“ ‘If only I could find his Achilles’ heel, the soft, quivering underbelly beneath all that armor.’
‘Wait, why didn’t we think of that before? His youngest. The one with the beautiful voice – which she takes for granted. A woman never knows how precious her voice is until she’s been silenced.’ ”
The Little Mermaid is my favorite Disney movie. The music . . . the ocean . . . Prince Eric (the only old Disney prince with a personality) . . . the villain. Ursula is brilliant, dangerous, insightful. Everything one loves to hate. The chess master villain, endgame planned before the first piece moves. Triton plays her game before he even knows there is a game.
But it’s only recently that I realized the full brilliance of the authors. In the past, I could only throw my hands up in despair as I thought of Ariel’s foolish choice—three days only? She had a better bargaining position than that!
I understand better now.
When your back is to the wall, it doesn’t matter anymore. Yeah, it’s a bad choice, but all choices were bad at that time. Her dad destroyed her sanctuary, her refuge. In so doing, he told her that he could never accept her.
It’s somewhat funny, when you think about it. He gave up all power, freedom, and even the rest of his family later in the movie to keep her body safe, once he’d spent three days thinking about how much she meant to him. But not even a fraction of that power would he surrender to protect her identity, when that was all she needed to feel safe near him.
I know now that I would have made Ariel’s choice. Trust Ursula? No. Never. But three days is more than daddy-dear offered. A lot can happen in three days.
And if it doesn’t pan out, at least Ursula’s prison is a prison of body only. You can be yourself in prison. Your mind is still yours. Some of the world’s greatest thinkers did their best work in prison.
But there’s no living in a prison of the mind. There’s only the fading, the internal dying. Maybe, at best, you can split the mind. Half in your own world. Half pretending to still be able to see the real world. But you’ll never truly be present again, not unless you first destroy the chains that hold you.
So, you “take a gulp and take a leap; go ahead and sign the scroll!” And maybe it is sheer emotion that drives you, but emotion’s there for a reason—it tells you the conclusions of the logic you don’t have time to suss out. A chance, any chance… it’s all Ariel has.
Turns out, not a bad choice. Eric loved the sea the way that Ariel loved the land. Since they were both fish out of water, they needed each other to make the halfway house they both were seeking.
And that’s where Ursula outsmarted herself. She didn’t think anymore of Ariel’s choice than Triton did. It never occurred to her to imagine that Ariel might possibly be right. Just a pawn, a nothing, a “poor, sweet child” to manipulate and discard.
And so she made no provisions to deal with Eric. Why would this air-breathing, land creature care what happens under the sea? Why would this pampered prince grab a row boat and mount an attack against an octopus from beneath the waves? He could have his pick of any woman in the world. Why risk his life for the one who doesn’t even have legs?
Love is not an easy concept to understand. It motivates the strangest actions and takes the most unacceptable risks. People will give up anything for love, without actually knowing whether or not they will get anything back in return. Love does not play safe.
Ursula was too focused on Triton. She never even saw what was right under her nose. In Ariel, she saw the signs of infatuation, of insecurity, and of insatiable curiosity, all of which Ursula, like Tritan, could dismiss as the wild emotions of a youngster. When Eric started acting like he, too, was in love, Ursula merely attributed it to Ariel’s feminine allurements. Clearly, this was all just hormones and chemicals. Nothing worth risking one’s life.
But then, Ursula had told Ariel that the thing that would make the spell last would be if he kissed her. She claimed this was the proof of true love. Given that Ursula was trying to make the wager unwinnable, I doubt she would have picked such a low benchmark if she had known there might be others. Ironically, Eric would have passed the test if the higher benchmark had been used.
Still, I have to wonder, was Ariel too careless about her voice? Yes and no. Going silent was not as rough for Ariel as Ursula expected. Ariel and Eric both knew that communication is more than just words and she didn’t have a problem rekindling his interest in land-things or sharing his interest in the sea. The voice is only a part of one’s identity, and not even that large a part. But she should never have surrendered control of her voice to another.
And that’s a mistake I’ve seen in real life. Heck, I’ve made that mistake in real life. It’s too easy. All it requires is staying silent when you should speak up, or saying one thing through fear or pride or ambition when your heart and mind say another. People will always think that they know you better than they actually do.
In the end, it doesn’t matter that the prince’s vizier hears Ariel’s voice from an imposter’s mouth, but the consequences of Eric’s false knowledge almost gets both of them killed. If you love someone, be sure they know you.
Photo courtesy of Jim Nix.