Ever longed for more than the life you know? You're not alone. Dive down deep with the Little Mermaid as she risks all she has to make her impossible dream come true.
What's that beautiful Jewish phrase again and where can I learn more about it?
Lost and Found: Stories of Displaced Female Identity - Episode 5
“The Little Mermaid: Cold Foam – Part 1”
Welcome to Lost in the Woods: Finding Your Way as God’s Daughter Through Fairy Tales ™. I’m your host, Autumn Woods, and I’m so excited you’re here. As always, I will be reading a favorite fairy tale and providing an analysis of it from a Christian perspective. We are continuing our season of tales focused on displaced female identity, aka, the Lost Woman stories. As a reminder to listeners both loyal and new, at the heart of the Lost Woman story, no matter which rendition is being told, is a woman who has lost her value rediscovering it and moving forward with confidence and dignity, stepping into the role we know was meant to be hers all along. Last time, we talked about holding on to your value when those meant to protect you have tried to damage it. We are about to begin a two-part episode arc about our natural longing for immortality, and the raw courage it takes to hold on to that dream and our value when we risk everything for a place in eternity.
Hans Christian Andersen is my go-to guy for this kind of story. His fairy tales explore the longing for transcendence and love heartbreakingly well. This is especially true of one of his most famous stories, “The Little Mermaid.” The original story is a little different from the Disney version, although many of the themes are the same. The longing for a higher plain, the feeling of never belonging, sacrificial love, and dreaded Faustian bargains are alive and well in both incarnations, and each has a special place in my heart. At its core, this is the story of a woman who wants more than life at surface level, gives up the best parts of herself to the wrong people to find it, and has all that she has lost and more restored to her after she discovers the power of sacrificial love. We’re taken on the journey with her as she plunges headfirst into dangerous waters, risking all she has in this life for the chance to live forever in the next.
So, let’s get lost, as we read the story of (The Little Mermaid).
Resist the urge to sing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” if you can, and let’s get ready for the analysis. Don’t wander away from the campfire. We’re about to shed some light on the incredible treasure hidden in Part 1 of this story.
We begin with a beautiful, fantastical kingdom under the sea. Everything is strange and lovely here, and enticing enough that we would love to stay and explore it. It is ironic that we are meant to see this vibrant world under the depths as rather superficial and shallow, caring only for the things of itself, and expressing hardly any curiosity about matters of the heavenlies. The merfolk take little interest in the doings of the upper world, and none whatsoever in the mysteries of heaven. All except one: the little mermaid. Each of the six mer-princesses is assigned a garden plot to care for as she pleases. While her sisters choose designs for their flowerbeds that pay homage to the inhabitants of their underwater home, the youngest daughter plants fiery red flowers in a circle to symbolize the sun, and places a statute of a son of men in its center. Her eyes are always turned upward, searching for the glories of the world above her, and anxious to learn as much as she can about the mysterious realms which she will one day visit.
The little mermaid is not unlike a new Christian, eager to catch any sign of what God is doing in the seen and unseen, and hopeful of gaining any new information about His character. The deeper we drink from the Lord’s cup, the less satisfied we become with the temporary pleasures this world has to offer. We were born into a broken world with hearts made for Eden, and even before we realize that that is what we are looking for, we chase it down with every fiber of our being. We cultivate an atmosphere permeated with what we are longing for, and dedicate our gifts and talents to reflecting the glory we pursue. Everything in the little mermaid’s garden holds powerful Christian symbolism. She chooses red flowers, representative of love and the blood of the Lamb. The white marble statue of the young man can be viewed as a stand in for Christ or the saints who are washed white as snow through His sacrifice. The red weeping willow reaching its branches down to its roots in the blue sand symbolizes a meeting between heaven and earth through the incarnation of Jesus and his death on the cross. The arc of the crimson branches hanging over the white statue is a type of the new covenant, with us being covered and protected by Jesus’ blood.
