Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, a Reading Journal

I have the extremely odd habit of saving drafts in the most random places, and so, I just stumbled upon this Clarissa reading journal that I wrote way back in 2007. I have to published it because it’s just so odd (it was, it seem, an assignment for school that I took really seriously), it’s in the same epistolary style, and because I’m so amused that I wrote it an forgot about it again. It seems to function as a sort of diary of my Clarissa reading experience, and if you have ever read the novel, I’m sure you understand why such a step is necessary. I hope you enjoy.

Robert Lovelace preparing to abduct Clarissa Harlowe, by Francis Hayman
Week 1

Letter 1: Miss Pamela Coovert to Self at Future Date
4 September 2007

I’ve read through the Introduction to Clarissa and I can’t help but be a little worried, the Introduction is, theoretically, written by someone very fond of the book, but even their glowing terms can’t seem to mask what appears to be a staggering behemoth of a novel. I have unofficially assigned it tome status, which I like to give books more than 100 pages larger than a nice, round thousand. Apparently, every time Samuel Richardson went to edit it down he – in an act that makes it obvious that he was his own publisher – added to the book. Happily it seems that we are dealing with the first edition, which, it seems, is the smallest version. Also, the Introduction amusingly notes all of the far better known writers to slam the book (and Richardson in general) as time goes by, specifically, S. T. Coleridge. Still, Dr. Runge assures us that we are lucky to be among the few classes of graduate students who will ever get through the authentic version of this book; perhaps my pride would be more awakened at this thought were we reading James Joyce, at least then, at the end of the novel, I’d feel cool.

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23 Things You Should Actually Do Before You’re 23

Two years ago I read the article 23 things to do instead of getting engaged before 23 and drafted this frustrated response (note: after writing my response the original blog post was picked up by Huffington Post, and I am jealous, I admit it). I can tell that the original list is definitely written by a 23 year old. In fact, every time I read it, the list becomes more idiotic because so much of the advice is “Be a jerk! LOLZ” which (by the by) most people do naturally. This is fine, but perhaps not useful, since there’s a lack of perspective in place because the author was 22 when she wrote the list. If your life goals are as whiplash-ey as the Peace Corps and a Pinterest project (not multiple Pinterest projects, just the one) then honey, you have no clue what you’re doing with yourself. Basically, I’m saying that you really don’t know what you should have done to make your 20s efficient and amazing until you’re clearly out of them. Time to swoop in and fix this mess with a ton of unsolicited advice.

I tell my students this and it’s true: your 20s are a stressful decade. In general, you are doing all the work of getting your life together. Except maybe you aren’t. As I told someone last week (which they tweeted): “You can screw up your life, just not too much.” What I meant by this is that you can make mistakes in life and recover, as long as the mistakes aren’t colossal ones. The teens and twenties are maybe not a great time to have a child you’re unprepared for, or to nurture a serious drug problem. Crazy advice, right? I’m just getting started.

And so here is my list of 23 Things You Should Actually Do Before You’re 23:

1. Move Out of Your Parent’s House – Seriously, you need to move out. If your parents want you to stay at home indefinitely then they are working through some empty nest issues. You need to move out and start your own life.

2. Learn How to Budget – Why are you always broke? Because you never bothered to learn how to budget. Get an app or open up Excel, itemize your monthly expenses, and enter in your post-tax pay. Be realistic, too, if you need $100 a month for new clothes put it in the budget and make sure you can afford it and, you know, rent for doing #1. Tip: A good rule of thumb is that your rent should never be more than 30% of your post-tax (take home) pay. In your 20s it might be as high as 50% but that needs to be short-term, not long term.

3. Cut Down on Drinking and Drug Use – Five drinks at a college party and you are so freaking cool, five drinks at a company dinner party and everyone will gossip about your drinking problem. Also, even if it’s “just pot” (as potheads say) you need to cut down on or stop using drugs; they’re an expensive way to keep you from caring about wasting your life. You will wake up one day and realize you’ve done nothing with with your life and smoked the cash equivalent of your dream vacation, and then you will cry. Don’t do that to yourself.

4. Learn to be Alone – Bad relationships can go on for months or years before the inevitable breakup because people are afraid of being alone. Turns out that being alone is not so bad and can even be fun. If you make the fear of being alone go away you will make better relationship decisions, I promise.

