Myth or Magic: Mermaid’s Miscommunication

We’ve all asked the question: If Ariel knows how to sign her name (as evidenced by the contract she signs for Ursula), then why doesn’t she just write Eric a note explaining who she is and that he needs to kiss her?

Well today, to kick off my Myth or Magic series, we’re going to find out why.

First thing’s first (and I am probably going to end up saying this a lot): Disney changed a lot. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but to figure out the answer to this question, we need to look at the original story, not an adaptation. I used this version as reference for this particular post (or you can check out an old blog post for a more concise overview).

This question really has two parts: can the little mermaid write, and would a note actually have made a difference? Let’s look at them one at a time.

Pencil and paper wouldn’t work well under the sea.

1. There is no evidence the little mermaid can write.

In the Disney version, yes, she signs a contract. But in the original Hans Christian Andersen tale, the little mermaid simply makes a verbal agreement.

Not only that, if you read the story carefully, it seems pretty obvious that there is no written language in the underwater kingdom. The little mermaid, in her desire for knowledge about the human world, asks her grandmother and older sisters to tell her about their experiences over and over again, pointing toward a culture that shares history and information orally, not through written record.

Which makes sense. I can’t imagine that there’s an easy way to write underwater.

2. The terms of the deal were different.

The little mermaid wants a human soul (the kind that will go to heaven after a person dies, unlike the mermaids who simply dissolve into sea foam) and she’s also got a crush on a young prince whose life she saved.

But it wasn’t a kiss she was after.

“…only if a human were to fall so in love with you that you were more to him that his father and mother; if all his thoughts and love were centered on you, and he would let the priest place his right hand in yours and promise to be faithful now and in all eternity. Only then would his soul flow over into your body and you would partake in human happiness. He would give you a soul and yet retain his own.”

No, the sea witch (who is not evil, just creepy) tells her that in order to obtain a human soul, she must find a human willing to share theirs with her. Namely, she must be loved and get married. The prince is her intended target since she’s interacted with him before and she already has feelings for him.

There’s also not a three day time limit. As long as the prince doesn’t marry anyone else, the spell giving the mermaid legs will hold.

And because it’s not a simple kiss she’s after, a note wouldn’t be much help. Sure, she could tell the prince that she’s the one who saved his life, but that wouldn’t make him love her. He’s desperately in love with the girl who found him on the beach. Yes, he thinks she’s the one who saved him (and she sort of did, by bringing help and nursing him back to health), but he also remembers exactly who she is. He’s simply discouraged because she’s a nun (or so he thinks). He cares for the little mermaid, but more like a sister. He was never going to be able to love her like the spell needed him to.


So there you have it. My reasoning as to why the little mermaid didn’t write a note (and why it wouldn’t have helped even if she had).

What other fairy tale questions do you have?

Until next time, word nerds!

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