“No one [is] as full of longing as… the very one who [has] to wait the longest.” This is true of those who wait for the Lord’s return and especially true of the youngest princess, who must wait until she is fifteen to swim to the surface and explore what she can of the world of men. She waits for five years as each of her sisters reaches that coveted age and takes her own journey for the first time. Every mermaid has something different to report of the sights and sounds of her first adventure, and their little sister hungrily devours all the information they can bring her. Sadly, after the initial excitement of their first visit above the surface, it only takes a month of having the privilege to explore before the older mermaids decide that the allure has worn off, and that there is no place like home. The waning cycle of their fascination is reminiscent of the parable of the sower. In Matthew 13:19-23, Jesus explains:
“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
The little mermaid is the good soil in this scenario, while her sisters are the other kinds of terrain. Unlike them, she longs for more than the life she sees in front of her and knows that there are many things to discover and learn outside of the narrow confines of the sea kingdom. Ever pursuing knowledge of the upper world, she hides the stories she is told in her heart, quietly and pensively meditating on them, eager for the day she can put them to practical use. Similarly, the list goes on forever of the things we as daughters of God want to know about our Heavenly Father; who we are to Him, what goes on in the unseen spiritual realms, and what will happen in the world to come. We memorize the words of the scriptures and meditate on them, storing them in our hearts for the times when we will need to cling to them for encouragement, strength, or guidance.
At last, the little mermaid turns fifteen, and is allowed to swim to the surface. Before she leaves, her grandmother crowns her with a wreath of pearls fashioned to imitate lilies, and clamps eight oysters onto the young girl’s tail “to show her high rank.” The oysters pinch her, and when she complains, her grandmother advises her that she “must suffer a bit to look pretty.” This uncomfortably foreshadows what the princess will endure later in the story, but I will save that for Part 2. For now, it is enough to acknowledge that not only do all women unfairly experience some form of pain for what is considered to be desirable beauty, we as saints squirm uncomfortably when we are asked or told to conform to the standards of the world rather than be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). The little mermaid wishes that she could “shake off all [the cold, confining] magnificence” of mermaid finery and bedeck herself instead with the gentle red flowers from her garden, the place she has dedicated to her quiet, inner life and dreams. She resists the impulse for her grandmother’s sake and takes off through the water.
How many times have you felt that you could not be yourself as a Christian because you were concerned about upsetting someone who just didn’t seem to get why you were so drawn to your “alternative lifestyle.” It’s happened to me more than I’d like to admit. Let’s remember to encourage each other to let our light shine before everyone so that they see our good works and glorify the Lord (Matthew 5:16). The little mermaid is very much alone in her journey right now, and neither her sisters nor her grandmother truly understand the depths of her longing. She herself does not yet know how far she will go for the sake of eternal life. But she’s about to find out.
Other than the brilliant, sunset sky and the calm sea, the first sight to greet the little mermaid above the water is a large, three-masted ship. Onboard, the crew is throwing a party for a handsome young prince, who happens to share her birthday. Mesmerized by the music, fun, and fireworks, the princess falls even deeper in love with the lands above the sea and all they have to offer. When a storm breaks out, tossing the sailors overboard, she is excited at first, because now the young prince will come to her and she can show him some of her world, but then she remembers one of the most important things about human beings: they cannot live in water. Dodging debris and braving the carnage, the little mermaid darts toward the drowning prince and keeps his head above water, floating with him until the storm passes and she can safely swim him to shore.
Covering his forehead with ardent kisses, she lays him on the sand so that he can breathe the free air and swims out to some rocks, concealing herself while she waits to see who will find the prince and help him. To her dismay, the prince mistakes the first young girl to come upon him for his rescuer, and the poor, unfortunate mermaid dives back under the waves, swimming sorrowfully home to her father’s kingdom. She waited the longest and hoped the most strongly out of all of her sisters for this chance, only to suffer the greatest blow to her happiness before her return.
When we are new Christians with childlike faith, we can love the deepest and hurt the worst because everything is so new, and we aren’t used to the rules and conventions of living in two worlds yet. Our flesh and our spirit recognize a divide and conflict of interest between them (Galatians 5:17). It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t know the Lord why something pertaining to His kingdom affects you so much, especially when you yourself don’t have a firm grasp of precepts yet. Once you’ve had a taste of God’s goodness, it’s hard to go back and live the way you did before, because now you know that something really was missing in your old life. You aren’t crazy. What makes the transition even more difficult is when established believers are so complacent that they become insensitive, unwelcoming, and exclusive, like the prince and the girls from the temple. They don’t even look to the sea to see if anyone out there brought the prince to shore. The little mermaid is completely ignored. Her own family cannot help her because they do not understand her pain, and have limited knowledge of the upper world.
