I was inspired by a discussion in the Facebook Group Fantasy and Sci-Fi Readers Lounge to give a full analysis of how Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and the original “Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Anderson inspired my first novel “Love of the Sea”.
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Disney version was my favourite movie growing up. I actually wore out the VHS tape from watching it so much. It was the original source for my fascination with water, mermaids, and sea life. I would watch the movie over and over again, wanting so much to be a graceful mermaid living in the sea. My parents granted me my wish by enrolling me in swim lessons, which was the catalyst for my ten years swimming competitively.
I enjoyed pouring over texts, both fiction and non-fiction about mermaids and marine biology. I would spend hours reading encyclopedias about various aquatic animals and did a lot of ocean exploration on my family’s vacations to the Florida beach. As I grew older, I gained respect for how brutal life in the sea can be – a truly eat or be eaten world.
In my later years, I read the original tale by Hans Christian Anderson, a tragic story of the little mermaid not receiving love from her prince and dying of a broken heart from a failed love spell. This story infuriated me. At the time I was experiencing an abusive relationship myself, so the story deeply resonated with me. I felt it unfair and selfish how the prince could toss aside the little mermaid and her love. I also found it uncomfortable how obsessive and desperate the mermaid’s love for her prince was (dying for her unrequited love).
I vowed to do better on her behalf. I created my novel “Love of the Sea” because I wanted to redeem the mermaid. I wanted her to receive the love and respect she deserved without such chaotic and desperate means. However, I didn’t want to simply flip the story and make the prince into a victim. That, in my mind, was equally terrible. Instead, I leveled the playing field by making both Asrai (mermaid) and Cormack (prince) make sacrifices in order for their relationship to be fully realized.
Relationships are not a hazy love full of sweet words and happily ever afters. Love takes work, and “Love of the Sea” showcases that push and pull in real relationships – the uncertainty, the arguments, and ultimately, the required patience and understanding. Asrai does not blindly fall in love with Cormack. In fact, she actually has selfish ulterior motives attached to her desire to have Cormack as a mate. She views him as the legendary Fredsmegler (“peacemaker”) that can give her enough power to overthrow the usurper (Garradi) and regain her throne in Sulu. At first, it is her desire to regain her title that draws her to Cormack, but as she falls deeper in love she realizes how powerful love is and learns that you cannot simply bend others to your will with magick. This is key to her regaining her throne and working as a true ruler of her people – that she needs to gain trust and respect rather than force her will through magick.
However, Asrai has to potentially make the ultimate sacrifice – her life, twice. The first is in pursuing Cormack at all. I take the idea of turning to seafoam from the original Hans Christian Anderson story. The sea hag, Illyana, warns Asrai that if she fails to get Cormack to fall in love with her, true love (no magick) that she will die and turn to seafoam. “A mer cannot survive that kind of heartbreak.” I use this element to show why mers do not pursue relationships with humans, as Asrai is the first to not only pursue a real love relationship with a human, but successfully convinces that human to give up his soul and his life on land to become a mer. I also stress the importance that Cormack has to truly fall in love with Asrai, rather than Asrai using magick to “force” him to love her. I further showcase this in that Asrai’s magickal means of suggestion do not work on Cormack because he is already in love with her. I wanted this to show how truly powerful love is against even the most powerful and seductive magick.
I also utilize the element from the original “Little Mermaid” that walking on land is agony – yet another reason why mers do not typically pursue relationships with humans. Asrai experiences this painful element when the sea hag, Illyana, grants her temporary legs so they may go through with the wedding ceremony without Peter foiling their plans after he discovers that Asrai is not human. This painful experience also helps further forge the bond between Asrai and Cormack, with Asrai making this painful sacrifice while Cormack supports her and respects her strength. I added that regardless of if Asrai is in mer form or human form that she will dry out and have a shortened life on land. This is to further solidify the idea behind a mer pursuing a relationship with a human on land is desperate – further hinting at the Hans Christian Anderson story. At the beginning of their relationship Cormack repeatedly asks Asrai why she cannot simply live on land with him, and she reminds him over and over how destructive and selfish that would be.
Cormack falls in love with Asrai quickly, but realizes that he cannot completely lose himself in the relationship, that his desires and goals matter as well. In addition to falling in love with Asrai, Cormack also gains deep respect for her as a warrior and a queen. He must sacrifice his throne and his people to help Asrai regain hers. Cormack struggles with this for the larger part of the story, ultimately choosing to support Asrai and become a mer to save her kingdom. However, not before convincing Asrai to help him stabilize his own kingdom before forfeiting his crown. Putting the needs of his people first, and not just blindly bending to Asrai’s will is yet another way I show that chaotic, desperate love does more harm than good. Ultimately, I wanted them to be equals, as it takes treating your partner as an equal to make a relationship successful.
There are also selfish elements to Cormack’s love with Asrai. He wants to escape the responsibilities, and ultimately war in ruling his own kingdom. He is seduced by the sea, spending his days sailing the waters on his own personal boat. When Asrai presented him with the possibility of living with her as a mer in the sea, it seemed almost too good to be true. In a way, it is because the price to pay for his new life is losing not only his crown, but his soul. I follow the old myths that mermaids do not have souls as humans do. Giving up whatever afterlife there may be, as well as losing his human empathy is a big unknown and risk for Cormack. He struggles with this in the story, but ultimately utilizes his separated soul in order to save his own kingdom by implanting it in his power-hungry cousin, Peter.
My novel “Love of the Sea” is meant to be a complex romance. While Cormack and Asrai (and to a lesser extent Peter and Nephara) do get their “happily ever after” it is not without cost. Cormack realizes that he can never truly escape war and sedition by realizing that Asrai must perform Draum at the risk of her own life to win back her throne from Garradi. It is revealed to Asrai that her own mother was “forced” to love her father after he demanded she leave her lover (Garradi) and become his mate, or force her entire tribe to be exiled from Sulu. This realization turns Asrai’s world upside down, and forces her to question herself as a lover and as a queen. Ultimately, Asrai and Cormack grow a love that is full of kindness and respect for one another through all their sacrifices and trials. Thus, achieving my goal of helping to “redeem” Hans Christian Anderson’s little mermaid and win her the love and respect she truly deserved from her prince.