Once upon a time, suicide, mutilation and murder
March 20, 2010 12:03 AM   Subscribe

Apparently the version of The Little Mermaid I read as a child is way different than the original Hans Christian Andersen version. Can someone help me find this decidedly more gruesome version?

I was recently discussing fairy tales with someone and realized with horror that the version of The Little Mermaid that I read as a child was neither the tragic Hans Christian Andersen version nor the sanitized Disney version. The one I read was much darker, and now I wonder how it ended up in a children's book at all.

The version of The Little Mermaid in this book had the mermaid's father granting her the legs when she asked, not a sea witch. He gave them to her but warned her that she could never return to the sea or she'd be killed.

The rest of the story proceeded as traditional. She met the prince but she had no voice, the prince seemed to like her but ended up marrying a princess. At the end, in despair, she threw herself into the sea, but instead of dissolving into sea foam and then being absorbed into heaven somehow as in the HCA version, her sisters tore her to pieces with their tridents. I remember this very clearly and that it freaked me out when I was a kid. The last illustration of the story in the book was a huge ship on the water, with the mermaid in the sea below it and her sisters swimming towards her, tridents in hand, with menacing looks on their faces.

As I recall this version was in a large hardcover book of fairy tales I had as a child. The book was oversized with illustrations. It had all the other usual fairy tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc. all of which were, as far as I can recall, no different than the standard versions. I was in the 7-10 range when I got this book, so it would've been 1986-1989 or thereabouts. Does anyone remember this book of fairy tales or a version of The Little Mermaid that was like this?
posted by katyggls to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Does anyone remember this book of fairy tales or a version of The Little Mermaid that was like this?

Yes, I had that same book you're talking about, so you're not misremembering. Unfortunately, if I still have it, it's in my mom's attic in another state. I thought maybe it was Grimm's, but some Googling showed that it doesn't end that way...
posted by Nattie at 4:08 AM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just grabbed my Anderson's Fairy Tales from the shelf. The inscription tells me it was given to me as a gift in 1977, when I was eight. It's Grosset & Dunlap, Illustrated Junior Library Edition, printed 1976.0-0448-06005-1.

This was the only version of the story I knew until the bowdlerized Disney version. Most of Anderson's stories, like Grimm's stories in the original and other older fairy tales, are pretty spooky. They combine features of the cautionary tale, the moral tale, the ghost story or horror tale, the fantasy tale, the courtly tale and the romance. They are decidedly gripping. To this day I'm haunted by aspects of The Red Shoes and the Girl Who Trod on a Loaf. "Don't be vain" and "Don't waste food" are certainly important lessons, but the baroque psychological horror of these stories has a power far beyond a simple moral lesson.

I don't know the fairy-tale collection you speak of, but I do remember that they littered my childhood. Someone was always putting out a new fairy tale compilation or reprint. I think that part of the reason for this is that a lot of the tales, Anderson's included, have spent some time in the public domain, and so it was cheap to create new children's products suitable for gift-giving and lavish illustration, with proven appeal.

Here is text of The Little Mermaid.
posted by Miko at 8:05 AM on March 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

FYI Wikipedia has a page on the Little Mermaid & its adaptations, and apparently even Andersen wrote two variations of the ending.

Miko, The Red Shoes also terrified me, and The Little Match Seller / Little Match Girl. Whoo boy.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 8:38 AM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe if you can recognize the illustrator, you can then find out what version he/she illustrated? Amazon.com will show you cover art and sometimes previews of illustrations inside.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 8:53 AM on March 20, 2010

There's a good article on mermaid stories here.
posted by Artw at 8:40 AM on March 21, 2010

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