In case folks haven’t had a chance to see the Twilight Zone episode “Night of the Meek” it is an often overlooked holiday treasure well worth a viewing. I’ve included the link at the end of this post to where you can watch the full episode on Hulu. Rod serling is one of those great examples of a committed UU in so many ways. He only started focus his writing on Science fiction because he was frustrated by all the cuts being made to his work by network executives and sensors. Committed to causes like civil rights, peace, and economic justice and so would try and address those subjects in his screenplays but it all got taken out or reworked because the networks were afraid of taking up controversial subjects like racism and possibly losing advertisers. Sterling was needed in a pinch for a sci fi script and as always he used the story to engage people around their prejudice but because of the fact that it was speculative fiction about a universe that doesn’t exist or an invented idea of the future his work went to screen without editing. Where they just not seeing it through the space suits or did the higher ups just feel that the public would react better to this once removed way of talking about hot button issues? I suspect it was a bit of both. In any event I hope folks will watch and enjoy it as much as I do.
While I featured the story of the Little Mermaid in my illustration for the Advent Calendar it is really because of some of his holiday stories that he has been included. And of course the more seasonally relevant stories include The Snow Queen which is the primary inspiration behind the animated feature Frozen. Frozen is adapted quite a bit and is truly a different story than the work that served as its main inspiration. Most significantly being that the snow queen who is in frozen named elsa is not redeemed in andersen’s story but defeated. But there are other stories by andersen that made it into the movie. The character — is taken from another far less well known story titled simply the Snowman and is about a snowman who is pining with the love he feels for the stove and stovepipe he can see through a nearby window of the house. He is warned of the doomed reality should he be reunited with his love and it is only on discovering that the snow man was given for support a poker that came with the stove when it was purchased his ill fated desires are at last understood. Much like the little Mermaid the story of the snowman is also thought to be written as a metaphor for the relationship he had with a dancer at that time which is thought to have been the authors only sexual relationship of his life. But you will if you explore the topic find quite a number of additional andersen stories that are at least alluded to in Frozen.
By Contrast Disney’s the Little mermaid sticks strikingly close to the original story up until the happy ending. In the original the prince does mary the other girl but one of her sisters makes an arrangement with the witch and presents the former mermaid with a knife she is to use to kill the prince allowing her to return to her life in the sea. Having come to love the prince in an unselfish way she can not do that and instead takes her own life. That ending was so unpopular that anderson changed it and adds what some find an even more disturbing ending where the mermaid is made a spirit who can some day earn entrance to heaven but only by children not crying and instead laughing. When I recently reread this story which was by far my favorite as a child I noticed something that we do not see brought to the film. The Mermaid’s motivation is explained in the book in a way that helps the story break out of the love sick princess trope. We are told that mermaids have no eternal soul of their own for only humans have been given that however if a man were to truly lover her and marry her then she would have a claim to share his eternal soul and so through that love share in eternal life herself. She is clearly seeking that eternal life in the way the original fairy tale is written which as I said takes it in a much different direction.
I have to give a tip of the hat to my other favorite Andersen story which is the Steadfast Tin Soldier. Andersen is also the source of what is become for me and some others I imagine a veritable archetype for the whistleblower that being the one in which the little girl announces what they all were evading or pretending not to notice – that the emperor is wearing no cloths.