Category Archives: 2011

Legends of Mermaids: Sexual Temptresses in *The Story of Peter Pan*

The Story of Peter Pan (cover)
© 2011, Alicia Chirrey, Mamta Patel
O’Connor, Daniel. The Story of Peter Pan. Illustrated by Alice Woodward. London: G Bell, 1923. Print.

Introduction – By: Alicia Chirrey

Mermaids have been an iconic symbol in folklore ever since their origination in 1000 BC Greece. The representation of this fictitious creature in literature and pop culture has evolved in meaning and appearance. This evolution is based on their early legends and myths of being sexual symbols. Daniel O’Connor’s 1923 version of The Story of Peter Pan, found in the Children’s Literature Archive,utilizes mermaids in a very interesting way. O’Connor uses a combination of mythological representation and symbolic physical features in order to portray their meaning to Never-Never-Never Land. Alice Woodward, a famous British illustrator of books, is best known for her illustrations in The Story of Peter Pan. These works are considered to be very early in her career. In this exhibit, we identify mermaids as illusory creatures that use their sexuality to lure humans into dangerous situations. Alicia Chirrey examines why mermaids are sexualized as temptresses in The Story of Peter Pan and Mamta Patel analyzes the evolution of sexuality in mermaids, demonstrated in featured legends.

The Representation of Mermaids in The Story of Peter Pan – By: Alicia Chirrey

The Meaning of Mermaids to Neverland
The Story of Peter Pan is a narrative about an adventure to a place called Never-Never-Never Land (abbreviated to Never Land in this Exhibit). This is a magical land that represents the unconscious fantasy that lies within the children’s reality. Never Land comforts the crisis of having to eventually accept the responsibilities of adulthood. Time and space do not exist there. The children who live in Never Land are able to live forever in their state of childhood. The transition from childhood into adulthood has key turning points. As Peter Hollindale expresses in A Hundred Years of Peter Pan, one of these important developments that help acknowledge the transformation is the passage into active sexuality (Hollindale 212). Through written description and illustration, Daniel O’Connor and Alice B. Woodward sexualize mermaids as temptresses in The Story of Peter Pan. This portrayal supports the theme of the eternal child by hindering the sexual maturity of the children in Never Land.
About the Illustrator

Alice Woodward is recognized as a well-established, inventive and talented illustrator of books, as Geoffrey Beare describes. Woodward’s illustrations can be found in a variety of books for a vast range of ages. Her work however, has been considered most appropriate for adults, as her usual style has been identified as detailed and macabre. Her work is therefore, very human-like. She is also known for her ability to economically illustrate (Beare 2006). Perhaps these reasons provide explanation for why O’Connor selected Woodward as the illustrator to visually capture the essence of his appropriated story in just 19 images.

Visual and Textual Symbolism

Daniel O’Connor describes the mermaids of Never Land as beautiful, charming, carefree creatures. They spend all day in their Lagoon combing their hair, singing and swimming. From the very beginning, even before the children fly to Never Land, the discussion of mermaids arises. Peter Pan uses the idea of them to tempt Wendy and ultimately, convince her into venturing off to the mystical land.

The way Woodward draws the mermaid carefully encompasses sexual allure while maintaining a degree of appropriateness. The Story of Peter Pan only allocates two images in the book to mermaids.  The very first image of the mermaid is seen below:

As O’Connor describes, the boys are immediately drawn to the beauty of the mermaid and her charming melody. The mermaid’s long glorious hair is the only thing takes the focus off of her half naked body. This meticulous collectivity contributes to the theme of enticing mystery. The mermaid is a creature the children have never seen before. From the children’s perspective, they can only see the portion of the mermaid the familiar, human half of the mermaid that is above water. The foreign, amphibious portion is mostly immersed in the dark depths of the water.

This unfamiliar creature lures the natural curiosity of the children. The tempting hidden half of the mermaid is what the children lust to see and interact with. The mystery of the unexplored is exemplified by the physical sexuality of the mermaid. The boys even try to catch one as Wendy carefully observes. The action of trying to catch the mermaid for their own objectifies the mermaid, making her less than human. Capturing her would fulfill their sensual desires.

When the mermaid sees the children approaching, she is offended by them and cries out the word: mortals. This outcry of fear and displeasure suggests that mermaids and humans are not allies in this story. In the second picture “She slipped out of his grasp” the children’s hands are only inches away from the mermaid tail as she dives into the water.

O’Connor compares the mermaid’s escape from the boys to be eel-like. This slithery animalistic comparison indicates that the mermaids are like snakes of the sea. The mermaid does not allow the children to fulfill their desires of interacting and acquainting themselves with the mermaid, thus through her escape, keep the children in Never Land.

According to most religions, water represents the unconscious and rebirth (Hallman 67). It holds a great amount of mystery through depth and potentiality, therefore, undiscovered knowledge. In this case, through the use of sexuality, undiscovered knowledge is synonymous with adulthood. In each picture, the mermaid symbolizes the tempting passageway from a world that the children understand to a place that holds mystery of experience. The mermaid is sexualized in order to tempt the children to follow her into the water. Instead, the children hold tightly onto the stable rock. They do not dare follow her for fear of the unknown.

The Historical Context of Mermaids – By: Mamta Patel

Mermaids are mysterious creatures that have been around for many centuries. Most of their myths have derived from Europe. Many of the mermaid’s myths originate from what sailors claim to see. Many Greeks, medieval sailors, and also Christopher Columbus have claimed to have seen mermaids (Ramano et al. 253). Throughout history, mermaids have been portrayed holding a mirror admiring their beauty and combing their hair, this is the exact way they are depicted in The Story of Peter Pan as well. Mermaid’s upper body is made up of a woman and the lower body is fish, however legends describe that they did not always consist of women parts. All legends depict mermaids as singing creatures that lure sailors and then enchant them to death.  In historical literature, mermaids are usually portrayed sitting on rocks holding a mirror and combing their long blonde hair. This depiction of mermaids has remained the same in literature; they are also depicted sitting on a rock looking into a mirror in The Story of Peter Pan.   

The first legends of mermaids were told by the Greeks in 1000 BC. The first mermaid tale was about a mermaid named Atargatis who was the goddess of love and beauty. She fell in love with a mortal shepherd who she accidentally killed.  She was consumed by guilt for losing her loved one that in shame she wanted to punish herself by jumping into the deep waters and turning into a fish. However, her transformation was incomplete because her beauty was so divine. Instead Atargatis formed into a mermaid she was half woman from the upper body and fish from waist below (Adams 56).

The Greeks believed that mermaids were sirens. Sirens are hybrid legendary creatures that had a women’s head, a feathery bird body and large scaly feet. Overtime, the sirens were represented as half woman and half fish. Although the body composition of the sirens changed, they always lured sailors with their charming voices.  Sirens used their voices to seduce the sailors, they acted as seductresses and caused the sailors to walk off of their ships and drown.  As you can see, sirens and mermaids have many similarities; therefore they are used interchangeably (Ramano et al. 254).

Another legend suggests that the idea of mermaids derived from manatees, which are sea cows. Manatees are linked to folklore with mermaids. Initially mermaids were made of monkey’s body attached to shark tale (Kokai 68). Originally, they were hideous creatures, contrasting how their beautiful and charming features as depicted in literature.  It is believed that in 1493, Christopher Columbus misunderstood manatees for mermaids.  He announced that mermaids were not half as beautiful as they are painted. This leads us to the myth about mermaids that they are elegant and charming creatures (Ramano et al. 253). Overtime, the physical appearance of the mermaid has changed drastically.

All legends reveal the myth about mermaids being beautiful in cartoons and in fairy tales, along with The Story of Peter Pan. Mermaids are portrayed as beautiful because they are exposed to children through the use of fairy tales. The representations of mermaids are portrayed as role models for young girls, thus, the image of mermaids must be appealing. In reality, all legends about mermaids depict their appearances in various ways, but none are depicted as beautiful. Legends suggest that mermaids originated from “sea cows”, also called manatees. These are giant whale-like creatures. For many centuries, sailors have also mistaken manatees for mermaids. Christopher Columbus, who was the first expeditionary, saw manatees and proclaimed that mermaids are not half as beautiful as they have been painted.

Conclusion – By: Mamta Patel

Daniel O’Connor utilizes the imagery of mermaids by Alice Woodward to represent them as temptresses in Never Land. The mermaids are initially introduced as mysterious creatures that the children of Never Land are curious to know about, however their representations are shown to be alluring for all ages. They are displayed as extremely beautiful, charming, and attractive creatures in The Story of Peter Pan.  Focusing on the origin of mermaids, various works have revealed that mermaids have evolved from legendary creatures called ‘sirens’ that had a woman’s head, a feathery bird body, and large scaly feet. Various other sources reveal that mermaids have evolved from whale-like creatures known as “sea cows”, which were generally seen to be unpleasant in appearance. Their appearances had been mistaken, leading to the belief of the existence of mermaids as half-fish and half-woman. This representation of mermaids has led to the portrayal of mermaids as being seductresses who live in the sea. They lure sailors with their enchanting songs and beauty. These creatures have since been used in folklore, such as The Story of Peter Pan, as symbols of temptation in order to create conflict.

Works Cited

Beare, Geoffrey. “Woodward, Alice B.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature.                     Ed. Jack Zipes. Oxford University Press, 2006. 14 October 2011. Web

Hallman, Ralph J. “The Archetypes in Peter Pan.” Journal of Analytical Psychology                       14.1(1969): 65-73. Academic Search Premier. 13 Oct 2011. Web.

Hollindale, Peter. “A Hundred Years of Peter Pan.” Children’s Literature in Education 36.               (2005): 197-215. Academic Search Premier. 16 Oct. 2011. Web.

Adam, Amanda. A Mermaid’s Tale: A Personal Search for Love and Lore. Vancouver                     [BC]:Greystone Books , 2009. Print.

Kokai, Jennifer . “Weeki Wachee Girls and Buccaneer Boys: The Evolution of Mermaids,              Gender, and “Man versus Nature” Tourism.” Theatre history studies 31 (2011): 67-               89,177. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.

Romano, Stefania , Vincenzo Esposito, Claudio Fonda, Anna Russo, and Roberto                          Grassi.”Beyond the myth: The mermaid syndrome from Homerus to Andersen’s                   bicentennial of birth.” European Journal of Radiology 58.2006 (2005): 252-259.                   Print.

The Demise of Mermen in Folklore; as Depicted in “Hans, the Mermaid’s Son”

© 2011, Hye Eun Kim and Victoria Rose Regan 

Anon. "Hans, the Mermaid's Son." The Pink Fairy Book. Ed. Andrew Lang. New York: Dover Publications, 1967. 112-25.

Over the years mermaids have been shown as graceful, majestic, but conniving creatures. Books have shown that they live in the sea and swim like fish. We have also been shown the darker side of mermaids, with sirens leading sailors to their demise. But there is a certain void in our minds when we think of mermaids, and that is, where are all the men? We are skeptical as to if they existed in literature at all. It is a common misconception to assume that mermaids have a more prominent position in literature then mermen. When you think of mermaids, what comes to mind instantly: Little Mermaid or sirens? Do you ever think of the male gender of merfolk? Odds are not, because mermen took a back seat to mermaids as literature progressed. In Hans, the Mermaid’s Son from Andrew Lang’s The Pink Fairy Book the merman is portrayed as less mystical and less admirable in comparison to the mermaid. In order to determine what this means, let us explore the gender roles among merfolk related to mermen’s progression from strong, respected figures such as Poseidon, to less popular and disliked figures like Hans.

Through rigorous research it was exciting to find that mermen were not always understated. One of the earliest forms of stories is myths, “It seems probable that the mermaid folklore developed from ancient mythology…or the Chaldean sea god Oannes” (Waugh 73). This is proof that a sea god was a strong figure in stories and a prominent figure in history dating back to the late 6th century.



Oannes, a sea-god, is the first merman recorded in history of literature (Waugh 73). One of the first descriptions of the merman from the Babylonian tale is as follows: “The whole body of the animal was like that of a fish; and had under a fish’s head another head, and also feet below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish’s tale” (Waugh 73). The description makes the reader imagine a disfigured combination of a man and a fish.


The Vase 

Late 6th Century (BC) Etruscan vase, depicting a merman. Painted by Exekias.

This image of a vase dates back to the late 6th century. This vase depicts the myth where Dionysus turns a fleet of pirates into dolphins. Although the story doesn’t directly involve mermaids the artist, Exekias, chooses to incorporate an image of a half man half fish. This image is given a powerful body and a prominent location in the center of the vase. Exekias portrays this creature as strong, powerful, and more important than the other images. He is above the waves showing his super natural abilities. Not all sea creatures can go out of the water. He is also holding a large fish or dolphin emphasizes his size and strength seeing as he can list the large creatures as if they were small. This again gives him a certain amount of power over the other creatures showing his rank.



Poseidon was the god of the sea, and one of the most powerful gods in Greek mythology (Buxton 69). He was a very strong image associated with water and those that lived in it like the mermaids. Poseidon’s son, Triton was a merman, human above the waist and fish below (Buxton 72). Poseidon’s staple symbol is his trident, a signature of power and strength (Buxton 69). It holds all of his power and allows him to control the sea and its creatures. Most associations with the trident are associated with Poseidon and his power.

Poseidon with his trident. His trident holds all of his powers. Notice that he doesn't have fins.


As defined in the Dictionary of World Folklore “Mermaids are generally portrayed as beautiful women from the waist up” (Jones 300). This is evidence that while we are familiar with mermaids, we are not well acquainted with mermen. This is because mermaids appear more prominently in folktales over mermen. The dictionary as a medium is audience driven in the sense that there are various types created for specific audiences. It is easy to understand and useable by almost everyone. Because it is audience driven, the lack of a specific merman definition may imply that elaborate information on mermen is not in demand to the general public.

Mermaids became the more powerful and well-known gender. Arthur Waugh quotes in his article, “The central figure of the merfolk is, of course, the mermaid. There are so many attractive legends and folktales about her that I must perforce be brief in dealing with other merfolk” (Waugh 73). This shows that even an author, who is expected to touch on all aspects of merfolk, inevitable says there’s simply no space or event prominent enough to discuss about mermen. It seems as though mermen have fallen into the background, a footnote in the mermaid’s tale.

Mermaids have taken a spot at the forefront of merfolk legend, until Andrew Lang published his Pink Fairy Book, which included a translated Danish tale called Hans, the Mermaid’s Son.


