Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Adapting fairy tales - the Little Mermaid by Abie Longstaff

Rewriting fairy tales is always a challenge.

I like to bring the world up to date, to help children engage with the story better. This might include tackling gender, class and diversity issues, as well as making the characters dress and behave in a more contemporary style. Whatever your aims of adaptation, you still need to make sure the story retains enough of the flavour of the original to allow children to identify familiar themes and characters.

The latest Fairytale Hairdresser book - the Little Mermaid - had an added element to tackle. The original Hans Christian Anderson story is very dark and many people are not familiar with the ending. The tale is about sacrifice for love and has strong themes of moral 'goodness'. Anderson's mermaid chooses to swap her tail for legs, even though every step she takes will be like 'treading upon sharp knives'. In the end, she fails to win the heart of her prince and is given one last option to avoid becoming foam on the sea: kill the prince. The Little Mermaid refuses, and instead she throws herself into the ocean to meet her death.

Unsurprisingly, the Disney version has a different ending. In the 1989 film, Ariel and her prince fall in love and she is made a human permanently by her father, King Trident.

Like Disney, I wanted to steer clear suicidal mermaids, but I felt uncomfortable with the film's message of 'change for the one you love' so I spent a long time thinking through what I wanted to say. Why is the mermaid unhappy the way she is? Should she become a human permanently? Should the prince become a mermaid?

In my story (spoiler alert) the little mermaid finds she misses her tail. She returns to being a mermaid and she and her prince (Marino, a diving instructor) spend half of their time in her (underwater) palace:

and half the time in his:

You can read the original Little Mermaid tale here.

The Fairytale Hairdresser and the Little Mermaid is available from Amazon here or Waterstones here and also in independent shops like this one.


Catherine said...

Thanks for this interesting post Abie, I love the idea of the prince being a diving instructor :)

Lynne Garner said...

I love 'playing' with fairy tales and often use it as a basis in my writing classes.

What an inspired way to deal with such an unusual problem for your main characters.

Jane Clarke said...

Yes, lovely idea to make the Prince a diving instructor. Also interested to see how you deal with the endings - as you say, some fairy tales are very dark.

Unknown said...

I love this! Thanks for sharing the hows and whys of adapting fairy tales and your personal story on coming up with a suitable ending that gives a "better message." This is very helpful.