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23 Details From The Original “The Little Mermaid” Fairy Tale That Will Shock Anyone Who Hasn’t Read It
23 Details From The Original "The Little Mermaid" Fairy Tale That Will Shock Anyone Who Hasn't Read It,The prince literally set up a pillow outside his room for her to sleep on, so that she'd never be too far away...then married someone else.

23 Details From The Original “The Little Mermaid” Fairy Tale That Will Shock Anyone Who Hasn’t Read It

On Friday, Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid is hitting the big screen, and I could not be more excited. As someone whose favorite Disney princess has always been Ariel, I know the independence-seeking fish’s story backward and forward…but I only vaguely recounted details from the original story penned by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837.

Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.comSebastian and Flounder don’t even exist there. 

2. “Part of Your World” is one of The Little Mermaid‘s most recognizable songs, and features Ariel swimming around her cave of hoarded human knickknacks. This is all much to the dismay of her father, the king, who hates anything that has to do with humans. But this can’t be further from the original telling. In fact, each of the king’s daughters tend to their own personal gardens, which they’ve all decorated with sunken treasures.

Well, everyone except for the youngest princess, our version of Ariel, who remains unnamed throughout the text and loathes the idea of having useless trinkets in her garden. Instead, she keeps a neat array of red flowers and a single marble statue. 

3. Furthermore, the little mermaid’s grandmother — who does not make an appearance in the Disney movies — loved visiting the surface in her youth and shares stories about her adventures up there with her grandchildren.

None of this would have been OK with Disney’s King Triton, who distanced his realm from mortals after his wife died due to an encounter with a pirate ship. 

Peter Keegan / Getty Images

4. The little mermaid doesn’t only have to live off her grandmother’s stories, though. At age 15, all mermaids are allowed to visit the surface at night to watch birds, ships, and towns. It’s a coming-of-age celebration, complete with royal adornments that include pearls and lilies in their hair, as well as oysters clamped to their tails.

When the story begins, the little mermaid’s oldest sister is turning 15 soon. Eventually, each of her four older sisters grows old enough to visit the surface, but after a few looks around, they each feel as though the deep sea is better and the excitement wears off, becoming “indifferent” to the world above.

5. Speaking of ages, our little mermaid is 10 years old when we first meet her, and she ages to 15 after a time jump. The prince, who also goes unnamed, is estimated to be around 16 years old.

In the Disney adaptation, Prince Eric is 18 and Ariel is 16.

Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.com

6. In the movie, Ariel’s first trip to the surface is a secret and she’s careful about being seen. But in Hans’ original telling, the little mermaid openly watches ships go by and is kind of giddy to be seen by fishermen, who are startled by her existence.

One of her sisters also comments on how, during her birthday visit, she went to a beach and scared children who saw her. No adults witnessed the scene, but a dog eventually came barking and the mermaid swam away. 

7. These two aren’t the only ones who enjoy taunting humans. The little mermaid’s older sisters make a game out of spotting ships they suspect might sink in storms and singing to the sailors on board about how they’ll soon learn how beautiful the deep ocean can be.

These sailors will never know, though, because, as Hans so graciously words it, “When their ship went down they were drowned, and it was as dead men that they reached the sea king’s palace.”

Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.com

8. On the little mermaid’s 15th birthday, she rises from the sea and sees a birthday party on a ship. It’s for a prince, who she finds to be gorgeous. However, things take a turn when the ship starts going down.

At first, the mermaid is excited by the idea of the prince coming to live in the sea, but then remembers humans can’t survive underwater and brings him to land instead. He’s unconscious and when morning dawns, a group of girls begin filing out of a nearby church. The little mermaid takes this as a cue to leave and watches from the water as one of the young women wake the prince, who is lying on the sand.

9. For days following the rescue, the little mermaid visits the spot where she left the prince, hoping to see him again, but he’s not there. Eventually, she tells her sisters about the incident and gossip floods their community. Another mermaid hears of the tale and says they know where the prince’s palace is. So the little mermaid goes there and spends days and nights watching over him while he thinks he’s alone.

She also listens in on conversations between palace workers and passersby, and she realizes she may enjoy being above the surface more than below.

Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.com

10. In Hans’ version, mermaids have a longer lifespan than humans, but when they die, they turn into sea foam. Humans, on the other hand, have a soul and are said to live on after death. Learning this, the little mermaid grows jealous and wishes for the possibility of growing old with the prince and staying together after death.