The Tale

The story Hans, the Mermaid’s Son from The Pink Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang, is a translated Danish folktale. A smith goes out to sea one day and is invited by a mermaid to stay a couple of days as her guest. Afterwards, the smith is always in lucky in finding fish and treasures along the sea and his wealth grows. Another outcome of this encounter is their son, Hans. When Hans turns six, the mermaid sends him ashore to find his father and to live among the humans. His father cannot satisfy Hans’ unusually large appetite so Hans decides to leave. He asks his father to make the significance of the staff, which will be discussed further later on.

Hans sets off to find a place to stay where he’ll find plenty of food to eat. The haven he finds is at the home of a squire. Here, Hans is expected to do the work of twelve men.  He still is not well liked because his strength intimidates the others, including the squire. As a remedy, the squire plans to have Hans killed, but fails. Oblivious to the murder plot against him, Hans thinks that he is taken as a joke. Hans decides that he will go back to live at sea with his mother.

This story suggests that certain strengths are powerful over humans, while others are ridiculed and seen as a threat.


The Illustration

“Basmus and the Mermaid” illustrated by H. J. Ford. The mermaid is leading the Basmus into her world where they will spend three days together.

In the illustration of Basmus, Hans’s father, and the mermaid in The Pink Fairy Book, Basmus is entering the sea world as the mermaid’s guest. Basmus looks confused and almost bedazzled while the other sea creatures belittle him with their eyes. The octopus hovering over Basmus with a side-glance emphasizes the sea creatures’ hostility. This shows the discomfort the humans and the mystical world experience upon close encounter thereby foreshadowing the unease Hans would bring to the humans.

The illustration gives an insight to the dominant power the mermaid possesses over Basmus. The mermaid is oblivious to the surroundings and is leading Basmus by the hand. She is in control and does not seem to be hindered by the intimidation Basmus feels. This reveals the dominance the mermaid has in the relationship, which empowers her.

By being placed in the middle, the mermaid becomes the central focus of the illustration. There is limited detail and shading on her upper body, which makes her stand out from the rest of the drawing. It also gives her an air of mystery as she is in contrast to the other creatures.


Male versus Female

Hans is born to a mermaid and a man. This makes Hans three-quarters human. But how does he survive under water? This question is left to us to decide. Another lingering question is, whether or not he had a tail when his mother, a mermaid, did.

An illustration included in the story shows that Hans had the appearance of a man. Though the drawing shows Hans from the back, it shows that he has two hands, two legs, and two separate feet. He does not have fins or gills and does not have any physical deformities. His mother, however, has an upper body that looks human and her lower body like a fish. Placed above her ears are what seem to be gills to help her breath underwater. This gives the mermaid tangible proof of being supernatural. Hans, on the other hand looks like an average, mortal human. On the surface the mermaid is more powerful then Hans.

“Old Erik Catches Hans” Illustrated by H.J. Ford. Old Erik is a demonic creature Hans defeats while working for the squire. Notice how he doesn’t have fins.

Why is it that the mermaid is portrayed differently from the merman? Historical evidence shows that Oannes and Poseidon were illustrated with hands and feet. It is only with Triton, Poseidon’s son when the fish tale appears on a merman. One similarity Hans and Poseidon have is their staff. Poseidon is said to have ruled with the trident and it symbolized his power and Hans asks his father, the smith to make him an iron rod that is stronger than any metal. While Hans’ iron rod does not play a significant role in depicting Hans’ mystical image, it is nevertheless an important connection to his supernatural ancestors. It draws parallels between Poseidon’s power and Hans’.

The humans accept Hans and the mermaid differently. Hans is portrayed as a burden to the humans, but his mother has power over them. Fish and treasures washed ashore for Basmus to discover after his visit with the mermaid, but Hans ate all of Basmus’ food and left him hungry after Hans’ visit. The mermaid has complete power over Basmus, controlling his every move, whereas the squire takes Hans advantage of. We as readers acknowledge the mermaid’s power and see that Hans’ presence on land causes unease.


Final Thoughts

Mermen, in folktale were once familiar creatures. However, they have lost their popularity throughout time and have been replaced by mermaids. There is still evidence of the mermen’s power through the significance of the staff, which associates Hans with Poseidon, and his strength. Since the fishermen were the tellers of tales out at sea, it would suit them to tell stories of the beautiful yet supernatural mermaids as opposed to mermen who may be more powerful then themselves.  Mermen have lost their place the world of folk- and fairytales and their demise occurred as the popularity of their female counterparts increased.



Select Bibliography

  • Anon. “Hans, the Mermaid’s Son.” The Pink Fairy Book. Ed. Andrew Lang. New York: Dover Publications, 1967. 112-25. Print.
  • Buxton, Richard. The Complete World of Greek Mythology. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004. Print.
  • Green, Roger Lancelyn. “Andrew Lang and the Fairy Tale.” The Review of English Studies Vol 20. No 79 (1944): 227-231. JSTOR. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.
  •  Jones, Alison. Dictionary of World Folklore. New York, N.Y.: Larousse pcl, 1995: 300-301, 379-380, 430, 475. Print.
  •  Robinson, Margaret. “Some Fabulous Beasts.” Folklore Vol. 76 No. 4 (1965): 273-87. JSTOR. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.
  •  Waugh, Arthur. “The Folklore of the Merfolk.” Folklore Vol. 71 No. 2 (1960): 73-84. JSTOR. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.


Gender Dichotomy in Grimms “The Golden Mermaid”

Andrew Lang’s ‘The Green Fairy Book’ (1892)

(c) 2011 Neil Austen and Erin Graham

Andrew Lang, ed. The Green Fairy Book. Illustrated by H.J. Ford. New York: Hurst and co., 1892

A German Folktale:

The tale The Golden Mermaid by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, edited by Andrew Lang and illustrated by H. J. Ford, describes a young prince’s journey with the initial goal to retrieve a magic bird for his father, the King. Although the prince encounters many challenges along the way, he is ultimately successful in completing his goals with the support of a magic helper and the faithfulness of the golden mermaid. The mermaid plays a significant role in the tale considering she is the final task for the prince, yet the golden mermaid also demonstrates characteristics that emphasize those that are valued by the culture and time period in which the story was originally written.

Gender Roles in Fairy Tales

The representation of the mermaid reflects the expectations of a desirable woman and mirrors society’s view of gender roles during this time period, including those of a man through the qualities of the prince. Within this tale, the prince’s character is a brave and compassionate, and perhaps unlikely, hero and the mermaid plays the role of the attractive, strong and faithful woman. The characteristics that the mermaid and the prince display mirrors the expectations and beliefs of German culture and the 19th century in which this tale was intended.

Throughout this paper, we will discuss how the mermaid is represented in the tale, the effect J. J. Ford’s illustrations may have on the audience’s perception, and how both the story and illustrations reflect the authors’ time period, culture and their beliefs, particularly in regards to gender roles.

Fundamental Characteristics 

Within the tale The Golden Mermaid, the female character is described to the audience as a mermaid. She is introduced into the story as the prince’s final task that he must complete in order to regain his freedom from an emperor he previously tried to steal from. Following the prince’s failed attempts at retrieving the magic bird and the golden horse, the second and last emperor he encounters demands that he find the mermaid and bring her back to him. It is made apparent to the reader that this task has been impossible for any man to fulfill in the past, presenting how difficult it will be for the prince to achieve

Through the illustrations of the mermaid by H. J. Ford and the description of her provided by the author, the reader is able gain a relatively accurate image of this character. Through the reader may assume that as a mermaid, she is half women and half fish, the illustrator has a different picture in mind. The illustrations of the mermaid emphasize the possible comparison being made between her and women in 19th century Germany through the removal of her fishlike tail, rather than depicting her in a traditional manner.

Mermaid Sexuality in Fairytales

Mermaids’ sexuality has typically been viewed as “incomplete”, similar to that of a mannequin, yet the golden mermaid retains her complete sexual appeal due to her physical attributes and her lack of a fin (Brown, 1977). As Brown describes a mermaid in his article, the fish tail acts like a chastity belt (1977, p. 8), preventing sexual corruption. Rather than being part fish and part woman, her connection to the traditional mermaid seems to be that she lives in the sea and her ability to attract male attention.

In The Golden Mermaid, the author emphasizes the fact that no one has been able to get close to her. This also reflects a desired quality within a woman since it appears as though she is waiting for one man and maintaining her purity rather than giving herself to anyone else. Additionally, it demonstrates her autonomous behaviour, since even though she does not have a tail to prevent her from being with a man, she is still waiting, perhaps for the prince.

Representation of the Ideal Woman

The mermaid in “The Golden Mermaid”, as previously mentioned, appears to be the representation of the ideal women, who is supportive of the male character and stays by his side, even after death. The faithfulness of the mermaid is shown through the way she cries over him for weeks after he is killed by his elder brothers. Even after they tried to convince her to leave him, she refused.

As she is presented in the illustration, laying over his body, her feet are visible, allowing the reader to create a greater connection with the ideal female and the expectations placed on her. Yet even though she is compassionate, similar to other female characters in Grimms’ stories (Tatar, 1985), she is not submissive, rather she makes her own decisions. This is apparent through the failed attempts of other males when they have tried to approach her. It wasn’t until the prince approached her, that she came to land and was immediately “quite happy in her new life” (Lang, 1892, p. 320). As a result, it appears that the mermaid was responsible for making choices about who she ended up with, instead of portraying a submissive character to the hero. This is also emphasized through the contrast of other fairy tales, where very often it is solely the hero who receives attention, yet as remarked by Tatar in her article, the Grimms quite often focus on more than one character, in this case, attention is given to the mermaid as well (1985, p. 37). In doing so, her importance to the story is emphasizes and she is given more of an equal role to her male counterpart, with the opportunity to advance in society as well.

In this tale, the prince’s final goal was to capture the mermaid and bring her back to land. Though this was not his initial task, the mermaid becomes the main focus towards the end of the story. The significance of her role within the story is once again shown through her dedication to the prince, since, without it, it is unclear if he would have lived again. Due to various qualities that she possesses, she is the ultimate women since she is kind, protective of the prince, loyal and beautiful. Her loyalty was also apparent through her actions as she obeyed what the wolf directed her to do in order to bring the prince back to life. This is represented in the illustration below.

The Mermaid Is Illustrated With Human Legs

The Original Tale and the Issue of Editorial Critique

The Brothers Grimm, Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhem Grimm (1786-1859), were German philologists and folklorists that sought to transcribe and conserve oral folk tales. At the beginning of the twentieth century, academic publications began to appear that critically discussed the editorial process of Jacob and Wilhem Grimm. Jack Zipes argued that it was “generally assumed that the Brothers Grimm collected their oral folk tales mainly from peasants and day laborers and that they merely altered and refined the tales while remaining true to their perspective and meaning. Both assumptions proved to be false” (Subversion 61).  There are a considerable number of articles that focus on the issue of whether the Brothers Grimm simply cultivate the oral versions they had collected or whether they consciously manipulated them in favor of their own ideology and literary taste. While Zipes asserts that the Grimms did indeed the change the meaning of the oral folktales, he emphasizes that their “intentions were honorable” (61) and “the Grimms were totally conscious and open about their endeavors to make their material more suitable for children and to incorporate their notion of the family…and their political ideas in the tales” (112). Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm adopted a unique form of prose writing in The Golden Mermaid that supports an intertextual relationship between fictional and nonfictional discourse.

Traditional Patriarchal Systems

During this time period, Germany was simply seen as a prime representative of a system of society and government that was controlled primarily by men. Historical records demonstrate the disadvantageous position for women, and above all for wives, in a denial of legal personhood, which meant that women were unable to appear in court, to own or manage property, or to retain one’s earnings from labor (Vick 557). In all these ways women were reportedly reduced to a lesser status and therefore subject to the guardianship of their husbands. This point of view is evident in The Golden Mermaid when the young prince seizes the mermaid in his arms and declares that she would be his forever. As the boat transforms back into the magic-helper, the mermaid predictably clings to the prince for protection. These actions emphasize the seemingly vulnerability of women and the need for a man to defend and protect them. Despite this apparent discrimination against women, the Grimm Brothers did not wholly support this notion of sexism.

At this time, Germany was experiencing a shift towards a liberal nationalist movement with an aim to separate away from the traditional patriarchal system and embrace a stance that would promote German solidarity among all people. It is argued that gender difference was then transformed and expressed in the realm of nature. Marriage was increasingly defined as a natural rather than a contractual relationship. Women were viewed as destined by love to make a choice of their marriage partner before renouncing that power of choice altogether (Vick 548).

Image represents the natural and harmonious relationship between the prince and the mermaid

In The Golden Mermaid, it was said that no mortal had ever dared approach the mermaid and yet when the prince called out to her to follow his ship back to shore, she obliged and did not regret her choice.

Character Traits and Wildlife

In Tests, Tasks, and Trials in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Tatar argues that character traits demonstrate a remarkable lack of stability, shifting into contrasting positions as the fairy tale develops.  Despite the failure to meet certain standards, the youngest prince typically possesses one character trait that sets him apart from his fraternal antagonists: compassion. Tatar argues that before the youngest son can journey to foreign kingdoms, he must prove himself worthy of assistance from a supernatural helper by displaying his compassion for wildlife. In The Golden Mermaid, the young prince demonstrates sympathetic pity towards the wolf and is entitled to receiving assistance throughout the tale.  His capacity for compassion towards wildlife and nature can also refer to the changing norms occurring in Germany at that time. Women were gradually becoming recognized as “Free, independent members of the state…not just a caregiver or a housekeeper, [but] also a free comrade of the husband” (Vick 572). Spousal relations were at one time rigid and discriminatory, however, The Golden Mermaid demonstrates an evolving perception where both men and women were seen as complimentary halves that formed the true representation of a unified country.

In The Golden Mermaid, both character attributes and social conditions dramatically change from one extreme to the other. The young prince was initially considered a simpleton by both his father and brothers, however, as the tale progressed, he struggled through the trials set before him. In the end, it was the prince’s compassion for nature that enabled him to receive the assistance of a magic-helper and it also allowed him to gain the favor of the golden mermaid, whom all mortal men had avoided. On the surface the fairytale appears to be a typical folk story, however, it is now possible to see that it is an interaction between an oral story and the shifting political discourse that was evident during the 19th century.


Works Cited

Andrew Lang, ed. The Green Fairy Book. Illustrated by H.J. Ford. New York: Hurst and co., 1892

Brown, Lloyd W. Mannequins and Mermaid- The Contemporary Writer and Sexual Images in the Consumer Culture. Women’s Studies 5 (1977) 1-12.