5. Live Alone – This is so important it’s basically on the list three times. Having your own place is amazing and helps you figure out who you are independent of a parent, friend, or significant other.

6. Learn How to Cook – If you don’t you will get so literally and figuratively sick of fast and food it’s uncanny. Learning how to cook is a great life skill and never fails to impress people. Never. Fails.

7. Unravel the Mysteries of the Human Reproductive System – TMI. I know a lot of you will think this shouldn’t be on the list, but I cannot tell you how many young ladies in their mid- and even late 20s that I’ve talked to who really have no idea how their menstrual cycle works. Everyone (gay men uninterested in having children excluded) needs to know precisely how babies appear in bellies.

8. Apologize to Someone You Bullied – Oddly even people who are picked on tend to be bullies at least once. You were probably a dick to someone in High School so you need to look them up on Facebook (or current social media) and apologize.

9. Realize that Your Parents are Just People – If you hadn’t already done so before by your 20s, you need to realize that your parents are just people too. People who did the best they could (I hope) but who are people none the less. People who had hopes and dreams, some of which did not come true, possibly because you ate up all their resources and never moved out. Kidding! Really though, parents are flawed human beings just like you are, you need to stop judging them and accept them for who they are.

10. Thank Your Parents – They made huge sacrifices to get you where you are, even if they were not the best parents, they gave a lot to raise you. Of course if they were really awful people who abused you, you can skip this step and would be better off hating them. Especially thank your mother, her body got completely jacked up bringing you into this world and is it not the same anymore. It will never be the same. You’re welcome.

11. Forgive Someone – In moderation. Forgive someone for something you are holding on to that is not worth holding on to. It is time to start letting things go. This doesn’t mean you have to forgive and forget, but forgiving will keep it from eating you up inside.

12. Go to College – or at least trade school. If you do not you will realize – too late – that the people at the top who bothered getting an education work less and make way more than the people at the bottom who do all the work. Example: Dental assistants make between $12-$16 an hour and do almost all the work at 40-50+ hours a week, whereas the Dentist makes $100-$500K a year (depending on specialty) and works maybe 10-20 hours a week. This example is from experience. Try dental school first, then if you wash out become a hygienist.

13. Start and Keep Using Sunscreen – You will have no reason to at first, then you will hit 35 and people will ask you why you look so young. Sun damage is a killer and will make you look older than you really are. This is another good reason not to smoke cigarettes, unless you think looking like crap is attractive.

14. Find a Hobby – or hobbies. After many years I now know that I like to collect contemporary art, drink fancy tea, travel with my boyfriend, and make collages. A year ago it was yoga, nature walks, and dying my hair rainbow colors. Hobbies will change over time and you will lose interest in them occasionally so it’s always good to have a few on deck to rotate between. Having hobbies is 1) fun and 2) will help with #4 on the list.

15. Find Yourself – This is the hardest thing to do on the list. Item #14 will help as well as #4, but you need to know who you are and what your values are. This is especially important when looking for a life partner because, if you don’t know who you are, you might (accidentally or otherwise) become an extension of them.

16. Prune the Friend Bush – As time goes on there will be friends, even longtime friends, whose life and values change in a way that are not aligned with your own. It’s okay and even good to let those friendships go. Same goes for abusive family members; give yourself permission to terminate unhealthy relationships.

17. Try Therapy – Life is hard and things will come along that really mess with your head. Try out therapy once and if you like it keep going. It’s amazing to have an unbiased person in your corner. You tell them your goals and values, then they remind you of those goals and values. It’s also nice to talk to someone who doesn’t have an agenda. Even if your friends and family try not to be, they will always be a little biased.

18. Go for Your Dreams – Your early 20s is the perfect time to do things that might be a little risky, but also might be amazing. For example changing your major from philosophy to 19th century french poetry to film. If you don’t do these things now you will always have a “what if” floating around in your head and then you’re risking a mid-life crisis. Quitting your job to major in film is much more dicey at 50.

19. Have a Plan B … and C – While going for your dreams have a backup plan (or two) in place. Like a minor in library science, for example, that way if your philosophy major dreams do go south you aren’t left skill-less in a brutal marketplace. Also, inheriting your parent’s money is not an acceptable backup plan. You have no idea how many factors are in play, between prolonged illnesses to trophy husbands/wives that magically show up a few years before someone dies, there’s very little likelihood that you will inherit anything. I know that sounds awful, but elderly people get loopy and lonely at the same time, and that’s just how things go.