She quickly becomes depressed. Her garden spills over itself in a tangle of neglect as she crouches in the middle of it, clinging to the statue for comfort. In her despair, the princess loses sight of her value and worth. Mistakenly, the girl puts all of her hopes in the prince, who is only a man, and cannot truly give her what she desires above all else, although her grandmother tells her otherwise. When she asks about the mortality of humans, the old queen informs her that mortals “have a soul, which lives forever, after the body has turned to dust,” and that just as mermaids rise to the land, humans, through these souls, rise to “lovely unknown places that [mermaids] will never see.” Mermaids live three times as long as humans, but when they die, they merely dissolve into foam on the waves, never to live again.
When the princess laments that she has not been given a soul, her grandmother tells her that she could get one if a man loves her enough to marry her, but that this could never happen because what is glorious under the sea is reviled on land. The very element that distinguishes the little mermaid, her tail, would be the biggest turn-off for any man who might take an interest in her. Now, the princess has begun to believe something very damaging and dangerous: that she must change to please a man and put herself under his covering for acceptance, love, and an immortal soul.
It is so important to prevent new believers from being stranded to fend for themselves, because we don’t know what they will grab onto to survive if we don’t throw them a lifeline. Even veterans struggle to take every thought captive and cast down imaginations that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5). Often, it has been not only those of the world, but the leaders of the Christian church who have demoralized the daughters of God and undermined His sons by attempting to make us live under the curse Jesus died to break. The curse of separation and hierarchy. In Eden, men and women were created to be partners under God, not master and subordinate with God as HR. Genesis 1:28 states that both man and woman were blessed by God and commanded to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.” They both had the same jobs and unique skill sets to help each other accomplish them.
Before woman was formed, God saw us as an answer to the problem of loneliness. We are comparable to men, but we have a special job that has been twisted and misunderstood for years. The first time woman is referred to in the Bible is when God says of Adam, “I will make him a helper comparable to him.” The original phrase has been watered down in translation. In Hebrew, it is ezer kenegdo. Ezer is a combination of two Hebrew words, meaning a strong rescuer; a warrior. Someone who has your back. It appears 21 times in the Bible, and in over half of these instances, ezer is used to describe God Himself as the mighty rescuer of His people. Kenegdo means corresponding to or a complementing opposite, as in right and left hands or feet. Both men and women reflect different but complementing attributes of our multi-faceted God, and we are meant to build each other up and watch each other’s backs, not stand in each other’s way. When false doctrine like placing a man over a woman in ministry to cover her in case she’s in error begins to poison the waters, women get angry and wound the men they are meant to protect, hoping that if they deny their femininity, they will succeed and transcend ill treatment. Or we get so hurt that we withdraw our true selves, and pretend we have nothing to give because we think that we have nothing to work with.
The little mermaid is in the latter camp. She has a kind, courageous heart, and her voice is matchless in its loveliness both on land and in the sea. But she does not cling to these things because she believes they are nothing without an immortal soul. It must be made clear that winning the prince is not the only way for her to get a soul, but her family doesn’t know that, so they can’t share that information with her and help her out of her misery. Since we as humans are born with a soul, we can translate the mermaid’s desire to a longing for eternal life with the Lord. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6), but we can be fooled into thinking otherwise. We can be tricked into thinking that salvation is not a prepaid gift, and that it will be our works that secure our immortality. That we as women are not capable of performing the assignments God gives us without being married or having some sort of male headship. That we must be perfect and conform to so called “Christian standards” before we are worthy to come before God and ask anything of Him or do His will. These are all lies. And it is astounding the callings, gifts, and talents, the burning lights in the darkness that have been quenched because of fear.
It is true that we must sometimes give up things that we hold dear which do not agree with God’s word if we are to pursue Him, but those are habits and proclivities. Those are not the abundant gifts and treasures innately inside of us because of the way our Heavenly Father designed us. We don’t always recognize that, however, and sometimes we have to learn it the hard way. We search for answers in unusual places when we have desires and questions too big for the little corner of the world we’ve lived in. Not all of those sources are Godly. The little mermaid has placed “all [her] life’s happiness” and her hope of heaven in a man, and although she loves him, she is allowing that love to rule her life and cloud her judgement. Desperate for a solution, she turns to the occult. Her heart is pure and innocent, but she is lacking in wisdom, and so, like Adam and Eve, she reaches for the forbidden and unthinkable.
We’ll find out what happens next in Episode 6, when we cross through an eerie, underwater forest to the sea witch’s cottage. There will be some frightening scenes at the beginning, but hang on with me, and we’ll come out on the other side of the trees unscathed. Thanks for stopping by. I’m Autumn Woods, and I can’t wait to see you on the path next time you get, Lost in the Woods.