Joosen, Vanessa. Back to Olenberg: An Intertextual Dialogue between Fairy-Tale Retellings and the Sociohistorical Study of the Grimm Tales. Marvels & Tales. Volume 24. Wayne State University Preses, 2010, p99-115

Vick, Brian. Liberalism, Nationalism, and Gender Dicotomy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Germany: The Contested Case of German Civil Law.  The Journal of Modern History, Vol.82, No.3, pp.546-584. Web. .

Zipes, Jack. Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales. Rev. ed.Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 2002.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization. New York: Methuen, 1983.

Fantasy or Reality: Analyzing Pirates in Peter Pan

© Copyright 2011, Ethan Krebs, Justin Levine

James Matthew, Barrie. Nursery Peter Pan. Ed. Olive Jones. Liverpool: Brockhampton Press Ltd, 1961. Print.

 Pirates have been prominent in society’s dominant culture for centuries. Pirates are portrayed in countless ways. Some pirates are portrayed as good people stealing from the rich and giving to the poor while others are shown as scoundrels with a lust for murder. In any case, pirates are a dominant grouping of characters in the text Nursery Peter Pan. The original author of the Peter Panbooks was J.M. Barrie. This adaptation of the text was first published in 1961 by author Olive Jones. The text was written for a children’s audience but can also be enjoyed by an older range of people. The text has both colour and black and white illustrations. The colour illustrations were created by Mable Lucie Attwell while the black and white drawings were done by J.S. Goodall. The text and the illustrations flow nicely together to create a balanced book that can be appreciated by all readers. In this exhibit, the category of pirates in Peter Pan will be examined. To start, research has been done to uncover facts about real life pirates in history and compare them to the pirates in Nursery Peter Pan. Pirates in Nursery Peter Pan will also be explained as a whole and how they interact throughout the text. Also, pirates in Peter Pan will be compared to the Hollywood movie Pirates of the Caribbean. The overall critical connection for this exhibit will to determine how accurate pirates in real life history were compared to pirates in Nursery Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean. Similarities and differences will be discussed throughout the exhibit and it will illustrate the facts about the pirates themselves. Ethan Krebs will be discussing pirates in Nursery Peter Pan as a whole, while Justin Levine will be explaining the connection to Pirates of the Caribbean

The Pirates in Peter Pan

Every story needs an antagonist and there are a perfect set of villains in the text Nursery Peter Pan. The text itself follows the original story of Peter Pan but brings it down to simpler level so that it could be appreciated and read by anyone. In case you haven’t read or heard of Peter Pan, here is a brief description of the text. The book starts off following the lives of Wendy, John and Michael Darling. It seems that their parents are out for the night so in swoops Peter Pan. Peter Pan can be described as the boy who never grew up. Peter Pan, with the help of his fairy friend Tinker Bell, sprinkles fairy dust on the kids which gives them the ability to fly. The kids, along with Peter Pan and Tinker Bell, fly to Never Never Land where they meet the Lost Boys. The Lost Boys are Peter Pan’s crew. Throughout the text, the readers discover that not all is right in Never Never Land. Peter Pan has

The crocodile that ate Captain Hooks hand. It is Hooks greatest fear.

nemesis. This nemesis is named James Hook, otherwise known by his more familiar name, Captain Hook. Hook is seeking revenge on Peter Pan for the loss of his hand. Hook is described in the book to be fearless except for when the crocodile appears. The crocodile is the one who ate Hooks hand in the first place. There are many twists and turns throughout the book. Hook has many attempts at revenge but the overall ending of the book leads to Captain Hook’s demise along with the rest of his pirate crew. The three Darling children eventually make it home and Peter Pan returns to Never Never Land.

The pirates in the text constantly antagonize all the other characters in the book. As said before, the leader of the pirate crew in Nursery Peter Pan is Captain Hook. Hook can be described as many things in this text. He plays both sides of the spectrum. In some cases, he comes off as goofy, stupid and arrogant. In other cases he has the tendency of being a cold, hard, sociopathic killer. His character description tends to fluctuate throughout the text. There is no real clear objective or answer on why Hook is the way he is. Since the beginning of the text he had his mind set on terrorizing Peter Pan and everyone acquainted with him. The other pirates on the ship do not really have real names and they often change.

Captain Hook and his first mate Smee causing trouble

They are often referred to as the crew or mates. The other pirates on the ship are regarded as emotionless, yet loyal. They listen to Hook’s every demand and do what their captain says. They do not really have a personality in the book other than taking orders. The only other pirate in Nursery Peter Pan who is really addressed as a character is Hook’s first mate named Bartholomew Quigley Smeethington, or generally called Smee. Smee is portrayed as a bumbling idiot in the text. If this were a television show, Smee would be the comic relief. Smee often comes up with stupid ideas and Hook is there to correct him. J.S. Goodall did a really good job creating the black and white pictures in the text. The black and white pictures of the pirates really show their evil side, while also showing how goofy and stupid they can be at other times. The overall impression of the pirates in Nursery Peter Pan is that they have a split personality. Hook displays the characteristics of being both goofy and evil. Overall, his evil side comes out more than his other personalities. In the text Hook, along with the other pirates, do countless horrible acts towards Peter Pan and his friends. There are three main things that Hook and the other pirates do in the text which I personally consider beyond evil. The first thing Hook and his crew do is kidnapping Tiger Lily. Tiger Lily is the Indian chief’s daughter. Hook kidnaps her in order to get closer to Peter Pan. This is evil because she is a child. Hook and the pirates are willing to let an innocent girl die just so that they can get a hold of Peter Pan. Of course, Hook’s plan is spoiled but nonetheless he intended to kill both the girl and Peter Pan. The next evil thing Hook and the pirates do is poisoning Peter Pan’s medicine. Tinker Bell learns of this and drinks it herself before Peter Pan can. This almost leads to Tinker Bell’s death, again showing that the pirates will stop at nothing unless Peter Pan is dead. The last evil thing they do is kidnapping the kids and almost making them walk the plank. The main similarities between these three evils is that Hook and the pirates are willing to kill innocent children. They have no gain if they succeed in killing Peter Pan or the others. What do they really accomplish? Even though this is a children’s book, it shows that the pirates are sociopathic killers.

The pirates kidnapping Tiger Lily in order to kill Peter Pan

The real question here is: were pirates in real life actually this brutal? J.M. Barrie came up with the character of Captain Hook based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island character, Long John Silver. Barrie did extensive research on pirates before he wrote his Peter Pan books. The truth of the matter is that what Captain Hook did in Nursery Peter Pan wasn’t even half as bad compared to what some other pirates did. Historically, pirates were found to show no mercy. Forget about making you walk the plank, they would simply slit your throat and throw you off the ship. Although brutal and ruthless, the pirates were usually after something. If you had something the pirates wanted, they would simply kill you for it. The pirates in Nursery Peter Pan were dulled down to suit a wider audience. Overall, the facts show that pirates were indeed more brutal than in Nursery Peter Pan and that technically, the characterization of pirates in Nursery Peter Pan is historically accurate. 

The Pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates in Hollywood are portrayed in many different fashions. In general, people were afraid of pirates because pirates were governed by their own pirate code, and they did not follow the law of the land. They were known to be ruthless and violent and would use any means necessary to take whatever they wanted. Most movies base their pirate interpretations on this premise. The pirates in Nursery Peter Pan were no different, although they were tempered for a young audience. The main antagonist in the tale of Peter Pan was Captain James Hook, the lead pirate causing peril and mayhem to Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. It would be fair to say that the evil pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean were based on the same model as Captain Hook and his gang. Both sets of pirates have the same attitude and goals as recounted in historical accounts of typical pirates. 

 At one point in Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Barbosa, the captain of the Black Pearl, a haunted pirate ship, is described as ‘a man so evil that hell itself spat him back out’. Captain Hook can be seen in the same way. Barbosa’s kidnapping of Elizabeth, the governor’s daughter of the film, parallels that of Captain Hook’s kidnapping of Tiger Lily. Captain Hook threatens to kill Tiger Lily in order to learn the location of Peter’s hideout.

Barbosa’s men are willing to kill the innocent character Elizabeth in order to lift their curse; however, she is not the only innocent character that the pirates are willing to kill. The pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean were seen invading the town, destroying anything in their way, including defenseless people. The pirates show no mercy, and this is how typical pirates behave in Hollywood films. These are the type of pirates who are the most fearsome. Captain Hook and his gang attempted to murder children by making them walk the plank on their infamous ship named “The Jolly Roger”. These were innocent children.

 Pirates in film and fiction, as in real life, are shown to be motivated primarily by greed. In Pirates of the Caribbean, there are two kinds of pirates – the typical ones and the ones who are pirates that are also “good men”.  Captain Jack Sparrow, the main character in this film, falls into the latter category. Captain Hook falls into the classification of a typical, evil pirate. Unlike most portrayals of pirates, Captain Jack Sparrow is not portrayed as a “bad guy”.  Captain Jack certainly does things to achieve his own ends, but he is not portrayed as violent and uses his cleverness to get what he wants, outsmarting both other pirates and representatives of the British government and making all of them look foolish along the way. Captain Barbosa, on the other hand, more closely fits Hollywood’s typical definition of a pirate and shares many similar characteristics with Captain Hook in Nursery Peter Pan. Hook tries to get revenge on Peter Pan due to the fact that Peter cut off his hand and it was eaten by the crocodile that is always following him, hoping for more of the same. Captain Jack wants revenge on Barbosa, his former first mate, for inciting the mutiny and taking his ship, the Black Pearl. While Hook and Jack are both motivated by revenge in these stories, Jack is willing to help others as long as it doesn’t conflict with his own objectives. Jack’s character does not conform to the typical historical representation of a pirate, which is why the Hollywood scriptwriters created the evil pirates in order to balance out Jack’s uniqueness. The typical historical pirate sailed the seven seas, violently destroying any ship that came within a certain distance, murdering all the innocent people on board with no motive. The aftermath of one such incident is shown at the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean.

 In the majority of Hollywood movies in which pirates are the antagonists, there are the protagonists trying to bring them down. The audience is usually able to relate to the protagonists and is usually rooting for them to defeat the pirates. That is not the case in Pirates of the Caribbean, where Captain Jack Sparrow is the unlikely hero. In one sense, some may even compare Peter Pan to Captain Jack Sparrow in the sense that both are mischievous and have a child-like quality. They both reject the establishment and live by their own rules. Neither one was clearly good or bad by societal standards. In effect, even

though the Darling children went willingly, Peter pirated them from their parent’s house during the night to achieve his own ends – he wanted Wendy to tell him stories and act as a pseudo-mother to him. The pirates in Nursery Peter Panall abide by the rules of Captain Hook, following him around like his pets obeying his every command, which is a requirement of the pirate code. They are not individually mentioned other than Smee, the pirate that acts as the comic relief of the story. The lack of addressing other pirates generally shows the reader that all the pirates share the same attitude as their leader. They follow in the footsteps of their captain just as the pirates on the Black Pearl all go nameless

Captain Hook aboard his pirate ship giving orders to his crew

and follow in the footsteps of their captain  Hollywood’s representation of pirates goes back to some of the first movies ever made that starred buccaneers, such as Treasure Island in 1912 and The Black Pirate in 1926. In both of these movies, a Captain led the crew. The story of Peter Pan came into existence in 1902 where it was found inside a story written by J.M. Barrie called The Little White Bird. The pirates first made their appearance in this story and were then later adapted to Hollywood films in many different variations. In all adaptations of the Peter Pan stories, the pirates always played the roles of the antagonists and Captain Hook always led the pack. The pirates in Nursery Peter Pan and in Pirates of the Caribbean are described in a more comical way and are less sinister and ruthless than reports of actual historical pirates.


In many cases, the depiction of pirates in films is somewhat sanitized when compared to historical pirates in an effort to make them more entertaining and less disturbing to the viewer. This applies even more in films and stories that are geared towards a younger audience, such as Nursery Peter Pan. J.M. Barrie used his extensive research on pirates to create believable images of pirates, even though they are watered-down in Nursery Peter Pan. Overall, our research concludes that in Jones’ adaptation of Nursery Peter Pan, Olive Jones’ portrayal is an accurate representation of the spirit of pirates, while eliminating the gory details. 


Barrie, James Matthew. Nursery Peter Pan. Ed. Olive Jones. Liverpool: Brockhampton Press Ltd,              1961. Print.

Beetles, Chris. Mabel Lucie Attwell. London: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1997. Print.

Birkin, Andrew, and Sharon Goode. J.M. Barrie & the Lost Boys: [the Real Story behind Peter              Pan]. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003. Print. 

Kavey, Allison B., and Lester D. Friedman, eds. Second Start To The Right: Peter Pan in the                  Popular Imagination. London: Rutgers UP, 2009. Print

Kuhn, Gabriel. Life under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy. Oakland, CA: PM,          2010. Print.

“Pirate Code of Conduct. “ELIZABETHAN ERA. Web. 09 Nov. 2011. <http://www.elizabethan-        >.

Stacy, Jan, and Ryder Syvertsen. The Great Book of Movie Villains: a Guide to the Screen’s              Meanies, Tough Guys, and Bullies. Chicago: Contemporary, 1984. Print.

Surrell, J. Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies. San Val                     Incorporated, 2005. Print

Andersen’s The Mermaid: A Tale of Female Sacrifice

Andersen, Hans Christian. “The Mermaid.” The Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen. (Cover)

© Copyright 2011, Alison Haberstroh, Victoria Macdonald

Andersen, Hans Christian. “The Mermaid.” The Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen. Illus. Maxwell Armfield. Trans. Mrs. Edgar Lucas. Ed. F. D. Tilney. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1910. 9-35.







Mermaids have been a part of popular culture dating back to their date of origin in 1000 BC in Assyria. For centuries they have been interpreted in many different mediums (including folklore and film) and portrayed in different societal roles. This exhibit examines by example the way in which their roles and moral representation in pop culture have morphed through the ages. Specifically this presentation focuses on Hans Christian Andersen’s short story, The Mermaid (1837), and Disney’s film, The Little Mermaid (1989), to demonstrate how evolving time and an ever-changing societal moral code have defined these two distinct interpretations of mermaids.


Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was knowledgeable on mermaids as they appeared frequently in popular culture during the period in which he lived. Andersen used elements of traditional mermaid characteristics, but still created his own personal version that is original in its story.