20. Love Something Unconditionally – I suggest a pet because I think babies can definitely wait. As a child and teenager you are profoundly selfish, sorry if that stings, but it’s the truth. Children pretty much only care about themselves, to the point that they’d rather have mum and dad stay miserably married than be happy alone (aka divorced) because then they wouldn’t be in the same house with baby (aka the child who is selfish). You need to get over this and love something completely unconditionally, which means putting it’s needs before yours without hesitation or regret. If your cat needs a $5,000 operation and you would max out your credit cards to save it and then not feel irritated by the bill, then you have achieved this goal.

21. Donate to Charity – In your 20s you need to realize that the world isn’t about just you (see also #20) and that you can help in some small way to make it better. Instead of selling things you don’t want anymore, perhaps donate them to charity. If you get a big tax return consider giving some of it to a local animal shelter. The world is larger than you and you can help make it better even if it feels like a drop in the bucket. This is also why you should vote.

22. Be Uncool – You are probably uncool already or you will be in the near future, trust me. That’s fine, because being “cool” is super overrated and is just external validation anyway, which no fully-realized person needs or even wants. Like the things you want to like, be uncool, because no matter how lame, someone else will share your interest with you.

23. Breathe – You will get through this, just take a deep breath. It’s so tempting to go online and see your High School friends successful, holding up a PhD. in one hand, the keys to their new house in the other, and think, “I’m a total screw up.” You’re not a screw up, you are a person who (almost certainly) made some mistakes and it will get better, and also I would stop looking up old friends online because that’s just going to make you sad. It’s trite, but it’s true, life is a marathon, not a race. Breathe.

The Martian Chronicles, Usher II by Ray Bradbury, Summary and Analysis

Usher II, Hungarian Graphic Novel

Below is a synopsis and analysis of “Usher II” from The Martian Chronicles for my class and, perhaps more accurately, for myself. I hope you enjoy!

“Usher II (2004-2005)” was originally published as “Carnival of Madness” in 1950 by Standard Magazines. It works as Bradbury’s love letter to Poe and feels like a prequel or alternate timeline for Fahrenheit 451 (1953) as it deals with censorship. It is similar to the 1949 short story “The Exiles” which was reprinted in The Illustrated Man (1951). “The Exiles” deals with authors whose spirits are on Mars, fearfully awaiting the burning of the final copies of their books. “Usher II” like “The Naming of Names” covers a period of time rather than a specific month, which is unusual because it seems to take place over the span of 1-2 days rather than 1-2 years. This chapter is also foreshadowed in the previous chapter, “The Naming of Names.”


William Stendahl: Millionaire and lover of fiction who concocts the elaborate plan for Usher II (which he calls “The House of Usher,” I am calling it “Usher II” for the sake of clarity). Importantly, he is the only character with a first name. Stendahl is characterized by intense anger and, although not likable, is the protagonist.

Mr. Bigelow: The architect who designed Usher II without knowing or caring what it is. He represents the complacent, unquestioning attitude of people, the “common man” in this story.

Mr. Garrett: Investigator of Moral Climates is his official title, he is in charge of enforcing the laws that regulate fiction and imagination. Like many characters in the story he has a robot double. Lack of imagination is his downfall.

Pikes: Stendahl’s right-hand man, an actor who is not allowed to act, and who is characterized by extreme bitterness. Pikes assists Stendahl in engineering the events in “Usher II.”

The Party Guests: Numbered around three dozen, some of which have names (so the narration flows well). They are portrayed essentially as sheep (like Bigelow) who Stendahl had befriended in the time leading up to the “party.” They, too, represent “the masses.”

Symbols, Allusions, and (Likely) Themes

Death: The most prevalent theme in the chapter is death which is represented by everything from references to haunting and ghosts, to the constant repetition of the word “death” in the chapter, to literal deaths. At the beginning of the story an intentional, mass death of organic life by DDT is talked about nonchalantly. Death is also foreshadowed by midnight, Garrett’s gun, and the dead Martians who are mentitoned. Impending death is also foreshadowed by Usher II’s perpetual autumnal twilight, both symbols that death is near. The color black is also the pervading color in this chapter, and Bradbury uses so much color in his writing, and so rarely uses black, that it is important.

