Transformations with The Little Mermaid

Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid in Denmark

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid in Denmark

 

Having a blog has taught me some interesting things about myself. Some things I already knew and the blog just solidified the fact (i.e. I thrive on deadlines because without them my default is lazy). Some were funny (like how ridiculously happy it makes me when someone leaves a comment). How guarded I am was a big surprise.

I like meeting people in person. I strike up random conversations on mass transit, waiting for my daughter to be dismissed from school, in elevators, etc. I’ll answer questions, give advice and even share my phone number if I think we’re going to be friends (I know this is totally against what Winnie the Pooh taught me when he sang “Be too smart for strangers.”). I really like to share because invariably it leads to others sharing with you. I’m not a blabbermouth, but I’m rather open.

Not so with the internet. It took me two years to put my real name on the blog. I still don’t have a Facebook account because I’m uncomfortable having people randomly find me (I know what you’re thinking—but you have a blog!) and I do as much as I can to avoid signing up for anything that requires personal information. It’s something I continually struggle with—transformation is tricky. It’s like my relationship with the Little Mermaid.

I have a real problem with The Little Mermaid. The Disney version tells the story of a 16 year old who falls in love with a man she’s only seen once and proceeds to defy her father, give up her legs and voice to a sea witch, and then find a way to make the prince fall in love with her. Being Disney, she is able to persevere and win his love after which her father gives her legs and she and Prince Eric sail off into the sunset happy and married. Her age is my biggest qualm because as the mother of a headstrong daughter I shudder at how easily King Triton gave into Ariel’s hissy-fit. It’s the same reason I really dislike Romeo and Juliet (two teens throwing the ultimate hissy and make good on the threat “If I don’t get my way, I’ll just die!”). Despite writing YA I’m against hyperbole.

But the original story has her trading her tail for legs, which makes her the most graceful person on land but she must experience the pain of walking on dozens of knife points with every step. What did I learn? Real transformation is painful—a constant battle. Even after all that pain the tragic Little Mermaid opted to let her true love be happy with another instead of taking his life to regain her tail. I’ve never been a fan of martyrdom, but it makes a point.

Now, I’m almost ashamed to say, I finally read the original work by Hans Christian Andersen. (Imagine someone with a blog about fairy tales not having read a fairy tale!) In the real story she does lose the prince (and a chance at an immortal soul), but because of her selfless act she’s asked to join the “daughters of the air” who after three hundred years of good service earn an immortal soul. Being air she can bring breezes and “carry the scent of flowers through the air, bringing freshness and healing balm wherever we go.”

What all versions have in common is sacrifice. To get what you want, you may have to give something up. For me it’s anonymity. That’s probably why I started this blog by rewriting fairy tales…it gave me a place to hide.

After two years of blogging, I think I’m finally ready for my land legs even with the risk of stabbing knives (Does that count as hyperbole?). I still have issues with The Little Mermaid, but I understand what it’s like to know where you want to be and pursuing it.

Welcome to the new Fairytale Feminista blog, answering life’s questions one fairy tale at a time. See my new About Me page!

At the Crossroads of Fairy Tale and Folklore

According to my outdated (read: paper copy!) Webster’s Dictionary the definition of fairy tale is a story about fairies, magic deeds, etc., while folklore is defined as the traditional beliefs, legends, etc. of a culture. So does that mean all fairy tales and folklore have in common is etc.? What’s etcetera anyway in this case? I like to think that the etc. in a fairy tale are the traditional beliefs and legends and the etc. in folklore are the fairies and magical deeds. Which means they’re the same, right? Well, now I suppose I have to address the 800-pound gorilla. That gorilla is called culture.

Does culture determine whether a story is a fairy tale or folklore? Does that imply that anything that doesn’t originate from Northern Europe (from where most popular fairy tales come) is folklore? Moreover does that imply that Northern Europe doesn’t have a culture? Neither should be the case. Fairy tales started out as folklore which became so popular that they transcended culture. That means that all folklore, despite culture, can grow to fairy tale status. All they need is a little push in the direction of popularity.

One of the barriers to wider appeal for many folk tales is language. Would we love Grimm’s Fairy Tales or the stories of Hans Christian Andersen so much if someone hadn’t decided to translate them? We should invite more cultures to the party. Right now the subject of diversity is really hot with writers, especially YA/MG writers of which I am one. It’s kind of a minefield of emotions, political correctness, and common sense that everyone has to wade through. As a parent, I want to make sure that my daughter sees herself reflected in the books she reads and the shows and movies she watches. As a writer, I want to insert my reality into my writing (even though I write mostly YA fantasy). But as a bona-fide member of the person of color club, not to mention being part of the largest minority–womankind–I feel as though I shouldn’t have to bang the drum too loudly because it’s worse than preaching to the choir. Instead of asking for change, I’m going to make change (I know there’s some funny cashier joke that I should make, but I can’t think of one–any suggestions?). For my own edification and hopefully for your enjoyment, I want to explore folklore that begs to be more popular, starting with my own.

 

 

Adventures in Fairy Tale Land

As a child, when I read, heard and watched fairy tales it was always with a British accent. Mostly English, but occasionally Irish or Scottish. I was convinced, and movies seemed to back me up, that when Europeans congregated they all spoke English with an accent straight from Oxford. With that in mind, I assumed that all fairy tales were from the British Isles. From the Grimm Brothers to Hans Christian Andersen, all of them were from the English countryside. It stood to reason. Castles were in Britain. The Queen was in Britain, so it had to be true. Years, schooling and research have disabused me of that belief on an intellectual level. But in my heart, fairy tales have an accent.

