Neenaz Ichaporia is a book lover, a teacher and communications trainer, former full-time journalist and occasional blogger and writer (she promises to try and turn the 'occasional' into 'frequent'). Originally a Mumbai girl, she now lives and works in Delhi, where she is busy making forays into all of these fields.
Snow White, Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Twelve Swans, The Princess and the Pea. All these fairy-tales tell the story of a young girl, innocent and beautiful, suffering for her love and that love's 'just reward' - the proverbial 'happy ending'. So if little girls grow up expecting to be rescued from the boredom and drudgery of everyday life by a Prince Charming on a white horse (or its modern equivalent - a Mercedes coupee), only to be bitterly disappointed by the realities of existence, it's easy to find a scapegoat. Blame Disney, DreamWorks and the movie studios for selling us sentimental drivel, tales that begin 'once upon a time' and end 'happily ever after'.
Even 'reality television' has followed suit. What is the modern make-over show such as 'Covershot', but a re-enactment of the night-of-the-ball scene in Cinderella, where the household drudge is magically - and only temporarily - transformed into a beautiful princes? In 'Covershot', the princess' picture adorns a billboard in Times Square for a matter of days and then the picture is taken down, by which time the one-time model is presumably back in the household, back to being a sweat pants- wearing, scrunchie-sporting mom, overworked and under-appreciated.
But let's face it, Disney and the producers of 'Covershot' didn't have the original idea. Further back in time, who crafted the ultimate makeover story, The Ugly Duckling? Today is Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen's 205th birthday. He was the master storyteller, whose genius provided the modern-day marketing machine with much of its fodder. Who amongst us hasn't felt like the unfortunate little duckling at some point or another and wished we could fly with the swans?
But before we turn our feminist anger and childhood angst upon the long-gone Danish dream weaver, let's get a little perspective. How many of us have read his stories in the original? Unabridged and unadulterated? If you explore the original texts, you will find that many of Andersen's tales are not the soppy, child-friendly reading material we assume them to be. In fact, of the following list of his stories, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, The Emperor's New Clothes, none ends 'happily ever after'. The tin soldier melts away in a fire, the little match-girl is found dead of cold in the morning, the emperor is laughed out of town by his subjects. And the most poignant of all, the Little Mermaid, rejected by her lover (yes, the very same Prince Charming) returns to the sea to become foam on the waves.
Andersen's stories are as brutal and heart-rending as real life often turns out to be. But the modern PR machine can't sell the story of a dead match-girl, won't make you stomach a mermaid turned to dust, can't believe in the love of a lump of tin. So, Disney's little Ariel is united with her prince, the tin soldier doesn't meet the flames in the end. Instead THEY all live happily ever after. By 'they' I of course mean the producers and financiers, script writers and voice-over artistes. Of course, we could argue that children like and want happy endings, that they don't appreciate ugliness and cannot handle pain. But are we giving out kids too little credit? How does one explain the success of Shrek, or the incredible popularity of the increasingly dark and pensive Harry Potter series?
Maybe it's wiser to tell your kids that they didn't live happily ever after. And if you don't have the heart to do it, just buy them a copy of Andersen's original stories. A bit of magic tempered by a dose of painful, but incredibly poignant, reality. Disney killed The Little Mermaid, Andersen didn't. Let's bring her back.