Damnation: Stendahl is a deeply imperfect messenger and damnation is a major theme in this chapter, be it literal or that the human race, symbolically damned by their rejection of imagination. This is symbolized in the chapter by the references to burning books and films, the incinerator, rockets “burning the sky,” and the word “blasphemy.” Additionally, the sun, which would traditionally represent hope, has been “blotted out” of the sky. Garrett is also “condemned,” as it were, by Stendahl, and is left to die in a prison under Usher II.

Rockets: Throughout The Martian Chronicles rockets represent human colonization and this chapter is no different.

Seven: The number seven occurs throughout the chapter. Stendahl’s preparation for the party starts are seven o’clock and there are seven rooms that the guests move through, the final being a black room of death. Seven could be a reference to the Biblical week wherein God created everything and then rested, just like Stendahl creates Usher II and then rests. This is also an allusion to Poe (discussed further on).

Metal: Metals are used throughout The Martian Chronicles as well. In this chapter there is copper and bronze in the form of robots.

Personification: Both robots and film (movies) are personified in this chapter. Stendahl and Pikes’ bitterness transcends the loss of livelihood or inanimate object (film, library); personifying robot, book, and film change the dimension of the action completely in the text.

Sentient Weapons: Like in Ylla, where a living weapon (bee gun) causes death, in “Usher II” the quasi-alive robots are the ones who kill the dozens of party guests, which creates a distance moral between Stendahl and the murders. This allows him to remain an ambiguous character.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allen Poe: Referenced in the title of the story, the name of the house, and the closing lines of the story, which are direct quotations from Poe’s work.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe: The description of the house has hearts beating under floorboards in this brief allusion.

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allen Poe: Garrett is killed by an ape and the first person to die at the party is stuffed up a chimney by (presumably) the same ape, both references to Poe’s story. At this point Garrett confesses his knowledge of Poe’s work by naming the specific stories referenced, noting he was the one who burned them.

“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allen Poe: In an almost comedic scene, one guest is carried by white rabbits to a pit in the floor, complete with swinging pendulum.

“The Premature Burial” by Edgar Allen Poe: Another party guest is nailed into a coffin and placed “into the raw earth under the floor.”

“The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe: There are seven rooms for the guests with Red Death in the seventh and, additionally, the women are made to wear red dresses.

“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe: This final Poe story that is alluded to gets almost as frequently as “Usher” in that Stendahl insists on acting out the final scene of the story with Garrett as his victim. The story is used to taunt Garrett with hope, only to take it away, possibly mirroring the death of hope that Stendahl experienced when he realized that Mars was being overtaken by the same people who burned his books on Earth, and that there was “no escape” for him, either. The “harlequin” early in the story is also a nod to “Cask.”

Hamlet by William Shakespeare: A brief but powerful allusion as Garrett accuses Stendahl of murder and Stendahl  replies only: “murder most foul” as the party guests begin to die.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll: There are numerous, brief allusions to dozens of other works, but the Alice novels are referenced numerous times. In Stendahl’s speech to Bigelow, Alice is mentioned drinking poison from the bottle, and the looking-glass is described as smashed, while the Oyster(s) (referencing “The Walrus and the Carpenter”) and the Red King are driven away. In the robot personification section (discussed below) there are mentions of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Mock-Turtle, and white rabbit. Later the party is populated by multiple Dormice, Mad Hatters, and White Queens. Finally, white rabbits carry one victim to their death.

Babbitt: Stendahl sarcastically speculates that the Moral Climates people will be “burning Babbitts next,” referencing the 1922 Sinclair Lewis novel of the same name. Essentially, “Babbitt” is shorthand for a conformist.

Fairy Tales: There are many fairy tales referenced (Snow White, Mother Goose, Rumpelstiltskin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty, and the phrase “Once Upon a Time”) and, more specifically, Rapunzel “lets down her hair” so the guests can enter Stendahl’s “enchanted” party.

Plot Synopsis

This chapter opens with appropriately bleak imagery: it is autumn, the day is “dull, dark, and soundless,” with the house, Usher II, on top of a black hill with “raven grass.” This is immediately called to the reader’s attention by Mr. Stendahl who commissioned the mansion from Mr. Bigelow, an architect. Surrounding the house, it is perpetually “October” at twilight, with all of the images foreshadowing death, which is reinforced by Bigelow’s announcement that this team had to use “tons of DDT” to make sure everything around the house really was dead. There are even machines which “blot out the sun,” symbolizing hopelessness. As Stendahl discusses the literary origin of the house with Bigelow the reader learns that it takes place in the same universe at Fahrenheit 451 and that all fiction has been outlawed and burned. In a paragraph that is all allusion – a list too long to go into – Stendahl mourns the death of literature to Bigelow, who is completely oblivious. Stendahl is furious that Bigelow thinks “the Burning” was a good thing and, red-faced, sends him away with a warning that Usher II was made to “teach you [people] a fine lesson for what you did.”