“Why weren’t we given an immortal soul?” she asks her grandmother. “I would gladly give up my three hundred years if I could be a human being only for a day, and later share in that heavenly realm.”

11. But her grandma says there’s only one chance of that ever happening. Apparently, the only way to gain a soul is by having a human fall in love with and marry you. Then, their soul is said to be partially passed on to the mermaid, and the two can thenceforth live happily together.

Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.com

12. Obviously, our determined little mermaid is looking for another way to secure her spot next to the prince, so she visits the sea witch’s dwelling. And let me tell you, it’s far more foreboding than the Disney version.

Outside of the sea witch’s realm and among the shrubs and plants live polyps — defined by Hans as half plant, half human — that reach for and capture anything they can get their hands on.

As the little mermaid approaches the witch’s home, she dodges reaching arms and sees the bones of fallen seamen, as well as other little mermaids “whom they had caught and strangled” in their grip. 


To double down on the red flags, the witch’s home is also made of human bones.

13. To turn into a human, the little mermaid is given a potion of sorts, which she’s instructed to bring to the surface and drink while sitting on a rock. After swallowing all of it, her tail is meant to shrink and separate into two legs. However, “It will hurt; it will feel as if a sharp sword slashed through you,” the sea witch says. “Every step you take will feel as if you were treading upon knife blades so sharp that blood must flow.”

And once again, our little mermaid is totally down for this. 

Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.com

14. Oh, and another caveat? Once she becomes human, she can never again be a mermaid. So her only choice is to make the prince fall in love with her. Or else she’ll die without a soul. And if the prince marries someone else? She’ll die of a broken heart the following morning and turn into sea foam instead.

15. Like the Disney adaptation, the sea witch does indeed take the mermaid’s voice as payment for her potion, but unlike in the movie where it’s a swirling spell that lifts the notes from her mouth, the witch cuts out her tongue.

Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.com

16. The prince’s palace is attended by enslaved people.

Having drunk the potion and risen from the water, the little mermaid comes face to face with the prince, who leads her to his palace for help. Hans then details how enslaved people in the palace are made to dress the former mermaid in the finest fabrics before singing and dancing for her and the prince’s entertainment.

17. Prince Eric grows very fond of the little mermaid and decides he wants her to always be with him. So, he has attendants set up a velvet pillow outside of his room for the mermaid to sleep on at night, so she won’t be too far away.

Yes, like a dog. 

Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.com

18. Every night, the mermaid goes to the beach to cool her burning feet in the sand and water. And her sisters, grandmother, and father pop their heads above the surface to visit from afar. They’re all sad that she left without warning and that they can never be with her again.

19. Though the prince is fond of her, he says the only person he could ever love is the young woman from the church who “saved his life.” AKA, the girl he saw when he regained consciousness.

Hearing this, the little mermaid recognizes that they will likely never be married, but settles for knowing that she can at least live out her days by his side. 

Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.com

20. That thought quickly disappears when the prince’s father sets up a meeting between him and the neighboring kingdom’s princess, who turns out to be the young woman from the church. They are arranged to be married at once.

And to throw salt in the wound, the little mermaid ends up attending to the bride on the day of the wedding — even holding her train as she walks down the aisle — all knowing she’ll die the next morning.

21. As day starts to break after the night of the wedding, the little mermaid looks out from the ship the nuptials took place on and is surprised to see her sisters pop their heads above the water. All of them have cropped hair, and they explain that they sold their locks to the sea witch, who has given them a dagger in return.

They say that the little mermaid must strike the prince in the heart and kill him. When his blood touches her feet, they will meld back into a tail and she can once again live with her sisters in the ocean.

Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.com

22. The mermaid goes to kill the prince, but sees him and his new bride asleep in bed. He’s muttering his wife’s name in his sleep, and she decides to let them be happy instead.

She’s better than me ‘CUZ. 

23. As the sun rises, the little mermaid doesn’t turn into sea foam, but a weightless form instead. A similar form nearby explains that she’s now a Daughter of the Air — non-physical beings who have done good deeds in their life and will continue doing such deeds in the afterlife.

After about 300 years of service via good deeds, the little mermaid will be awarded a soul.


Walt Disney Studios / Via youtube.com

Which detail were you most shocked by? ‘Cause if I had to go bald because my sister had her tongue chopped off over a man, I’d never forgive her.