Since the time of early mythology, fantastical creatures of the sea have had a place in the oral traditions of folklore. Merfolk exist in stories from all the world over, and are represented in a multitude of forms. Their top halves are human-like, while their bottom halves are fish-like. This combination of sea and land forms appears time and time again in real life accounts and in fictional tales of mermaids in contact with humans. Living in the ocean, the merfolk may rest on the waves or a rock in the water and be often disguised by the water or as a fish.

In Andersen’s story, the Mermaid holds a fascination with humans. She begs her grandmother and older sisters for information about the wildlife, the greenery, and the scents. From the time that she was young, she was desperate to find out as much as she could. When she turned the age of fifteen, she was allowed to approach the surface of the water to view the world from above the waves. Her adoration of mankind grew until she could no longer sustain the thought of being a mermaid. Despite her Grandmother’s clear warning to steer away from thoughts of life above water, and her insistence that she honour her commitments as a mermaid, the Mermaid pays no heed and determines the land is where she wishes to be. She must be loved by the Prince as though she is a family member, yet she dares to risk everything to take advantage of the opportunity to win his love and affection. She approaches the Sea Witch to help her in reaching her goal.

The natural ability to entrance men with her loveliness and siren-like voice is a key characteristic of a mermaid. With her enchanting voice, she sings to fishermen. Traditionally, mermaids offered these men safe harbour from harm. Andersen’s mermaids have beautiful voices, which he describes as being clearer than any mortal voice (Andersen). During storms on the sea, they sing to the fisherman, bidding them no ill will. It is this lovely voice which the Mermaid sacrifices in order to be in touch with the Prince to discover love and happiness on land. Essential to her character, her voice defined one of the key features of mermaids and their purpose to living in the sea. On land, her ability to prove her love and dedication to the Prince relied only on her physical beauty. That which made her unique was no longer an option for her, and the Mermaid was punished for her unfortunate lack of understanding of reality and the human world. Without her voice, she is able neither to convince the Prince of how she saved his life, nor seduce him with her voice. The Sea Witch has bargained with the Mermaid for her sexuality and it has not paid off for the Mermaid.

In some versions of stories involving merfolk, the merfolk make actual contact with human life. These tales have been passed on through the ages, allowing mermaids to maintain a certain reputation of both trickery and safety. In some stories, the mermaids are the thought to have carried men out to sea and to not have allowed them back (Waugh). In others, she is merely a flash on the ocean, and a good story at the local pub as fisherman regale one another with tall tales. Andersen’s Mermaid has the opportunity to have the Prince perish at her hand, but she chooses instead to release herself from the promise of love.

There are many instances of sexual undertones in Andersen’s story. Although the Mermaid has made many sacrifices, she is not emotionally mature enough to engage in a relationship with the Prince. This story is meant to be a warning to girls to wait for what will naturally come to them, as Andersen intended. The Mermaid’s fascination with mankind, and the initial motivation to approach the Sea Witch, in the end undid the Mermaid and her contact with her family.


Maxwell Armfield (1881-1972), a British artist, illustrated the collection of Andersen’s stories. The book is bound and decorated intricately with gold leaf. It features an illustration from one of Andersen’s stories, and is enticing to the viewer. One is able to see keen detail in Armfield’s work inside the book, especially. The graphics are printed in colour, and display a wide range of shades and tones. Armfield has exercised extreme care in imagining life for merfolk. The Mermaid’s long, flowing hair masks her body partially and adds to the allure of the mermaid. The clothing of the Prince, and the structure of the ships, are intricately illustrated. They demonstrate the grandeur and exoticism of human life to which the Mermaid is attracted.

"A big three-masted ship lay close by."
Just in front of her stood the handsome young Prince


In the time period between the first publication of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Mermaid in 1873 and Disney’s interpretation, The Little Mermaid in 1989, much has changed in the way of moral structure between the two stories.

At face value, the moral seems to be that with great sacrifice and change comes great reward. The issue is whether that moral is even universally realistic. And this begs the question of whether Andersen’s interpretation has a deeper meaning.

In Andersen’s version, the Mermaid experiences monumental sacrifice before she is rewarded. The Mermaid rescues the Prince from drowning and immediately falls in love with him. The unfortunate issue in this scenario, however, is that the human Prince could never fall in love with a woman of the sea. Being infatuated with the Prince, the Mermaid desperately tries to change herself to accommodate and gain the Prince’s affection. The Mermaid sacrifices her impeccable singing voice in exchange for a potion to convert her mermaid tail into a pair of legs. Although it brings the Mermaid excruciating pain at every step, she sets forth to find the Prince. While he is attracted to the Mermaid it is not enough to terminate his arranged marriage and despite the Mermaid having sacrificed the fundamental aspects of herself is to entice the Prince, it is inevitably not enough.

It is at this point in the story that the mermaid suffers a broken heart. Through all the trouble and turmoil through which she has gone in order experience freedom and love, it is clear that she made her sacrifices in vain. She can’t bring herself to kill the Prince and return to being a mermaid, so she instead kills herself, ending her life after rejection.

In order for the Mermaid to be rewarded for her personal sacrifices, she must first live through the pain and torment, and also be forced to make impactful decisions. Only after she has experienced all that she had in her life under the guide of humanity is she given the opportunity to return to the world as sea foam in the afterlife. She becomes a daughter of the air and by performing good deeds, she will one day gain access into the Kingdom of God.

At first look, it seems that Andersen leaves the reader with a similar moral to that which Disney presents. By sacrificing the key aspects of yourself to conform to society’s picturesque standards, you will eventually be rewarded with acceptance. The Mermaid went through extreme pain and upheaval to gain this acceptance and eventually it paid off—but only in the afterlife. It is this key detail of the reward in afterlife that makes Andersen’s moral appear deeper than originally interpreted.

Upon closer analysis, Andersen’s imparted moral is in fact suggesting the opposite message to that of Disney’s film version. The Mermaid is rewarded for her sacrifice but not during her lifetime. She may find fulfillment only in the afterlife. This underlying meaning comments on the fact that not in reality is such an accepted transformation possible. While eventually the Mermaid was rewarded, she does not find happiness as a result of her actions during her own life in the real world.

Andersen’s moral can be interpreted as one which is darker and more realistic. In reality, despite how great of a sacrifice or outward change is made, one can never fundamentally change the essence of who one is, and can therefore never find true acceptance and happiness in the altered form.

Disney’s version interprets Andersen’s moral at face value, however. To begin with, the protagonist Ariel has to go through no great lengths to gain the love and acceptance of the Prince, unlike Andersen’s mermaid. While Ariel is forced to change to accommodate the love of the rescued Prince, her mild-by-comparison sacrifice pays off.

In this interpretation, the protagonist also makes a deal with a sea witch, Ursula, sacrificing her beautiful singing voice to gain human legs, though without any physical pain. Ursula tries to gain the Prince’s affection herself, not because of love, but to gain power of the sea. She attempts to trick the Prince out of marrying Ariel. Ursula’s trickery is short lived and although there is much chaos and excitement, no real suffering is experienced by Ariel. Ursula is eventually killed, and Ariel and the Prince live happily ever after.

In the end, Ariel is granted the human life that she wished for from the start without having to experience the traumatic pain, rejection, and even death, that Andersen’s mermaid underwent. The significant changes Ariel makes to be accepted by the Prince cause her to be successful, and she is rewarded with human love and life.

Stereotypically, Disney’s messages are known for being positive and seemingly morally right, thus making Andersen’s moral seems quite grim by comparison. However, if one were to really look at the morals presented in each of these interpretations, one would find that the roles in this particular story are reversed.

Andersen presents the more realistic message: one cannot achieve true acceptance by falsifying one’s genuine identity. No matter how much suffering and sacrifice one undergoes, there is no real reward in fundamental change.

Disney’s version portrays a more censored moral: one is able to achieve true happiness and acceptance by undergoing extreme change for the one they love. Through minor sacrifice and patience during said change, eventually they will gain the love and respect of those they changed for.

While Andersen’s moral seems more negative and dark than Disney’s, the truth and realism behind it make it a much more valuable lesson than Disney’s. The moral presented in The Little Mermaid is deceptively false and packaged as morally positive despite its true nature.


The Mermaid in Andersen’s tale is a sexualized, symbolic figure of female sacrifice, following the desire of her heart and making choices which suit her want for love and human form. Flouting social conventions of the sea, she makes a decision to pursue a different life despite the clear risks involved. Ever seductive, mermaids throughout history have proven to have a grip over humans. By delving under the surface and exploring the deeper meanings behind the morals presented in these two interpretations of mermaid’s tales, one gains a greater understanding of the way in which the ethical message of a decades-old tale changes through the process of “Disneyfication.” Upon making this analysis, one is able to determine which moral is more poignant and realistic past face-value.


Selected Works Cited

Auerbach, Nina. Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982. Print.

Cashdan, Sheldon. The Witch Must Die. New York: Basic Books, 1999. Print.

The Little Mermaid. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. Perf. Jodi Benson. Disney, 1989. Videocassette.

Meyers, Robert W. “The Little Mermaid: Hans Christian Andersenʼs Feminine Identification.” Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 3.2 (2001): 149-59. Scholars Portal. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.

Mortensen, Finn. “The Little Mermaid: Icon and Disneyfication.” Scandinavian Studies 80 (2008): 437-54. ProQuest. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.

Triste, Roberta. “Disney’s Sub/version of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.” Journal of Popular Film & Television (1991): 145. ProQuest Library Search. Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

Waugh, Arthur. “The Folklore of the Merfolk.” Folklore 71.2 (1960): 73-84. JSTOR Arts and Sciences 3. Web. 15 Oct. 2011.



Female Maturation in Andersen and Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”


(c) 2011 Brandon Kates and Antonia Wales

Hans Christian Andersen. “The Mermaid.” The Mermaid and Other Tales. Trans. Edgar Lucas. Illus. Maxwell Armfield. London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd.; New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1914.


               Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Mermaid”, is a literary work whose plot focuses on a mythical archetype (a mermaid) and her desire to attain the love of a mortal prince. The text we will focus on for this exhibit is The Mermaid and Other Tales, a collection of Andersen’s fairy tales edited by F.C Tilney, illustrated by Maxwell Armfield and translated by Mrs. Edgar Lucas. It was published in 1914 as part of a series called “Tales for Children from Many Lands”, which implies it was intended for a child audience. We compare this to Disney’s adaptation of this fairy tale, entitled The Little Mermaid, which incorporates the original version in terms of the plot, but sanitizes and commercializes it in a way to appeal to the contemporary child. The portrayal of female maturation through this fairy tale differs between variants. The first section, focusing on the The Mermaid and Other Tales text is written by Brandon Kates and deals with female coming on age in Andersen’s “The Mermaid”. The following section is written by Antonia Wales and compares the differences between the Disney and Andersen versions.

Andersen’s “The Mermaid”

               The Mermaid and Other Tales is a collection of stories that was part of a series called Tales for Children from the Many Lands and was written by Hans Christian Anderson and illustrated by Maxwell Armfield. Hans Christian Anderson was a Danish writer and poet from the 19th Century, well-known for his children’s literature and his works have has influenced much of postmodern pop culture. Although this work contains many tales such as, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Swinehead”, “The Mermaid” is the only one mentioned in the title indicating significance to the author.  Earlier in his life Andersen wrote both Agnete and Merman and The Little Sea Maid, demonstrating a fascination with mermaids. Perhaps one reason was his apparent struggle with his own sexuality and that he had a history of falling in love with women who he knew he could never have (Nikolajeva). He may have considered himself an outsider (like the Mermaid) who could never really fit into a world he perceived to be outside of them.

Depiction of Mermaids through Maxwell Armfield’s Illustrations

Armfield’s depiction of the mermaid seeing the prince’s ship

               The illustrator of The Mermaid and Other Tales, Maxwell Armfield, chose only to do two illustrations for “The Mermaid”. In the first illustration is located in the frontispiece and depicts the mermaid seeing the ship for the first time. The flag on the approaching boat is Swedish, while Hans Christian Anderson is from Denmark.  They are both Scandinavian countries with body of water between them, perhaps furthering the notion of having one’s desire obstructed. His fascination with the sea is apparent in both his work and choice of subject so much so that a statue of The Little Mermaid has been placed in the Copenhagen Harbour in his honour (Mortensen 438).

The mermaid meets the prince as a human.

               The second illustration done by Armfield depicts the mermaid meeting the prince after she has been transformed into a mermaid. An interesting thing to note is that the prince is shown to be Asian through the use of stereotypically Asian features like his clothing or shoes. The ships are not Scandinavian like in the frontispiece, but instead are Asian-insipred like the prince. The Little Mermaid is shown as being completely naked aside from her long hair.

               In The Mermaid, mermaids are described as beings possessing fish tails for legs and having the upper body of a naked human. One could think of the mermaid as adolescent in her desire for experience, but she has an inability to follow through due to her body and soul’s limitations. For example, the mermaid desires the prince, but is unable to attain the prince’s requited love and the immortal soul that becomes possible from being a human.

               Being underwater like the mermaids may be a metaphor for not facing reality. The mermaids experience a life of innocence under the sea. The mermaids are allowed to “play all day in the great hall of the castle” (Andersen 17), which shows they are very childlike. Mermaids also experience of a long life with no soul or afterlife, which also implies an easy, hardship-free life. The Little Mermaid’s quest for a human soul that allows her to go above the simple life of mermaids may be related to Andersen’s strong religious background. He may have made the mermaid’s world so childlike and out-of-reality because the alternatives of human life, hardship and having a soul, reflect a very Christian morality

Female Coming of Age in “The Mermaid”

               A Bildungsroman, or a coming of age story, is a story or novel that focuses on an adolescent’s experiences that focuses on a young character and their experiences that lead to self-discovery and maturity (Pettigrew). The mermaid in “The Mermaid” is an adolescent character who begins the fairy tale at fifteen years old. Through the story, the mermaid faces many personal and physical challenges that cause her to become more mature and adult-like.

               At the beginning of the tale, the mermaid is very child-like, but through her struggles, she becomes more mature. While living underwater, the mermaid was fascinated with the human world and her sense of curiosity interfered with her sense of reasoning (Cravens 638-639). Once the Mermaid experienced life above the sea, she began to experience a sense of love and lust toward the Prince. At first, she hides from and becomes timid every chance she has to reveal herself to him (Dahlerup 418), which is indicator of her child-like reaction to her new feelings. When she realizes that she cannot stay in the human world, she reacts in another adolescent manner by running off and bargaining with the sea witch. By not carefully considering the consequences of the deal, she agrees to exchange her voice for becoming human and would not be allowed to go back home.