It is at this point that Mr. Garrett, Investigator of Moral Climates, lands in a rocket, and things really get cooking. There is immediate animosity between the characters as Garrett announces that soon Mars will be as “tidy” as Earth. When asked for an explanation, Stendahl gleefully describes the mansion: “In it copper bats fly on electronic beams, brass rats scuttle in plastic cellars, robot skeletons dance; robot vampires, harlequins, wolves, and white phantoms, compounded of chemical and ingenuity, live here.” Garrett smiles as he announces that it has to be torn down, and the reader gets more of Stendahl’s back story: millionaire at a young age and bitter because the government burned his private library. Stendahl convinces Garrett to take a tour so that he might make a “full report” and Garrett agrees, announcing that he has a gun, which foreshadows the death in the short story.

Inside Usher II is Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride if the ride was actually scary and created by a sociopath. It’s packed to the brim with animatronic robots that can move on their own, including an ape which Stendahl signals to kill Garrett, which it does. Stendahl’s henchman, Pikes, enters with a robot Garrett to buy them more time, and the pair dump the original Garrett into the incinerator (effectively trading burning for burning). Robot Garrett flies away to make his report and Stendahl briefly introduces Pikes as a master actor “with the bitterness in him as deep as a black, charred well of green acid.” The party guests now start to arrive and we, the reader, know that it’s going to be a bloodbath. At this point there is an interesting interlude wherein the robots are described in extremely poetic terms, both anthropomorphized and emphasized as being inanimate; this is coupled with more allusions.

The distinguished guests arrive, people whom Stendahl  had recently befriended, and Stendahl welcomes them “to the vasty halls of Death!” as they ask him about the house. He makes them change into costumes – we find out why soon enough – and Stendahl explains away their fears by telling them it is a costume ball. As the guests emerge from the changing rooms, Pikes appears “with the face of Death” and reveals to Stendahl that when he checked on Garrett’s remains he discovered that it was a robot, not a human, that they had incinerated. After a moment of panic, Stendahl realizes that Garrett probably won’t notice the switch and, feeling “safe,” might appear in person, which he immediately does. As the real real Garrett mentions “murder” Miss Pope runs in and screams that she just saw Miss Blunt stuffed up the chimney by an ape. Miss Blunt then appears and says she’s alive and just watched her robot double die. This grisly scene then repeats itself several more times – each a literary allusion – before Stendahl announces he has something planned for Garrett as well that he wants to show him. Garrett stupidly agrees to follow him into the basement, which makes sense since we are supposed to believe he was raised in a world without horror movies. Even before we see the word the readers knows it’s a reference to “The Cask of Amontillado” and, after chaining Garrett to the wall, Stendahl announces that there is no duplicate of Garrett. In fact, he tells him, the robots watched the deaths of the real guests. Stendahl then sadistically forces Garrett to reenact the closing of “The Cast of Amontillado,” feeding him lines and demanding a “good show” before walling Garrett in with bricks.

At the party, full of robots, The Red Death appears as the clock strikes midnight and Stendahl, with Pikes, leave the house. They then detonate the house, watch it crumble into the ground while speaking the final lines of Poe’s short story, and fly away in a helicopter.

I hope you found this synopsis and analysis helpful! I’m just one person, so please let me know of any corrections or omissions in the comments and I would be much obliged.

9 Reasons that The Shirley Temple Show’s Version of The Little Mermaid is a Good Adaptation

Shirley Temple The Little Mermaid

Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” is a short story that I teach year after year, and in one class I show a number of adaptations of the story. The Shirley Temple Show version from 1961 is surprising, both because it takes place pre-Disney adaptation (and as such hasn’t been corrupted by the Disney machine) and because it updates the original story in some intriguing ways.