So, it was with great joy and more than a touch of whimsy that I set off on my vacation to the Lake District and Edinburgh (also the reason that I’ve been so negligent with my blog. I don’t believe in internet in fairy land) hoping to have a fairy tale adventure. The countryside did not disappoint. I walked fells and through pastoral scenes that would make an shepherdess feel at home. I trudged through forests and scrambled through ghylls that held perfect hiding places for the fairy folk and maybe a wolf or two lying in wait for Red Riding Hood. I even walked through the world of Beatrix Potter, who although isn’t strictly a writer of fairy tales, is still a staple from my childhood reading menu.

Edinburgh was more gothic and therefore more Grimm, but in the nicest way possible. I climbed castle towers and ramparts almost expecting knights to lay siege. That may have been the whiskey haze, but I could see it. Swords, spears, and a stone of destiny were mythic, yet close enough to touch. Mary, Queen of Scots was like Rapunzel in the tower at Holyrood. ImageImage

This was not my first trip to the UK, but since starting my blog and committing to being a writer, it felt like a new place. Every corner was a literary opportunity and I could understand why I thought Britain was Fairy Tale Land as a child. I’ll admit that this post sounds like a long digression on how I spent my summer vacation, but I thought it was important to share the most important thing about fairy tales. Why we love them. Why we read them. Why they’re the stuff of dreams and nightmares. Please remember, dear reader, what matters most about fairy tales…

WONDER

The Tale of Mama’s Boy

Hans Christian Andersen wrote the story of the Princess and the Pea about a prince searching for a true princess with whom to share his life. One appears on his doorstep on a stormy night asking for a bed. His mother, the Queen, decides to test her claim of royalty and makes her sleep on a bed of multiple mattresses and puts a pea under the bottom bed. The princess sleeps horribly and the next day the queen proclaims that only a true princess could have felt the pea through so many mattresses. The prince and princess marry and live happily ever after.

Why would a man decide to take a woman he doesn’t know as his wife on his mother’s say-so? Moreover, why would his mother tell him to take her after one bad night of sleeping on a pea? I keep turning it around in my head and the only conclusion I can draw is that the prince was a Mama’s Boy. This strange and unknowable male is the one of modern love tragedies. But what if the idea wasn’t as modern as we suppose? Maybe Hans was on to something with his story. Here’s my take:

 

The Tale of Mama’s Boy

I’m sure you’ve met him once or twice

Helped him, loved him and paid the price

But no matter what you do

Mama’s Boy cannot love you.

 

“It’s not my fault,” he’ll often say,

“But Mama does it another way.”

Nothing you do will ever compare

To Mama’s tender loving care.

 

His patron saint if you chance to look

Can be found in the pages of a book.

In a time long ago and far away

Once upon a time under skies of gray.

 

A prince returned from a restless quest

To find the princess he liked the best.

One too thin, one too fat

One too loud, one to quiet.

 

One was short with hair of gold.

One was tall with thoughts too bold.

One whose laughs were quite improper.

One whose shape was like a stopper.

 

Search he did and found he none

To compare with his perfect one.

He would say with little drama

None are like the queen, my mama

 

So he returned much dejected

And pushed away all he rejected

Back to mama who spoils and coddles

Her precious prince, her darling idol.

 

Yet their homecoming came to a halt

Pausing the balm to so much salt.

A rap at the door on a night so dreary

Stood a lass, soaked through and quite weary.

 

“I’m a princess,” she said, “let me in for I’m cold

And a royal family lives here I’m told.

I apologize for looking a fright

But perhaps I could stay for just a night?”

 

“A princess? That’s doubtful,” said Mama Queen

“But I have a test that will make her come clean!

Of course dear, please stay and we’ll find a bed

A place to lay down your most delicate head.”

 

Mattresses were stacked one on the other

‘ Til there were twenty altogether.

Coverlets topped the fluffy tower

All constructed in about an hour.

 

“And underneath a test,” Mama giggled.

With her hand she pushed and wriggled

A pea the size of a pinky nail.

“A test she will most surely fail.”

 

Climb she did to the top of the bed

To rest her wet and weary head.

She tossed, she turned, she curled up and stretched out

But all she could do was sit up and pout

 

Meanwhile, Mama dear and son

had a little one-on-one.

“My darling boy, never fear

For Mama knows and I am here.

 

The test she takes, I’ve taken too

and will tell us if she’s a princess true

Her face is fair, her shape is pleasing

her manners are fine when she’s not sneezing

 

I only want the best for you

it’s what any mother would do.”

Junior crowed, “You’re more than any other mother

like you there will never be another.”

 

The morning dawned, the skies were clear

Into the room Queen Mama peered

Alas she found the lass a mess

Her hair! Her clothes! She looked quite stressed.

 

“I hate to be a world-class bitch

but I would have slept better in a ditch

I did not sleep at all last night

Something stuck me like a stalagmite!”

 

The queen was pleased, the prince elated

to see the princess so deflated.

“I found my wife, my mother’s match

and of course dear Mama made the catch.”

 

They soon were wed, but princess found

the ring did not mean that she was crowned

in his affections. Despite their joy

Princey would always be Mama’s Boy.

 

So even is you’re hand picked

don’t be fooled, don’t be tricked,

Because no matter what you do

Mama’s Boy cannot love you.