               The maturation of the Little Mermaid developed through the pain that she endured.  She saves the Prince from drowning at her own risk and then must listen to him speak of his desire for another woman. He treats her more like a child or pet that he permits to sleep outside his door (Dahlerup 422).  Upon seeing her sisters, she realizes what she has done to her life.  In the story, her sisters then beg the witch to allow the youngest to return, but only if she killed the Prince, but The Little Mermaid endures watching the Prince marry another.  She knows that she will die, but out of a sense of morality she allows another to live happily ever after, while accepting her own terrible fate.  Despite not getting the Prince to marry her, she is rewarded with immortality for good behaviour, which is a common theme among fairy tales (Mortenson 439-440). She has evolved from a selfish, naïve and inquisitive mermaid into a self-sacrificing, wiser and moral soul.

Transformations in Disney’s The Little Mermaid

Disney’s film depiction of The Little Mermaid

               Andersen’s The Little Mermaid was adapted from a literary fairy tale into an animated film of the same name by Walt Disney in 1989. The film, although maintaining many of the same characters and plot, diverges from the Andersen original through the portrayal of its characters and the values it promotes. The key change between variants is the ending, where, in the Andersen tale, the mermaid dies and becomes a daughter of air. Ariel, the protagonist in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, however, marries the prince and lives happily ever after.

               Many Disney films, such as Snow White, Bambi or numerous others, focus on the coming of age story trope, where the hero faces a challenge and overcomes it, thereby leaving childhood and entering adulthood. While Andersen’s literary fairy tale does not focus on female maturation (Trites 152), it portrays a very different message than the Disney film. As fairy tales change over time, place and medium, the representation of mermaids, the story of The Little Mermaid and the depiction of female maturation all reflect cultural ideologies from when the variant was created.

Transformation from Mermaid to Human: The Transition from Child to Adult

               In both the Andersen and Disney versions of The Little Mermaid, the protagonist want to transform herself from a mermaid into a human to transcend from her world into another. The motivations for this transformation are different. The mermaid wants to become human to gain a chance at an immortal soul, while Ariel wants to transform because of her materialistic obsession with human culture and, later, the prince.

               In the Andersen tale, going to the surface is a right of passage at the age of fifteen, which implies that his tale is in part a coming-of-age story for the mermaid. In contrast, Ariel and her sisters are banned from going to the surface by their father, which feeds Ariel’s obsession with human culture and interprets this as being forbidden from falling in love (Trites 146). The transformation between mermaid and human requires the sacrifice of a voice from both mermaids, but it is depicted as being an extremely painful existence for Andersen’s mermaid, while being much simpler for Ariel. The mermaid endures the suffering to gain an immortal soul, while Ariel does it so she can be attractive to the prince (Trities 148).

               The protagonists go from being a child in the family, the discovery of humans to reaching adulthood in some form of self-actualization, which characterizes a coming of age story (Mortensen 445). By shifting between sea, land and later air, Andersen’s mermaid’s journey into adulthood is shown as she takes responsibility for her actions (Mortensen 445) and actively shapes her own identity by choosing to die rather than kill the prince (Trites 148). Ariel’s journey, on the other hand, culminates with the prince destroying the witch and her father allowing her to become human. There is a scene where Ariel emerges from the water as a human, which implies rebirth as an adult. Disney attempts to show this through a separation between Ariel and her father, but she is not truly self-actualized, as she does not earn her independence, but is instead transferred to the prince (Trites 151).

The Roles of  Adult Figures and Love in Maturity

               There are a lack of female role models for Ariel in The Little Mermaid. This is contrasted with Andersen’s original which contained the grandmother, sisters, daughters of air and even the sea-witch as positive feminine characters (Bendix 285; Trites 152). Instead, the film focuses on the relationship between Ariel and her father Triton. While the original tale had some form of matriarchy, Disney’s version is a more overt patriarchy, with Triton being controlling over all aspects of Ariel’s life and displaying this in rages towards her (Bendix 286).

               Both of the mermaids see the prince as a way to transcend from their lives in the sea, but their perspectives towards love and their purpose for loving the prince differ. The mermaid in Andersen’s tale sees her love for the prince as a way to gain eternal identity through mortal love (Trites 146). The Disney mermaid, on the other hand, equates love with marriage and sees marriage as her goal as she is incomplete without a man’s love (Trites, 146). The Disney version portrays Ariel as having matured because she experienced love, while Andersen’s variant depicts love as coming after maturity (Trites 148).

Reflecting Cultural Ideologies of Female Maturation

               The main aspirations and eventual fates of the mermaid and Ariel reflect some of the goals of womanhood or adulthood at the time and place they were created. Andersen’s mermaid sacrifices her body to earn the reward of the immortal soul, which reflects both upon Christian morality, as well as a reflection of Andersen’s life circumstances (Bendix 283). The delayed gratification of gaining an immortal soul after 300 years with the children of air is also indicative of the values during Andersen’s lifetime (Mortensen 447).

               Similarly, Ariel’s materialism, marriage of the prince and happy ending are all indicative of Disney’s corporate culture and the idea of female maturation in the modern day. While releasing The Little Mermaid, Disney also sold various merchandise related to the movie (Bendix 280; Mortensen 448) and this continues with the Disney Princess line of merchandise, which is reflected in Ariel’s obsession with human “thingymabobbers”. In the end, Ariel gets a happy ending, which reflects the American dream and Disney’s wishes come true slogan (Bendix 289). By having Ariel’s goal as marrying the prince, Disney offers marriage as the ultimate goal of womanhood and as being compulsory for a happy ending (Trites 151).

Differences in depiction between Armfield’s illustrations of the mermaid in “The Mermaid” and Ariel in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”

               The physical depiction of the mermaid’s attire also varies between mediums, which implies a difference in how the adolescent female form is depicted. In the two images of the mermaid in The Mermaid and Other Tales, the top of the mermaid’s body is naked, covered only by her long hair. On the other hand, Ariel in the Disney film wears a seashell bra to cover her chest, which simultaneously censors her body, but also further sexualizes it by having the bra resemble a bikini. Despite Disney deeming the naked mermaid as inappropriate for children, Ariel is still sexualized (Trites 151). This reflects a strange dissonance in Disney’s approach towards sexuality and it’s appropriateness for children.


                The Little Mermaid is a fairy tale that has been through many adaptations since it was written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1836 in his native Danish (Nikolajeva). The children’s anthology of Andersen fairy tales, The Mermaid and Other Tales, provides an English translated and illustrated version of  the story aimed towards American and British children in 1914. The Disney film also is also reflective of the culture it was created in, with the changing of the ending and the depiction of characters. We have compared the depiction of mermaids in both of these variants, as well as how female maturation is depicted in each version.

               Because The Little Mermaid is a tale that shows a character maturing from a child to an adult, it is enjoyed by many children. Society should understand and be aware of the messages and images portrayed to children, especially girls, about female maturation and life goals. By better understanding that the time, place and medium of a work can influence how it is shown and interpreted, readers and children can be more aware that what is shown in a text is not necessarily what they should strive for.

Works Cited

Andersen, Hans Christian. “The Mermaid.” The Mermaid and Other Tales. Trans. Edgar Lucas. Illus. Maxwell Armfield. London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd.; New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1914. 9-35. Print.

Bendix, Regina. “Seashell Bra and Happy Ending: Disney’s transformations of ‘The Little Mermaid’.” Fabula 34 (1993): 280-290. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Cravens, Gwyneth. “Review of ‘The Little Mermaid’” Nation 254.18 (1992): 638-640. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.

Dahlerup, Pil. “’Little Mermaid’ Deconstructed.” Scandinavian Studies 62.4. (1990): 418-428. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Dulcie Pettigrew “Bildungsroman or Novel of Education”  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Ed. Jack Zipes. Oxford University Press, 2006. Web. 12 Nov. 2011.

Mortensen, Finn Hauberg. “’The Little Mermaid’: Icon and Disneyfication.” Scandinavian Studies 80.4 (2008): 437-454. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Nikolajeva, Maria. “Andersen, Hans Christian.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Ed. Jack Zipes. Oxford University Press, 2006. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.

Trites, Roberta. “Disney’s Sub/version of Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid”.” Journal of Popular Film & Television 18.4 (1991): 145-152. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Men Who Never Grow Up: Peter Pan’s Influence on Storytellers

Barrie, J.M. Peter and Wendy. Illus. F.D. Bedford. 1st. London: Hazel, Watson & Viney, Ltd., 1911. Print.

©2011, Meagan Kelly, Julia Lennox

We’ve all heard of Peter Pan. But what do we really know? What is the story behind how it all began? As we look deeper into the story of this never-aging boy, we will also be looking deeper into J.M. Barrie’s life and how events within it affected his writing. We will be specifically focusing on J.M. Barrie’s classic tale, Peter and Wendy.

The Story

The story of Peter and Wendy, written by J.M. Barrie, is one of many tales that follows Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up. One night, Peter is found listening in on Mrs. Darling’s bedtime stories. After some initial interaction with her daughter, Wendy, he invites her to Neverland to be a mother to his group of friends, The Lost Boys. Once in Neverland, Peter Pan takes Wendy and her brothers, who come along on this magical journey, on many adventures. As the story moves along, all the children are put in danger at different times. Peter Pan awakens only to find out from Tinker Bell that Wendy has been kidnapped. On his way to the pirate ship to save Wendy, Peter encounters the ticking crocodile. He gets passed the croc and onto the ship, where he finds Captain Hook. Hook and Peter begin to battle. Peter easily winds by pushing Hook into the jaws of the crocodile. Peter then takes control of the ship and sails home to London. Wendy decides her place is at home. Though Peter is not happy with this decision, he knows it is best. Peter promises he will return for Wendy every spring (Barrie).

Barrie, J.M. Peter and Wendy. Illus. F.D. Bedford. 1st. London: Hazel, Watson & Viney, Ltd., 1911. Print.

In the story of Peter and Wendy, Peter Pan is described as a practically fearless young boy. He is a boy who never grows up and has many adventures in Neverland. Peter is looked at as a leader by all of the characters in Neverland, which is part of his wonderful personality.

The Author

J.M. Barrie was born in Scotland in 1860 and passed away in 1937. He is most remembered for his works of Peter Pan. Barrie was a very complex man and was often misunderstood (Walker). He held many personal relationships throughout his life, arguably the most important of which with the Lleweyln Davies brothers.

Barrie, J.M. Peter and Wendy. Illus. F.D. Bedford. 1st. London: Hazel, Watson & Viney, Ltd., 1911. Print.

The Inspiration

The original idea of the character Peter Pan was based off of the Llewelyn Davies brothers (Walker). Barrie, a close friend of the boys, would often entertain them by telling stories of Peter and his adventures. The name Peter came from the youngest brother, no older than a toddler at the time (White). The Lewelyn brothers were very close with J.M. Barrie. He wanted to keep them entertained.

Although the story of Peter and Wendy was first written in 1911, the portrayal of the boys fighting at war in Neverland reflects upon the new types of warfare used by Britain in the Boer War years before publication (Springer).

Barrie drew from his own experience on never wanting to grow up while creating Peter Pan. Barrie has been quoted as saying that the horror of his boyhood was knowing that a time would come when he would have to give up his games, and he didn’t know how that could be done. Barrie felt he had to continue to play in secret (LaRue). Barrie also went through puberty late, which caused him traumatizing embarrassment (Nicol). This is why he was so good at writing for children, because he always felt he was one.  There is also speculation that J.M. Barrie engaged in the idea of never growing up partially because of an accident that occurred when he was just 7 years old. Barrie was skating with his brother David the night before David’s 14th birthday. An accident happened and David ended up falling on the ice and fracturing his skull, killing him. Some say Barrie chose the idea of never growing up for Peter Pan because David would never grow up either (Staff).

Barrie, J.M. Peter and Wendy. Illus. F.D. Bedford.1st. London: Hazel, Watson & Viney, Ltd., 1911. Print.

 Peter and Wendy: Their Relationship

 The relationship between Peter Pan and Wendy Darling is very unique. He is in love with Wendy, not in a romantic way, but rather a maternal way. He sees Wendy as his mother, which is ironic, because mothers are the only things in the world he is afraid of. It is almost as though Peter yearns for a maternal figure deep inside, and Wendy is able to offer that support, while still remaining a child.

The Illustrations

 The illustrator for Peter and Wendy was the brilliant F.D. Bedford. Bedford was a British artist born in 1864. He attended school for architecture, but then realized a career in that field was not for him. Bedford then switched paths to become an illustrator. His first illustrated books were released between 1890 and 1900. In 1911, Bedford illustrated Peter and Wendy (Dalby).

Though there is no information on the medium in which Bedford used to illustrate, upon examination, it appears to be some form of sketching or etching. There are many details and lines throughout each image, suggesting Bedford put much care into each drawing. Bedford not only did the embedded illustrations for Peter and Wendy, he also designed the cover, title page, and end covers. Each illustration by Bedford is a full page. In the specific edition we researched, the illustrations were all in green ink, matching the cover, while all the type was in black ink.


Barrie, J.M. Peter and Wendy. Illus. F.D. Bedford 1st. London: Hazel, Watson & Viney, Ltd., 1911. Print.

Bedford’s illustrations of Neverland leave the audience breathless. He beautifully illustrates coves, lagoons and tropical vegetation that make the story seem so much more whimsical (Barrie, and McCaffrey).

Barrie, J.M. Peter and Wendy. Illus. F.D. Bedford. 1st. London: Hazel, Watson & Viney, Ltd., 1911. Print.

Bedford chose to illustrate narrative moments in the story as they happened. The illustrations tend to be of the more exciting moments; the ones where the audience is wondering what it looks like, whether it be the Darlings flying for the first time, or The Lost Boys wandering around Neverland through the forest. These images address the readers while providing them with an omniscient point of view so they can see everything that is happening.

Rumours continue to swirl around who or what was the true inspiration behind Peter Pan. Many argue that it was the peculiar relationship between J.M. Barrie and the Lewelyn Brothers. Others believe that it was Barrie’s overwhelming fear of growing up that led to the creation of the rambunctious character. Perhaps the inspiration lies buried with the author, in the responsibility he may have internalized after his 14 – year – old brother’s untimely death. It could very well be a combination of any or all of these things. No matter the inspiration, one fact still rings true: Peter Pan is one of the most memorable and adored figures in all of children’s fiction. This character has inspired countless authors, illustrators, animators, and filmmakers, including one of the most successful directors in all of Hollywood: Steven Spielberg.


