Interesting, unknown and fun facts about The Little Mermaid

by Tolovaj

Little Mermaid is known as a fairy tale and a movie, but there is much more to find in the background of the story. Here are some interesting facts!

The Little Mermaid is a very successful movie (three parts so far), made after popular fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. While most people know few interesting facts (including some controversy) about the Disney product, the background story of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid is almost unknown, but can offer much more food for thought.

If you are trivia and fairy tales amuse you, here is your chance to check ...

Top 10 Little Mermaid interesting facts

Little Mermaid is not Andersen's original work.

Undine by A. Rackham1. It's written after Undine by de la Motte Fouque, one of the probably the most popular books in the world in 19th century. Undine, sometimes called Ondine or Undina, is a love story about the water spirit (name probably comes from Latin unda - wave) who wants to get an immortal soul but has to marry a mortal and have a kid with him.

Andersen was of course, familiar with the story and debated with his friends about certain points in the plot when he was writing Little Mermaid. On the picture on the left, we can see Undine, illustrated by one of the greatest masters of the fairy world, Arthur Rackham.

2. Undine was not a complete original as well. It is based on different folktales about Melusine (also Melusina) and works by Paracelsus, who associated her with Aphrodite, love, water and sexuality. Mermaids are an important part of folklore all over the world and stories about them are still in high demand.

3. The evolution of Little Mermaid didn't stop with Andersen, who tried to upgrade the love story into a spiritual and religious quest. Disney made a new turn, with returning to the basic plot, simplifying and emphasizing good versus evil fight and basically changing it in family fun.

Andersen's Little Mermaid wasn't meant for children

4. There is a strong theory with many supporters claiming this fairy tales wasn't initially written for public. The only audience should be the Danish writer's unrequited love Edvard Collin. The famous storyteller who was attracted by men and women (but never managed to built an intimate relationship with either) wrote this tale in the time of Edvard's marriage with Henriette Thyberg in 1936 (fairy tale was first published in 1937).

5. Characters in Little Mermaid were designed after real people and settings described after real places.

Little Mermaid was, of course, the writer himself, who often mentioned his feminine side in private letters, the prince was Edvard and his wife Henriette.

Just like the title character in the story couldn't do any harm to the happy couple, in a reality Hans Christian stayed friend with both and they were even buried in the same grave.

Here you can find more about the real story behind the Little Mermaid.

Little Mermaid and the Sea Witch - illustration by Bertall
Little Mermaid and the Sea Witch - il...

6. Disney company followed the same pattern as the Danish fairy tale writer, but with their signature humorous twists. Ariel was drawn after actress Alicia Milano (face and body), script writer Sherri Stoner (body movement) and astronaut Sally Ride (hair movement), the villain Ursula was designed after drag queen Divine, but for trivia lovers there are even more interesting facts: you can see many famous Disney characters in the crowd of sea people (Donald, Goofy, Kermit, Mickey, characters from Cinderella and Snow White, ...), singing scene on the rock was designed after the statue of mermaid on the rock in Copenhagen, some scenes were borrowed from other Disney movies, ...

Little Mermaid by Hans Tegner
Little Mermaid by Hans Tegner
7. The ultimate autobiography

Andersen wrote several autobiographies during his life and almost all of his fairy tales carry recognizable autobiographical elements. He often used names and characteristics of real people for characters in his stories, but Little Mermaid is probably his ultimate autobiography.

Through Little Mermaid's quest for love and immortal soul, we can see and understand Andersen's ambition to become famous, climbing the social ladder, inability to express his true feelings and final settling with this life which will be repaid in after-life.

Strong color symbolism
Little Mermaid by Anne Anderson
Little Mermaid by Anne Anderson

8. Blue is (understandably) the major color in the story. It is a color of water and air, but not a color of life. It's the color of heaven. Although mermaids already are surrounded with blue, we can understand Little Mermaid's search for love can be only one step toward the higher goal - heaven, which is accessible only by getting the immortal soul (and this comes with love).

9. Red is the other important color in this fairy tale. It's of course a color of life and passion, but also a color of sin, which should be defeated before the mermaid can get into heaven. Red is much more popular color in fairy tales than blue, the reason is probably the fairy tales are created as reflections of life, not philosophical thoughts.

In the illustration by Anne Anderson above we can clearly see how colors with all the combinations can add to the message of the story.

The Little Mermaid by Evelyn Stuart Hardy
The Little Mermaid by Evelyn Stuart H...
Daughters of the Air

10. The Little Mermaid wasn't considered as a title at first. In the last scene she is dissolving into sea foam, but then we find out she is rising upwards in a company of so-called daughters of the air. Although this part looks a bit artificial and was actually added after first writing (where everything ends with dissolving of Little Mermaid), Andersen later claimed he wanted the final ending with her flying up, without worries of this world and on the sure path to her final goal - immortality from the very beginning and the working title of original Little Mermaid was actually Daughters of the air.

Updated: 01/31/2016, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj 18 days ago

Undine is considered as an 'artificial' story by a known author who used old myths and legends to construct a solid story for a specific audience.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/14/2023

Your first fact about the motivation of The Little Mermaid answers a question that I've had about fables, fairy tales, legends and myths about human and non-human involvements.

Previously, I've looked at those interactions for what the human gains or loses, such as in Greek mythology. But now I see that there can be perhaps an even greater influence upon the non-human.

Would the Undine story be considered the ancestor of the little mermaid tales or would there be an even older version? If so, when and where would that be?

Tolovaj on 07/12/2014

Glad to hear that, Sheri_Oz. We are often unaware of the presence of colors, if the story is well written / told. But on the other hand we almost expect gold (in many cases interchangeable with red) in fairy tales, right?
Thanks for stopping by!

Tolovaj on 07/12/2014

Well, JoHarrington, if we dig for a while, everything and everybody is connected:) Melusine is almost unknown in our part of the world and we were introduced to Little Mermaid in times when the word God was almost forbidden, so you can imagine how much we still have to explore ... By the way, in Central and Eastern Europe mermaids are less popular than mermen. Don't ask me why!

Sheri_Oz on 07/12/2014

This is fascinating. I especially liked your discussion of the place of colour in fairy tales.

JoHarrington on 07/12/2014

Yes I do. Mostly because I'd not made the connection between The Little Mermaid and Melusine before, which is ridiculous. The fact that they're both mermaids should have at least given me pause!

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