foam the day after he marries someone else. No pressure, right?

Love, Loss, and Sacrifice

As fate would have it, the prince does indeed fall in love, but not with our brave mermaid. Instead, he becomes smitten with another young woman, whom he believes saved him from the shipwreck. Heartbroken and faced with the prospect of turning into sea foam, the mermaid is given one last chance by her sisters. They’ve struck a deal with the Sea Witch, and if the mermaid kills the prince and lets his blood drip on her feet, she will regain her tail and return to her underwater life.

Again, a sliiiightly different twist from the romantic Disney tale. In the Disney version, Eric only becomes tempted by another woman when Ursula (the Sea Witch) casts a spell to hypnotise him. So poor Eric couldn’t help himself, whereas in the original story of The Little Mermaid, he sacks her off.

The Little Mermaid original story
Source: Disney Plus

A Bittersweet Ending

In a heart-wrenching twist, the original story of The Little Mermaid sees her love for the prince being too strong for her to kill him. As dawn breaks, she throws herself into the sea, expecting to dissolve into foam. But instead, she is transformed into a spirit of the air. Through acts of kindness and good deeds, she is given the chance to earn her own immortal soul after 300 years.

Obviously, the Disney version is different again. Of course, like most of the pre 2000 tales, the main woman (or girl as she was 15!!) and man get married. Thankfully, Disney shakes things up a bit, but not as much as Hans Christian Anderson obviously did.

What else did Hans Christian Anderson write?

Hans Christian Anderson - author of the original story of the little mermaid
Source: Thora Hallager – museum.odense.dk/WikiCommons

It’s not just the original story of The Little Mermaid that you’ll of heard of when it comes to the works of Hans Christian Anderson. He’s actually responsible for a lots of other tales of our childhood including; The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Snow Queen.

These are just a few examples of the many enchanting stories that Hans Christian Andersen created during his prolific career. His fairy tales continue to captivate readers and inspire adaptations in various forms, such as films, plays, and musicals, proving that the magic of his storytelling transcends both time and cultural boundaries.

The original story of The Little Mermaid is a tale filled with love, sacrifice, and the power of choice. While we eagerly await the new live-action film’s release on 26th May, let’s take a moment to appreciate the enchanting, complex origins of this timeless tale. So the next time you feel the sea breeze on your face, spare a thought for the original Little Mermaid, forever longing for a soul and a place in the human world.

If you can’t wait to see The Little Mermaid hit cinemas, take a sneak peak at this trailer below!

Now that you’ve heard the original story of The Little Mermaid, why not create your own? Yes you heard us right. Becoming a mermaid is one of our weird but genius ways to make money that you need to check out!