There are a variety of films that chronicle the adventures of one Peter Pan, most notably Disney’s animated classic released in 1953. While their take attempted to emulate Barrie’s stage productions and books, there is one Pan film that seems to have turn his timeless story on its head. Steven Spielberg’s live action fantasy, Hook, released in 1991, poses a rather fascinating question: what if Peter Pan did grow up? The film focuses on the life of one Peter Banning (Robin Williams), a successful corporate lawyer and the father of two children. He is the complete juxtaposition of Peter Pan; he is an extremely – goal oriented workaholic who can barely fit in spending quality time with his family. As he struggles to find balance between his profession and family life, his absence begins to cause tremendous strain on his relationship with both his children and his wife. His life takes an interesting turn when his children are kidnapped – by Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman). Banning then comes to the startling realization that he was once the infamous Peter Pan. Throughout his journey in Neverland, it is up to Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) and the Lost Boys to help Banning find his inner child in order to save his own children.

Spielberg’s Interpretation

Who exactly is Steven Spielberg’s Peter Pan? J.M. Barrie’s character is exactly who readers know him to be: a child who has the inability to mature into an adult. Although perceived as brave and boisterous through his actions and demeanor, Barrie does provide some insight to Peter’s psyche: the longing he has for a family. Evident through his fascination with Wendy as a maternal figure and his strong, “brotherly” bond with his Lost Boys, what Peter truly wants is to experience that unconditional love that family members have for one another. In Hook, Spielberg brings the underlying theme of family to the foreground of his story. Peter Banning has that natural bond with his wife and children Pan so desperately craves, but is letting his demanding job jeopardize their relationship. Spielberg’s Peter Pan is a father, struggling with what the majority of parents in today’s society also struggle with: finding a balance between work and family life. In his film, the tale surrounding children with no parents becomes a story about a father who – metaphorically – leaves his children (Friedman).

Robin Williams as Peter Pan, otherwise known as Peter Banning

In order for Banning to save his children from the clutches of his arch nemesis, Captain Hook, he must attempt to re – learn all of the unique skills that made him so extraordinary as a boy. Essentially, he needs to forgo using logic and reason – the way of thinking that dominates his adulthood – and instead embrace his imagination. As Banning spends more and more time with Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys, his transformation from man to Pan quickens, and he begins to take on the persona of a child. What proves to be most difficult for Peter is learning how to fly. He cannot seem to find a happy memory strong enough to make him soar. When Peter remembers why he accepted the responsibilities of the temporal world, and gave up his eternal childhood however, (Friedman) that all changes. The memories that allow him to fly are not about his adventures with the Lost Boys, games with Tinkerbell or battles against Hook and his pirates; they are about his children, and by extension, his parental obligation to love, nurture and protect them (Friedman). In Spielberg’s interpretation, Peter’s longing to be a part of a family ultimately takes over, and prompts him to make a huge sacrifice in order to be a father. Hook is not about remaining a boy forever, but highlights the necessity of growing up, and choosing external obligations over personal pleasures (Friedman).

Peter Banning, reunited with his family after his adventure in Neverland.

Steven Spielberg: Peter Pan?

Many critics and media – watchers have dubbed Steven Spielberg “the perennial Peter Pan,” cinemas ur-child who will not grow up, gifted with a child’s eye and childlike wonder (Pace). But his colleagues aren’t the only ones who would stand by that sentiment. In fact, Spielberg is a self – proclaimed sufferer of Peter Pan Syndrome, the belief that one will never, and more importantly, must never grow up. In fact, many claimed that Hook was supposedly ‘Spielberg’s ultimate autobiographical project’ [Taylor 1992: 136] (Morris); throughout the 1980s, he was saddled with a Peter Pan image, partly due to his own self – promotion in which he referred to both his enthusiasm for adolescent playthings and his desire to film Barrie’s classic (Morris). But by the time Hook was finally released in 1991, Spielberg’s outlook had drastically changed:

“My son [Max] was born, and I lost my appetite for the project. Because suddenly I couldn’t be Peter Pan anymore. I had to be his father. That’s literally the reason I didn’t do the movie back then…In a way, my son took my childhood away from me. But he also gave it back to me. When he was born, I suddenly became the spitting image of my father and mother…I guess now I can appreciate even more who my parents were” [Bahiana 152 – 53] (Friedman)

Hook is a prime example of Spielberg’s conflicting ideals. On the one hand, there is his fascination with Peter Pan; the concept of never growing up is enticing to many, but as a director, a motion picture visionary, the thought of “growing up” and having to abandon your imagination is absolutely frightening. On the other hand, he has chosen to embrace adulthood by raising his own children, and having a family; suddenly, his exciting career must take a back seat to the mundane responsibilities of family life. Spielberg’s interpretation of Barrie’s work is in a way autobiographical. Banning mirrors Spielberg in more ways than one, but these parallels are universal struggles among all parents and adults.

Peter Pan’s Influence on Storytellers

Both J.M. Barrie and Steven Spielberg were heavily influenced by Peter Pan. The character shaped Barrie’s career, and solidified his place among the great children’s fiction writers of all time. Although Peter Pan did not directly influence his childhood, the notion of never having to grow up stemmed from many aspects of his life. In comparison, Peter Pan did in fact have a direct influence on Spielberg’s childhood; Barrie’s book Peter and Wendy was often read to him by his mother (McBride) and was the principle text that shaped the Hook’s screenplay. Not only is Pan’s influence evident in Spielberg’s work, but also in the man himself. Spielberg embraced his personification of the fictitious character in the media. His larger – than – life imagination and eye for the whimsical has allowed him to create some of cinema’s most extraordinary films.

Both storytellers – granted their various mediums and styles – used the character Peter Pan to express parts of themselves. Barrie created him out of his own desire to never grow up, or perhaps to symbolize his brother’s spirit. Spielberg places himself in his film through his main character, Peter Banning, and his former self, the infamous Peter Pan. The internal battle between personal success and sacrifice for those you love is something many can relate to. What is simply fascinating about this boy who never grows up is that so many different individuals, across all demographics, can identify with him. It stands as a testament to just how timeless this character truly is.



Barrie, J.M. Peter and Wendy. Illus. F.D. Bedford. 1st. London: Hazel, Watson & Viney, Ltd., 1911. Print.

Barrie, J.M., and Anne McCaffrey. Peter Pan. Modern Library, 2004.

Dalby, Richard. The Golden Age of Children’s Book Illustration. Gallery Books, Web.

Friedman, Lester D. Citizen Spielberg. Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2006.                  Print.

McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. 2nd. New York, New York: Simon and               Schuster, 2010. Print.

Morris, Nigel. The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light. London: Wallflower Press,            2007. Print.

Pace, Patricia. “Robert Bly Does Peter Pan: The Inner Child as Father to the Man in Steven            Spielberg’s Hook.” The Films of Steven Spielberg: Critical Essays. Ed. Charles L. P.            Silet. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2002. 159 – 167. Print.

Rennell, Tony. “THE DARK SIDE the OF NEVERLAND.” Daily Mail:                                                    52. ProQuest Newsstand (Canada). Jul 26 2008. Web. 13 Nov. 2011                                    <                                                                                        url=>.

Springer, Heather. “Barrie’s PETER PAN.” The Explicator 65.2 (2007): 96-                                      8. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

Staff, HeraldScotland. “Tragedy behind Neverland: did JM Barrie cause                                         brother’s death?.” Herald Scotland. 10 007 2008: n. page. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.                   <             brother-s-death-1.884307>.

Walker, J. “Hide-and-Seek with Angels: A Life of J.M. Barrie.” Choice 44.6                                  (2007): 984. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

White, Donna R. S. (1994). British Children’s Writers, 1880-1914. Detroit, Michigan: Gale.

Clara Judson’s Flower Fairies: An Eco-Critical Analysis

© Copyright 2011, Megan Matsuda, Michelle Christodoulou

Judson, Clara Ingram. Flower Fairies. Illus. Maginel Wright Enright. New York: Rand McNally and Company, 1915. Print. 

“The fairies are as immortal as the human beings who created them.” (Duffy 13)

Clara Ingram Judson (1879-1960) was an American novelist born in Logansport, Indiana. An award-winning American writer during the early 20th century, she wrote a variety of works ranging from cookbooks to children’s stories.  During her professional career, Judson published over seventy non-fiction and fictional books for young children. Her first novel for the child was Flower Fairies, published in 1915. Flower Fairies provides young readers with various interrelated stories about fairies, accompanied with illustrations by Maginel Wright Enright. Enright was greatly influenced by Japanese prints, which inspired her use of watercolour and simple flat shapes as shown in Flower Fairies. Judson’s picture book presents readers with a close insight of fairies’ daily lives, origins, and society.

Megan Matsuda’s chosen context examines the flower fairy connection with Great Britain, as well as how this book connects with the United States’ arising environmentalism in 1915. The category, provided by Michelle Christodoulou, will investigate how fairies were represented in Judson’s picture book Flower Fairies,supported by the text and images. We will attempt to show how both context and category examines the connection between fairies and the eco-criticisms of the early 20th century. The book depicts the beauty of flowers using fairy illustrations, enticing children and acting against the modern technology and warfare of the time. By appealing to children, the work presents a positive attitude towards nature.


The Flower Fairy Connection with Great Britain

During the time when Judson’s Flower Fairies was published in 1915, the concept of fairies presented in stories and artwork continued to be a popular theme. It was still popular after the “Golden Age” of fairy art and children’s literature, which extended from 1840 to 1870 (Susina, “Dealing with Victorian Fairies”). In 1906, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens with illustrator Arthur Rackman had produced its famous fairy artwork, which gave another push of the fairy subject in literature and art. Conversely, the rise of the “flower fairy,” and the notion of using fairies within the realm of nature was not as mainstream in the United States than during the British Victorian era. There, fairies appeared in music, art, literature for both adults and children, and decorative arts for the home. Again, the controversial “Cottingley Fairies” series of photographs taken by two cousins in 1917 in England reinforced the admiration for these small beings.

Previously, fairies had been a part of English and Irish folklore since the 14th century (Susina, “Dealing with Victorian Fairies”), but not as widespread in America. Therefore, Judson’s work proves to be one of major influence in the United States, as it was possibly one of the first children’s literature works that mirrored the fairy fever happening in Great Britain during that era. Interestingly, Judson and Enright’s work acted as almost a prelude to the highly established flower fairy illustrations by Cicely Mary Barker, published in 1923. Following Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Coming of the Fairies in 1922, Barker’s illustrations acted as an escape from the Great War and the Depression. In many ways, Judson and Enright’s book did the same thing in the United States, acting as a front against the increasing industry and destruction during WWI. Ultimately, there is a flower fairy connection between Judson’s Flower Fairies and that of other flower fairy stories in English literature and artwork. For instance, in the late 19th and early 20th century, there were a variety of recurring symbols and motifs that were seen within flower fairy stories; many of these alluded to older English symbols found in literature. In Judson’s Flower Fairies, some of these are also used, which further shows the connection between the two countries.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I during the 16th century, there was a metamorphosis of her into the Fairy Queen symbol that was seen throughout literature and art during the span of fairy conceptions (Duffy 109). Also, the dress and appearance of fairies that typically wear green and red, with slippers, a cap and golden hair (Briggs 108-109), are also shown in Enright’s illustrations for Flower Fairies. Overall, pictures of sprites among flora have created an industry in memorabilia and stories for many years, (The Daily Telegraph, “Frolicking with the Flower Fairies”) having an impact on Judson’s work.

Spider dressmakers assist the Fairy Queen

Arising Environmentalism in 1915

The publication of Flower Fairies was centred around the time of intensifying world tensions culminated in World War I. With the new forms of industrialization, the new technologies were not only harming the environment through war, but also through advances in factories and agricultural machinery. The dispute over American environmental ideology in the early 20th century soon developed into preserving wild areas, growing from the panic surrounding overdevelopment (Black xv).

In Flower Fairies, Judson chose to use fairies in order to entice children, depicting the beauty and importance of nature. The short stories that Judson has written within the work all aim to explain an aspect of nature. Whether it is to explain the mythology of certain flowers, or why fairies have special names, all the stories use beautiful language to capture the essence of the landscape the fairies live in. There would be a connection many children would feel to these fairies, which are depicted in both writing and illustration as like children themselves. Through this understanding, the audience of Judson’s can adapt a positive attitude towards nature.

There is also a theme of fairies, which symbolize children and the American people, working in harmony with animals and wildlife. This could have been Judson’s intended message or a result of the publication, as the novel was available directly as new eco-criticisms were emerging in the United States. When WWI began, it emerged as a transitional war in which there were new forms of technology mixed with old forms of war (Black 12). This resulted in a brutal warfare system and an immense death rate. Animals were also used to the death, having to be replaced every month throughout the war. This was the context of Judson’s work being published, which in turn acted against the development of mechanized production. Furthermore, child labour was not uncommon at this time. Judson writing a children’s book about flower fairies, before the time of the worldwide popularity of Cicely Mary Barker’s artwork, perhaps speaks to the social setting the United States was situated in. For the work to be successful, the audience needed to be considered. Judson was likely to have known about ideas of environmental appreciation and the desire to revert back to the simple, natural life.

Between 1901 and 1907, Roosevelt reserved land from 50 million acres to 150 million acres in national forests (Rothman 52), which shows a desire to keep land away from industrial takeover. It is evident that there was a social criticism on the increasing technology. Through this, a flower fairies book entirely on the beauty and splendor of nature is more than just that. It represents an encouragement to young children and adults to love the environment around them, just as the fairies do.

Child-like fairies admire the golden flowers


Judson’s Representation of 20th Century Society through Fairies

The late 19th century encouraged the popularity of these magical creatures: fairies. In Flower Fairies,readers are given an idea of a fairy’s daily life, and what it would entail. The text explains how big fairies go to work and little fairies go to school. When they were done, they would go out and play till sundown (Judson 6). The fairies’ daily lives represent the ideal life in the early 20th century society. By romanticizing these fairies as innocent, childlike creatures surrounded by nature, it provides young readers pleasure and protects them from the harsh reality.

The fairies in the book are human in appearance. However, they are significantly smaller and have wings on their back. As well, the fairies value their appearance. One story in the book, “White Violet,” describes a fairy maid who always wore her finest jewels and clothes. A picture is included, with the fairy gazing in the water. The caption says, “they all dressed to look their best” (Judson 16-17). In most of the images, female fairies all wore long flowing dresses. The aesthetic dress was a popular style of dress during the late 19th century and carried well unto the early 20th century. The dress was made of natural materials, consisting of puffed shoulders and long flowing skirts. During this time, “rational and aesthetic dress reformers, long associated with socialism and bohemianism, promoted the “natural” body with only mixed success” (Maltz 398). The use of natural materials and clothing reflects the environmental ideologies through fashion. Fairies all wear different parts of natural materials from their environment upon their head. The fairies’ connection with nature shows the importance of caring for our environment, especially when World War I was destroying the earth through modern technology.