First of all, Temple’s made-for-TV version is absolutely kitsch through and through, the character actors in the episode are iconic in that time period, and the sea witch and her minions are camp to an extreme, not to mention how early 60’s the makeup and costumes are (I can’t with Temple’s wig, the bangs, I can’t). All of that needs to either be enjoyed or overlooked to understand the significance of the changes the show made to the original story. How ever “dated” the Temple version, I still strongly believe that some of the changes made to the story actually act to modernize it while retaining the integrity of Anderson’s original story. I started this as a long form article, but, as I worked on it, I decided that it needed to be a list, so I humbly submit to you 9 Reasons that The Shirley Temple Show’s Version of The Little Mermaid is a Good Adaptation.

#1 No Soul, No Problem

In Andersen’s 1837 version the core of the story is love, yes, but also the mermaid’s quest for an eternal soul. After she learns about it, the mermaid never mentions the prince without mentioning the soul. Why? Simply put: in Anderson’s world mermaids are animals, and, when they die, they cease to exist. This is something that is always left out of reinterpretations because of the colossal Christian controversy that would follow if it were left in. When the soul is taken out, you just have the love of a newly teen-aged girl to drive the plot forward, which is not enough to die over, but is enough to learn from. Even Anderson gave the mermaid a reprieve and had the Daughters of the Air rescue her and give her a chance to “earn” a soul. In Temple’s version, without any discussion of a soul, the mermaid is given a second chance at life as a mermaid by the god of a sea (note: not her father). I feel this is an appropriate change considering that the stakes have been lowered so much by removing the whole soul controversy.

#2 Sea Witch + Minions = Fun

In Anderson’s story the sea witch is not “evil” as one would expect, and neither is Temple’s (the mer-witch), though both are slightly malevolent. Anderson’s witch has a toad that eats sugar from her mouth and snakes that cuddle with her bosom (Flotsam and Jetsam anyone?), and these pets clearly influenced the introduction of minions. Andersen’s sea witch is slightly antagonistic to the mermaid, saying that even though the mermaid is foolish, the witch will help, but Temple’s minions (a lawyer stingray and a hateful octopus) allow the witch to become a more fully-realized character without fading into the background as Andersen’s character does. Andersen’s sea witch is mentioned at the end of the story, but never appears again, whereas the mer-witch gets more screen time and, while she doesn’t have any strong feelings about the mermaid, she does have an ethical compass that she follows. The mer-witch is also given a back story that involves the mermaid’s grandmother, which means more complex character motivations and a richer story.

#3 Better Grandmother

In Andersen’s story the grandmother becomes a sort of replacement for the absent mother, memorably telling the little mermaid that “pride must suffer pain,” and suffer she does, presumably for the audacity of her desiring a soul. In the Temple version the grandmother is also a replacement for the absent mother, but she nurtures the mermaid and is given a more complex back story. She, too, fell in love with a “land prince” as a young girl and, after being laughed at by her prince, returned to the sea. The audience finds out the the prince was in love with the grand-mermaid-ma, but got over her and had a string of lovers after, that fickle-hearted so-and-so. This back story, that only the audience can put together, foreshadows the relationship between the little mermaid and the prince before it happens. Additionally, in Temple’s version it is the grandmother who visits the mer-witch and negotiates on the mermaid’s behalf and who makes a significant sacrifice to assist the mermaid.

#4 Hair Apparent

In Andersen’s version the mermaid’s sisters give up their hair to get a magical knife from the sea witch; the mermaid has to plunge it into the prince’s heart and get his blood on her feet to become a mermaid again and return home. In Temple’s version the grandmother gives up 50 years of her life for a magical knife that will turn the prince into a mermaid. Andersen’s version, while much more dramatic, barely holds up to modern logic. Buying hair? How nice was that hair? Stabbing your love to death and bathing in their blood? Who is going to go for that deal? Temple’s version instead creates a more convincing conflict: not life over death, but free will over control.

#5 Come back … to the sea!

Andersen does, in the end, allow his mermaid to live and even grants her the boon of an eternal soul. The Daughters of the Air transform her into one of them and, even though she can never see her family again, and they all think she’s dead, at least some day she can get into heaven. This, I feel, has to be updated for a modern audience to accept it. In Temple’s version she is in the prince’s wedding party, then runs out to the ocean, accepting death. The god of the sea then says that she loved someone enough not to violate their free will, which is worth forgiveness, and allows her to become a mermaid again. In the Temple version it is a coming-of-age story, the teen-aged mermaid returns, stronger and wiser for her mistakes. This makes a lot more sense for a modern audience than either 1) love at first sight being the real deal or 2) the mermaid’s mistake being grave enough that she can never see her family again. Anderson’s mermaid has no future, she is essentially a ghost, and Temple’s mermaid getting a second chance makes sense in the context of the story.

