January 18, 2024

Sea Witch

         Today I’ve found a number of illustrations of the sea witch from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid.”  Right away I need to state that I think the story is an absolutely dreadful tale!  (I’m sorry to yuck on the yum of anyone who loves this story, but I’m afraid I find it simply appalling.  However, if you’ve never read the original version, you can find it on Project Gutenberg or here.)  Even the happy ending of Disney’s version can’t lessen the numerous problematic elements of the thing — although I do love the music of the Disney version, and especially Ursula the sea witch’s song!  Back to Andersen’s version, however, the sea witch is unnamed, and her own appearance is not described, although we are told that she’s accompanied by sea snakes and a toad.  (How is a toad living at the bottom of the ocean?  Never mind that - what’s the point of a fairy tale if you can’t be fantastical?)
        "The Little Mermaid" was first published in 1837 and translated to English in 1845.   The illustrations I’ve collected today cover a range from 1899 through 1937.  Of course plenty of other artists have done illustrations for “The Little Mermaid,” but most of them don’t show the witch, and that’s all I care about today!
       So, how have artists imagined and portrayed a sea witch?  The first question is always whether she’s a traditional mermaid herself, or some other sort of being.  Four of today’s six illustrations give her a fishy tail, although the first one here is definitely not an entirely normal sort of mermaid tail.  One artist gives the witch legs with webbed feet, and another covers her lower half with a blanket of some sort, so we really don’t know whether she has limbs or a tail… or octopus arms, or crab legs, or sea anemone polyps, or what.  In fact, the 
way the witch speaks in the story tends to imply that she does not have legs herself, but we don’t really know for sure.
        The next point is that she’s most commonly portrayed as old and ugly.  This fits in with the standard stereotypical fairy tale wicked witch, but I have to confess that I think she could be done well as a coldly beautiful type instead.  In most she’s skinny rather than fat.  In many she has bad teeth.  In some she looks rather comical, while in other’s she’s more intensely terrifying.
        The first is my favorite.  I love her muppety face and arms and how she’s making kissy faces at her toad.  Number two is my next favorite, and very different indeed with her sharp features and sharp glare.  (The little mermaid herself, meanwhile, looks utterly bored and indifferent!)  But look at those magnificent zentangle patterns on the mermaid’s tail, and the swirling flowers on the sea floor!  Each of the sea snakes has its own pattern, too.  In illustration number 3 the artist has brought long-legged crabs to the mix, which is fun for variety.
        So, which is your favorite depiction of a sea witch?  How do you feel about the sea witch as a villain?  How do you feel about Disney’s Ursula?  And how, for that matter, do you feel about the whole fairy tale?  Regardless of my dislike of the story, I do enjoy seeing how different artists have imagined it and brought it to life.

[Pictures: Illustration by Ivan Bilibin from The Little Mermaid by H.C. Andersen, 1937 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Illustration by Harry Clarke from Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, 1916 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Illustration by Hans Tegner from Fairy Tales and Stories by H.C. Andersen, 1900 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Illustration by Anne Anderson from Hans Andersen’s Fairy Stories, 1924 (Image from SurLaLune);

Illustration by Helen Stratton from The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, 1899 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Illustration by Monro S. Orr from Andersen’s Fairy Tales, 1930 (Image from Sofi Flickr).]


Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Phew happy to find a like minded soul. I never liked Andersen's little Mermaid - and I'm a Dane, so though times I've been given ;)
For me the last illustration - she of the webbed feet - describes best how a Sea Witch should look. I did not much care for Disney's glossy, happy-ending version either, but the songs are (as always) good.
I actually wrote of a Sea Witch myself, in my never ending tale of Susan and The Unicorn Farm, the Nordic school of witchcraft.
Link to the last chapter of my Sea Witch tale with links to the first two chapters.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks for the link! I look forward to reading your version of a sea witch, webbed feet and all.

Best Online Exam Help said...

The author's vivid descriptions painted a mesmerizing picture of the ocean's depths, and the characters came to life with each turn of the page. The sea magic and intricate plot kept me hooked from start to finish, making it a truly captivating read. The author's skillful storytelling and the rich, imaginative world they created left me yearning for more maritime adventures. "Sea Witch" is a delightful journey into a realm where fantasy meets the deep blue sea, leaving readers with a sense of wonder and joy.