In Flower Fairies, the Fairy Queen governs the fairies. She is a character depicted as beautiful, kind, and wise. All of the fairies hold a great respect towards the queen. For example, when the Fairy Queen summoned all the fairies for a party, they all made sure to dress their best to impress her. In the story “Fairy Names,” the Fairy Queen’s duty is to name all the fairies in order to distinguish them from one another. As she gathered all the fairies in her kingdom to name them she fell asleep. The fairies did not dare wake her up in fear of displeasing her. The connection between the Fairy Queen and nature may reflect environmental ideologies. During the naming ceremony, the Fairy Queen decided all fairies would be named after whatever is on their brow; a twig or leaf. This demonstrates how the Fairy Queen’s integration of nature in the book reflects 20th century environmental ideologies. Furthermore, Susina observes how fairies during the nineteenth century were depicted as governess with wings. Thus, it can be argued that Judson’s Flower Fairies is a fairy tale for children not only to entertain them, but to teach morals to keep them away from the dangers of society, and enjoy nature.

The other aspects demonstrated throughout Flower Fairies are different ages, genders, and ethnicity groups. The book shows different ethnicities supported by Judson’s images. In the book, there is an image of two fairies sleeping. One fairy is a Caucasian fairy with red hair; the other could be a Japanese fairy. In contrast to the other fairy, she has dark hair styled in a Japanese bun and she’s wearing what looks to be a kimono. The illustrator, Maginel Wright Enright, was greatly influenced by Japanese prints, so perhaps she added a Japanese fairy in the book to reflect her interest. As well, there are various age groups and genders. Fairies are represented as adults and children. Although there are children and adults there are no male adult fairies. Judson’s Flower Fairies was published around World War I, where there was a great absence of men due to war. Then, “women began flocking factories, and working in industries in order to support their families while their male relatives were away at war” (Sandman). Judson reflects early 20th century American society. In order to protect children’s harsh reality and absence of male family members, Judson uses nature and beauty.

Enright’s inspiration from Japanese prints

Relations Between Fairies and Nature

The book shows the relationship between fairies and nature. Nature is very important to the fairies’ daily lives. Fairies use flowers as a source of shelter, food, and tools. The front cover has fairies utilizing flowers as trumpets. Also, flowers are used as a bed for the fairies and, “just as the sunrise broke, the flowers would unfold its petals ever so little to wake up the fairy” (Judson 5). The little fairies symbolize children and the need to connect to nature. “There is a large body of literature indicating substantial benefits for health and wellbeing are to be derived from contact with nature and exposure to natural environments generally” (Maller 522). The little fairies symbolize children and the need to connect to nature especially during a stressful time when WWI was happening, Judson uses nature to entice young readers. In the story “fire”, it describes when fairies discovered fire for the first time, and went to the Fairy Queen to tell her their discovery. To show her how the fire looked, they painted flowers the colours of flames. So when you see red geraniums it is to remind people the strength of flames and when roses are crimson it makes people remember the warmth of flames. Overall, all these stories have etiological purposes to explain flowers to the children. Thus, providing stories for the children about the flowers brings children closer to nature, and highlights the environmentalism of the time.

The fairy connection with nature


With influences from Britain’s Victorian era in Judson’s work, the fairies represent both a spiritual creature and the figure of the American child. This means the child is both characterized in the book and are the main readers, ensuring that the readers identify with the fairies. When they read Flower Fairies, a positive attitude towards nature emerges. Generally, the book is made to appeal to children, which furthers the idea that society, especially at a young age, should enjoy and respect nature. In an era of modern technology destroying the earth through warfare, Flower Fairies opposes this idea. The book ultimately gives forth a representation of beauty, presented by the fairies and flowers and through illustration and text. Judson and Enright created a children’s book that was one of the first in the United States to use the flower fairies motif. It was not until a decade afterward that flower fairies, with the artwork and literature surrounding them, started to become popular worldwide. Judson’s work was not just at the forefront of American fairy literature, but gave forth an idealized and utopian perspective of nature. Yet, can this not be said for all children’s books? Judson encourages her readers to help strive for a better world, and be kind to all, no matter if flora or friend.


Works Cited

Black, Brian. Nature and the Environment in 20th-Century American Life. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2006. Print.

Briggs, Katherine M. An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. Print.

Duffy, Maureen. The Erotic World of Faery. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972. Print

“Frolicking with the Flower Fairies.” The Daily Telegraph2. ProQuest Newsstand (Canada). 16 Jul. 2011. Web. 24 Nov. 2011.

Judson, Clara Ingram. Flower Fairies. Illus. Maginel Wright Enright. New York: Rand McNally and Company, 1915. Print.

Maller, Cecily Jane. “Promoting children’s mental, emotional, and social health through contact with nature: a model.” Health Education 109.6 (2009): 522-543. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

Maltz, Diana. “Dress Culture.”  English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 54.3 (2011): 396. Print.

May, Maggie. “Maggie May’s Historic Clothing: Period Attire for Ladies and their Children.” Maggie May Fashions. Maggie May’s Historical Clothing, 2000. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

Pemberton, Marilyn. “Enchanted Ideologies: A Collection of Rediscovered Nineteenth-Century Moral Fairy Tales”. Reviewed by: Jan Susina. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 36.3 (2010): 346-348. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.

Rothman, Hal K. Saving the Planet: The American Response to the Environment in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000. Print

Sandman, Catlin. World War 1. Jarred Joly Tripod, 2006. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

Susina, Jan. “Dealing with Victorian Fairies.” Children’s Literature 28.00928208 (2000): 230-7. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 24 Nov. 2011.

Pirates in The Peter Pan Picture Book and Morfar är Sjörövare

© 2011, Chris Johnston, Gustav Berg

O’Connor, Daniel. The Peter Pan Picture Book: An Illustrated Narrative of J.M. Barrie’s                Classic. Ill Alice B Woodward. Reprint of the 1907 ed. New York: Derrydale Books,            1980. Print.

The Peter Pan Picture Book


In this document we will make a comparison between the books The Peter Pan Picture Book and Morfar är Sjörövare, the title translates to “Grandpa is a Pirate”. We will look how the pirates are portrayed and analyze the books’ messages to the reader. We think that  belonging to the “right” country and/or ethnicity is a strong message in the books. So why do we analyze children’s literature? Our answer to that question is a quote by Peter Neumeyer “We simply must have faith that as students understand more, they enjoy more” (147). That has been our driving force in this project. Both books are interesting as historical documents from their time and place. We think that by analyzing them we will understand their context and appreciate the books more even though we might not agree with their messages. We also think that there are surprising similarities between these two books.

Alice B. Woodward (1862-1951) was an English illustrator from a family of artists and scientists (Beare). The illustrations for The Peter Pan Picture Book was made on plates and is one of her more influential works considering the book has been in print since its first publication. It is interesting to note that this is her first printed work in colour (Beare). Jan Lööf (1940) is a Swedish author and illustrator mostly known for his picture books for children (Nordvik). He has won several Swedish awards and is mostly known for the book and the show “Skrot-Nisse”, Nisse the Junk Man, which has a cult following. Very little of his work is known outside of Scandinavia. Lööf’s trademark in his books are machines, real or fantasy. Christopher Johnston has written the category part about pirates and the conclusion. Gustav Berg has written the introduction and the context part about Morfar är Sjörövare.


How the political state of the day influenced how the pirates were depicted in Morfar är Sjörövare.

Morfar är Sjörövare was released in 1966. This was amidst of what in Sweden is known as the “record years”,  which was the time period from the end of WW2 to the oil crisis in 1973 (Schön 367). The period known as the “record years” was a time of steady economic growth in Sweden, and that gave the government the ability to increase the living standard of most people (Stenmo 33). A result of this stability can be sensed in the book as it has an an aire of peace and security to it, even the conflicts are resolved “nicely”. We see it in a general way throughout the book on the people’s facial expressions, no one is ever displaying real anger or happiness. The book released  during a period in the cold war when the United States started war in Indochina and the relations between the young state of Israel and some of the Middle Eastern states was unstable, with two super powers supporting each side. This focus and interest on countries outside of the western world might be the reason we see Arabs in this story.. However this paper takes its point out of a re-release in 1975 and due to global events the story can be interpreted very differently.

The Yom Kippur war that took place in October 1973 between Egypt and Syria on one side and Israel on the other (Rabinovich xv). The conflict had a big impact on the Western world as well. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which represents most oil selling countries  of the Middle East, refused to sell oil to the countries helping Israel, mainly the United States and then the Netherlands. In January of 1974 the OPEC countries agreed of a price adjustment of the oil price which meant that since October of 1973 to January of 1974 the price of raw oil had increased with 400% (Bjereld 197). As an effect, the Swedish government decided to introduce ration laws for oil. These rations laws were abandoned in the first quarter of 1974 (Bjereld 207). Though not long lasting, the Yom Kippur war may have changed the portrayal of people with Middle Eastern background. In Morfar är Sjörövare the antagonist is the pirate Omar, a man that looks like he comes from the Middle East. He kidnaps Grandpa not with force but with cunning trickery; drilling a hole in grandpas pirate ship and capturing Grandpa and his crew from behind. The boy helps Grandpa to free himself by handing him a shovel, so he can dig himself out and win in a duel over Omar. The boy and Grandpa then run away since they are vastly outnumbered, and escape via an air ship. This suggest to the readers that the Arabs are cunning, and although there are many of them, a Swede/Westerner will win in a one on one battle against them.

The pictures

In our opinion the pictures represents two main categories. Firstly, the pictures reinforce a male stereotype. Secondly, the pictures portray Arabs as a people that are different from Westerners. The pictures are also easy to identify with for the reader, which would make the message of the book for the reader more effective. We see the male stereotype and male as the norm in many ways in the book. There is only one woman with any influence at all in this story, and that is the boys grandma. She says grandpas stories are only imaginative and she therefore only represents a hindrance to the boy and grandpa to have an adventure and some fun. They also has to sneak past her when they start their adventure and they have, conveniently, lost all evidence of their adventure when they get back. We see this as a way of telling the reader that this is a book mainly for boys, and if your a girl listening to the story there will be no one for you to identify with, except maybe Grandma, and she is boring.

Grandpa is wearing a black hat with a skull on it, a red coat, an orange dress shirt, beige gloves and pants and black boots. Omar has a long black beard, and wears an earring of gold, a green turban with a diamond garnish, blue “Alladin”-pants, pointed shoes, a grey coat and golden neck warmer. Omar’s style is more gaudy or feminine, he even has longer nails. Omar loses in this book so therefore it could be implied that displaying femininity makes you weaker and therefore you lose.

Grandpa himself, is portrayed as a man of action and in control of his feelings, his behaviour is stereotypical male.  His lack of emotional display is almost profound, he smiles at five different places in the book, and the biggest smile is when he is engaged in a fight . He is mildly upset when he gets kidnapped and when the airship is sinking, but show no signs of fear which would have been appropriate in those situations. Grandpa does not comfort the boy nor does he thank him when the boy hands him the shovel that helps him escape from his prison cell. His inability to show emotions is a classical male stereotype, and something the boy can be assumed to pick up since grandpa is the closest role model to the boy in the book. Omar and his men are portrayed very differently than the pirates on Grandpas boat. Omar’s men are also drawn in the same way, they look like identical twins. Grandpa’s men are all drawn with individual characteristics and personalities. This could suggest to the readers that Westerners are individuals and the leader only has slightly more power, whereas the Arabs are one indistinguishable group that follows an omnipotent leader.

According to Scott McCloud it is easier for a reader to identify with a character if it is drawn in a more cartoonish or simplistic way than if it is to realistic (36). The argument is that a character with more general characteristics will be easier to identify with since the characteristics apply to more people than a character that is drawn realisticly. The pictures in grandpa is a pirate are cartoonish and should therefore be easy to identify with. Identification is perhaps further improved by the fact that the only character with a “proper” name is the antagonist Omar. This could then suggest that the interpretation of Arabs the other is reinforced to the reader by the easy identification of the main character. Having this images and values presented to you at an early age would sets the foundation for your symbolism (Nodelman 106), in this story following the Western tradition. We realize that every mind will have a starting point set somewhere and we do not think that Jan Lööf had a secret agenda behind it . We see it more as an example of the time, with all that it implies.

We are not implying that Jan Lööf tries to promote a negative view towards Arabs, the story is testament to a time where our contacts with other cultures where more naive. We also recognize that Omar is one of few racialised characters in a picture book for children at that time.  However we think that during certain circumstances, the story could contribute to the formation of negative views against Arabs.

This is even more interesting due to the fact that Jan Lööf himself writes, in his book Jan Lööfs serier vol1, that anti-racism is a question that is very close to him, but that it is mostly focused on African-Americans and jazz-music. It could be that he had not reflected over these matters and Omar and his companions reflected the common mans view of people from the middle east at the time.


Political state of England at the time of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan

As Mary Brewer explains, “at the turn of the twentieth century, theatrical and literary ideas of race constituted important components of British public discourse, which helped shape the common understanding or radicalized subjects and related rationales for the subjugation of racial others” (387). Racial others in this context would be non-English looking whites.  As is the case with most fairy tales, in the story of Peter Pan there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters. A sense of British imperialism during this period suggests that in Peter Pan the Boys and Pan represent ‘good’ white Englishmen, and Captain Hook as a ‘bad’ racial other (Brewer 389). Based on the heightened sense of British imperialism during this period, perhaps Neverland is a depiction of the young, independent country the United States. Much like the United States, Neverland has native peoples, a land of opportunity and exploration that is separated from England by water, inhabited by pirates and native indians (racial others), and crocodiles. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century literary and theatrical devices were used to support patriotism and a sense of imperialism to the British public especially the middle and working class (Banham 157).  These devices such as books,  provided a romanticized view of the British empire to its public.  O’Connor & Woodward’s The Peter Pan Picture Book, adapted from J.M. Barrie’s screenplay provides examples supporting the previous statement that the Boys and Pan are ‘good’ white Englishmen. In order to avoid walking the plank, Captain Hook provides an option to the Boys. Hook proposes to the Boys that if they join his ship they would not have to walk the plank, but to do so they must proclaim, “down with King Edward” (O’Connor and Woodward 87). To this neither of the boys would agree to and as such, Captain Hook deemed that their “doom was sealed” (O’Connor and Woodward 87). Being the brave young Englishmen that they are, the Boys who would not declare down with King Edward and proceeded to sing “Rule Britannia” in the face of Captain Hook as he was attempting to force them to walk the plank (O’Connor and Woodward 88). Finally, the fate of the pirate Smee who was, “not so wicked as the rest of the crew” turned into a “reformed character and a brave sailor in His Majesty’s Fleet” once the crew disbanded following Captain Hook’s death (O’Connor and Woodward 92). The reformation of Smee from a ‘bad’ pirate to a brave sailor in the British navy further shows the British imperial undertones found in The Peter Pan Picture Book.