#6 A Likable Princess

Love at first sight that actually ends in marriage? It’s in both stories, people. In both stories the prince thinks that the human princess rescued him, and that doesn’t change (though I do appreciate that at least Temple’s princess tries to correct the prince). Anderson’s princess is just a cardboard cutout and seems written in only to show that the prince is kind of a jerk. For example, he tells the mermaid he’s not interested in marrying the princess, then kisses the mermaid on the mouth. Why? When he does see the princess he thinks she’s the one who saved him and she, being a completely irrelevant character, says nothing … in the whole story. In Temple’s version they actually flesh out the “other princess” and make her likable. She believes she is being forced into marriage and is relieved that she gets to marry the prince who she fell in love with months ago (we will get into the marriage details soon). She then befriends the mermaid after a small bout of jealousy and there are open comparisons made between them, meaning the princess goes from cardboard cutout to a foil for the mermaid.

#7 Prince Jerkface McFriendzone

The prince in Anderson’s story is an ass. Anderson’s mermaid cannot talk, and, as I mention earlier, is connected to animals, and that is exactly how the prince treats her. He has her sleep on a pillow outside his door like a dog and kisses her while playing with her hair, then nonchalantly mentions how he could only love the woman who saved him. Ouch. So the mermaid is obviously being used as a place holder until the “real” princess shows up, only the mermaid knows there isn’t one, and can’t speak because she has no tongue, so she has to be the ultimate good sport about the wedding. In the end, after she dies, “she saw [the prince] and his beautiful bride searching for her; sorrowfully they gazed at the pearly foam, as if they knew she had thrown herself into the waves.” Yes, you read that right, the prince marries knowing that the mermaid will probably throw herself overboard because she loves him. He knows she will commit suicide yet cannot bother to even talk with her about it. That is not a likable character. Temple’s version, on the other hand, is way more likable. He never leads the mermaid on (who can talk) and calls her his “little sister” which is universal code for “I’m never going to date you.” Furthermore he does not want to marry and has sworn himself to a life of chastity, only changing his mind when his kingdom faces a war they cannot win and, as such, have to create an alliance. When the princess comes in and he realizes it’s the maiden he fell in love with on the beach, he’s relieved, and thanks the gods for their intervention.

#8 God Becomes Gods

Because the soul controversy has to be removed from the story, we are left with a bit of an “empty sky,” as it were. Temple’s version changes the setting to Greece where there are many gods and goddesses referenced. This seems out of left field at first, but a close reading of Anderson’s story actually firmly establishes that the “mermaids” are, in fact, sirens. Regarding the sisters, Anderson writes: “before the approach of a storm, and when they expected a ship would be lost, they swam before the vessel, and sang sweetly of the delights to be found in the depths of the sea, and begging the sailors not to fear if they sank to the bottom.” Wonder why Disney’s Ariel sings? Because she’s a siren. The addition of the Greek pantheon to Temple’s story makes logical sense, assists with the plot, and is faithful to the original story, all while modernizing it.

#9 A Talking Mermaid

Anderson’s witch takes the mermaid’s tongue (not voice, you just can’t talk without a tongue so …) because the potion requires the witch’s own heart blood (it’s black blood at that). In the Temple version the witch creates the potion in exchange for goods and puts a time limit on it, but the mermaid’s voice remains intact. Temple’s mermaid doesn’t talk about the sea, the potion, or her home, because she chooses not to, not because she is prevented from speaking. That means that so much of the agency that is stripped from Anderson’s mermaid remains intact for Temple’s.

Andersen’s story hovers close to being 200 years old and the values of his time are so different than our modern values that a film interpretation requires change (I hope to write about Miyazaki’s feminist Ponyo soon). Temple’s version of the story is fascinating because it resolves some of the conflicts in the story in a modern way, and those changes have survived well. If an audience can look past the kitschy exterior there are some pretty impressive updates taking place. This is also considering that Temple’s version was filmed before Disney’s version was conceived and, as such, is not in dialogue with the major film standard for that story.

I hope you enjoyed my analysis, which I hope to expand to more films soon. If you have any questions, corrections, ideas, or anything else please feel free to leave a comment below.