The role of gender in the Peter Pan Picture Book

Michael Egan argues that the serious study of children’s literature began with Freud who discovered evidence in folk and fairy tales to support his theory of the unconscious (37). Egan suggests that Neverland represents a child’s unconscious and that an Oedipal relationship exists between Peter Pan and Captain Hook (39). In the center of Neverland is Captain Hook, Peter Pan’s once greatest enemy as well an enemy to all children (Egan 47). Captain Hook as a pirate was not portrayed as a grungy, classless man, but instead a handsome one who enjoys quality clothing, music, drink, and a sharp mind (Egan 49). If an Oedipal relationship exists between Peter Pan and Captain Hook, then Pan must be the son and Hook the father. Peter Pan’s victory over Hook adds to this. In the Peter Pan Picture Book Wendy was portrayed in a motherly manner to the boys while in Neverland. Aside from the obvious age difference between Pan and Hook the aforementioned interests of Hook in conjunction with his ship, crew of other pirates, and suave nature makes him seem more mature or fatherly in comparison to the children. In the part of the book where Captain Hook captures the boys, Egan states that Hook charmingly escorts Wendy away from her home because she was fascinated and entranced by his gentlemanly personality (51). Wendy taking on a motherly role in the book, as well as the characteristics indicated of Captain Hook, and Peter Pan representing eternal childhood shows the Oedipal triangle of mother, father, and son. In the final battle, Hook, having trouble fighting against Pan asks whom he is fighting to which Pan replies “I’m youth, I’m joy. I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.” (O’Connor and Woodward 91). Pan then pushes Hook off his own ship and into the jaws of the crocodile who already had taste of his hand. By Peter Pan defeated Captain Hook, he must replace Hook as the father in the Oedipal role with Wendy. This is seen at the end of the book where Pan and Wendy exchange a kiss in combination with Pan and the Lost Boy’s desire for a mother in Neverland.


The imagery of pirates/Captain Hook in the Peter Pan Picture Book

Captain Hook is shown in The Peter Pan Picture Book as a tall, slender, dark haired man whose right hand is a hook. This image is shown in a print corresponding to the text on page 91. The text of that page depicts the Boys and Hook fighting on the ship. While fighting Hook is shown toting two pistols, one in his left hand, one tucked in his sash, and his hook held up in the air as if ready to strike down. He has a mean snarl on his face and an aggressive confrontational stance. The images of Pan from the Peter Pan Picture Book arguably set the standard to which Captain Hook and his pirate crew would look like in other forms of media proceeding the first 1907 publication. Captain Hook is portrayed in a less cartoonish, more realistic way than Grandpa from Grandpa is a Pirate.  McCloud states that images drawn realistically are done in order to objectify them and emphasize certain characteristics that may separate them as different (44).



Through our exploration of the political state of the respective countries to which Morfar är Sjörövare (Grandpa is a Pirate) and The Peter Pan Picture Book we found that it played an important role in the works’ content. During the 1960s when Morfar är Sjörövare was written and first published, Sweden was experiencing a steady economic growth with high levels of equality amongst classes. The second print came following the Yom Kippur War which took place in the middle east, the same place that the protagonist Omar is depicted to rein from. The Peter Pan Picture Book was written during a sense of British imperialism and a heightened sense of patriotism. This was a period of British pride and loyalty. Captain Hook was anti-England as he made the boys declare down with the King if they were to join his rank of multicultural pirates. We also found that an Oedipal relationship exists between Peter Pan as the son, Wendy as a mother, and Captain Hook in a Oedipal father role. In Morfar är Sjörövare there is only one woman with any importance to the story, the Grandmother. It was found that stereotypical 21st century ideology of men and women was found in Morfar är Sjörövare in regards to Grandpa’s actions towards his grandson and the Grandma’s representation of hinderance of imagination. As one can see, these books written at different times, in different countries has created a vastly different interpretation and presentation of pirates. But nonetheless they present to the reader a view back to the day they were released and in some cases an understanding that the interpretation of the story can change in as little as ten years.



Beare, Geoffrey. “Woodward, Alice B.”  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature.       Edited by Jack Zipes. Oxford University Press 2006.  Ryerson University.  23                       November 2011  <                               subview=Main&entry=t204.e3451>

Bjereld, Ulf. Svensk Mellanösternpolitik. En studie av Sveriges agerande och                             ställningstaganden gentemot konflikterna i Mellanöstern 1947-1985. Stockholm:                   Carlssons bokförlag, 1989. Print.

Brewer, Mary. “Peter Pan and the White Imperial Imagery.” New Theatre Quarterly 23               (2007) 387-392. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.

Egan, Michael. “The Neverland of Id: Barrie, Peter Pan, and Freud.” Children’s                         Literature 10 (1982) 37-55. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.

McCloud. Scott. Understanding Comics – The Invisible Art. New York: Kitchen Sink Book.        1993. Print.

Neumeyer. Peter. “Children’s Literature in the English Department.” Children’s Literature          Association Quarterly. 12.3 (1987): 145-50. Print.

O’Connor, Daniel. The Peter Pan Picture Book: An Illustrated Narrative of J.M. Barrie’s            Classic. Ill Alice B Woodward. Reprint of the 1907 ed. New York: Derrydale Books,            1980. Print.

Nodelman, Perr. Words about pictures -The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books.              Athens, GA: Uuniversity of Georgia Press, 1988. Print.

Nordvik, Enar. jan lööf. Web. Nov 13. 2011. <>.

Rabinovich, Abraham. The Yom Kippur War – The Epic Encounter That Transformed the            Middle East. New York: Schocken Books, 2004. Print.

Schön, Lennart. En Modern Svensk Ekonomisk Historia: Tillväxt och Omvandling Under två       Sekel. Stockholm: Sns Förlag, 2007. Print.

Stenmo, Sven. The Evolution of Modern State -Sweden, Japan, and the United States.             New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.

tags: O’Connor, Woodward, Alice B., J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan Picture Book, Peter Pan, Morfar är Sjörövare, Grandpa is a Pirate, pirates, Captain Hook, Neverland, Chris Johnston, Gustav Berg

The Contemporary Mermaid vs. the Historical Mermaid

Wilde, Oscar. The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde. New York: Hart Publishing Company INC., 1975. 129-180.

© 2011, Danica Nelson, Veronica Porfilio

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was an incredibly talented author that produced multiple famous bodies of writing during his lifetime. He came from a family of unconventional, well-educated parents that were both established writers. Wilde faced a difficult time in his life when he began to recognize his own sexual nature at a time when homosexuality was just beginning to be whispered about (Young). Although he was married with two children, he was involved with many young men, one of which was publisher’s office boy (Young). Homosexuality was illegal in this period of time and Wilde was tried twice for homosexual offences, and imprisoned for two years of hard labor (Young). His wife left him, his children were taken away, and upon release from jail his writings were banned and he had no choice but to exile in France where he died a few years later due to multiple health issues (Young).

 Origin of mermaids

Mermaids have evolved from many Ancient stories all merging the relationship between gods and men (Gilbert, 20). The Ancient Greek ancestors to mermaids are called Sirens. Sirens were portrayed as being seductresses who lured sailors in with their captivating voices (Giesecke). They were also viewed as being exceptionally beautiful beings. These ideologies were passed on to mermaids. In Oscar Wilde’s story The Fisherman and His Soul the main mermaid in the story is described as “So beautiful was she that when the young Fisherman saw her he was filled with wonder, and he put out his hand and drew the net close to him, and leaning over the side he clasped her in his arms.” She has gold hair and her tail is silver and pearl (Wilde). She is described in a very sensual nature when Wilde describes the mermaid’s bare chest, “cold waves dashed over her cold breasts” (Wilde).  This is in keeping with the ancient ways of viewing mermaids as seductresses because Wilde is describing the Fisherman’s very carnal first response to the half naked mermaid.

In this image illustrated by Paul Bacon the mermaid is depicted as a whimsical and feminine creature with her long, flowing hair and naked bosom. This image solidifies the readers’ understanding of the mermaid as a seductress and captivating as she has all the fish surrounding her.


Mermaids find solid literary roots in Ancient Greek mythology, which Wilde uses in his story to enhance the credibility of his mermaid character. She is very traditionally depicted through her captivating voice, which is what causes the Fisherman to fall deeply in love with her. The Fisherman wanted nothing more than to spend eternity with the mermaid but was unable to do to because the mermaid had no soul, which is a direct influence of early Christian literature.

Christian View of mermaids

Early Christians held fish as a sacred symbol for Christ. The fish became a commonly known archetype symbolizing God as the savior for man (Gilbert, 30). During the first millennium, when astrological signs were first created, two fish represented the sign for Pisces. The lower fish was known to be a mermaid or “devil fish” (Gilbert, 30). The battle between Christianity and mermaids was apparent in literature including Wilde’s work The Fisherman and His Soul. The mermaids in this work are depicted as having no souls. The Fisherman must wish his soul away in order to live eternally with the mermaid. The priest in the story will not help the Fisherman in wishing his soul away because he suggests that the sea folk are unable to differentiate between good and evil seeing as they have no souls. The priest tries to stop the Fisherman from associating with the sea folk.  This is a direct influence of early Christian literature, which cursed mermaids to eternal damnation because they have no souls (Gilbert, 30). Early Christian literature has a strong influence in how mermaids are portrayed in Wilde’s story and even in Disney’s story.

Early Christian literature then had an account of a mermaid named Liban, who was baptized in the Church and provided with the opportunity to die and go directly to heaven (Gilbert, 30). This was a pivotal point in the telling of mermaids because it allowed for a different type of story to be told of mermaids, rather than simply being soul-less creatures unable to find redemption. This crucial change is evident in Wilde’s story The Fisherman and His Soul. At the end of the story the Fisherman’s soul had tried to become one with him again, but was unable to do so because the Fisherman’s heart was filled with the love he had for the mermaid. This shows that love is more powerful than anything, even if it be between two beings not born of the same nature. The priest would not bless the sea because he believed the Fisherman and the mermaid were “accursed in their lives” and did not deserve to be rectified in their death. Three years later when flowers mystically provided by the late Fisherman showed up in the Church and the priest felt overwhelmed by love, which causes him to realize he had been wrong in attempting to stop the love of these two beings and went back to the sea to bless it. This symbolizes Christian literature’s eventual acceptance of sea folk as being capable of redemption.

The Critical Connection Between Wilde’s Life and The Fisherman and his Soul:

Wilde faced a trial in 1898 for committing the “crime” of homosexuality (Russell). Are the connections between the storyline in The Fisherman and His Soul and Wilde’s real life occurrences somehow intertwined? A critical connection between the controversy of one man being sexually involved with another and going against religious commandments and a Fisherman falling in love with the forbidden life of the sea can be viewed in multiple ways. An interesting way of close reading of The Fisherman and His Soul is looking at Wilde as being the Fisherman. He was willing to give up the approval of those supreme advisors to him to stand up for what he truly believed in and to be with his love. Christopher Nassaar, a well-known Oscar Wilde scholar and English professor at the American University of Beirut said that Wilde’s emerging consciousness of himself as a homosexual in turn introduced him into a “demon universe” of sin, guilt, and atonement, one which required a series of masks to escape public scrutiny. (Russell). In the conclusion of the story, where the priest eventually accepts the unity of the two could be a hidden belief that maybe one way the church will accept homosexuality. He could have possibly masked his feelings into his work as he was affected by the scrutiny of the Victorian public.

This image illustrated by Paul Bacon depicts the mermaid caught in the Fisherman’s net. This may be a representation of Wilde feeling trapped by his Victorian society in being unable to be open with his homosexuality.


Mermaids Today

The contemporary mermaid as depicted in Disney’s The Little Mermaid follows much the same pattern as Wilde’s The Fisherman and His Soul. The Little Mermaid falls in love with a human, must sacrifice a part of herself in order to be with him and in the end the sea folk and humans are joined through the unity of two people (Clements). The Little Mermaid follows the same structure as Christian literature in describing the story of the mermaid. The mermaids in both Wilde’s The Fisherman and His Soul and Disney’s The Little Mermaid are most directly and profoundly influenced by early Christian literature. On both counts interaction between the two worlds is strictly forbidden on the grounds that is it not traditional for two people of different species to marry. In both Wilde’s The Fisherman and His Soul and Disney’s The Little Mermaid love proves to be stronger than any force in the world and conquers all. This may have been Wilde’s way of writing about his own homosexual love as it was not only unconventional in his time, but also it was illegal (Young).  Wilde even had himself thrown in jail because of his sexuality.  The end of his story is a utopian representation of the world accepting that love is greater than all obstacles in hopes that homosexuality would no longer be illegal.

Final Notes

The Fisherman and his Soul revisits Christian literature’s story of the mermaid, which directly influenced Disney’s work The Little Mermaid. Though the appearance of the mermaid has been altered over time, the main ideas and customs of the mermaid remain.  On all occasions, mermaids and humans are meant to live in separation from one another to avoid havoc within the world and keep traditions alive. However, Wilde’s work suggests that at times traditions must be broken in order for love to conquer all. Disney’s astonishingly similar storyline demonstrates the profound influence Wilde’s work has in fairytales; historical and modern.

Works Cited

Clements, Ron, Dir. The Little Mermaid. Dir. John Musker. Disney, 1989. Film.

Giesecke, Annette Lucia. “Mapping Utopia: Homer’s Politics and the Birth of the Polis.” College Literature. (2007): 194-215. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.

Gilbert, Krista Lauren. “The Mermaid Archetype.” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (2006): 1-218. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.

Jackson, Russell, and Ian Small. “Oscar Wilde: A “Writerly” Life.” Modern Drama 37.1 (1994): 3-11. ProQuest. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.

Wilde, Oscar. The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde. New York: Hart Publishing Company INC., 1975. 129-180.

Young, Ian. “Who Framed Oscar Wilde?.” Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 7.3 (2000): 24. LGBT Life with Full Text. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.