Ursula Explains It All
May 30, 2014 2:16 PM   Subscribe

That was really good. I usually don't like those "fairytale villains justify themselves in a comic/ironic/postmodern register" stories, but this one was great!
posted by Frowner at 2:27 PM on May 30, 2014 [10 favorites]

Ditto, frowner. "She was a few grunions short of a run," is going into regular rotation.
posted by themanwho at 2:31 PM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I take it this is the Disney version of the Witch, as the original enchantress in Hans Christian Andersen's story sliced out the mermaid's tongue with a knife.

That story, along with The Little Match Girl, the Snakes & Ladders game and Shockheaded Peter made me wonder as a youngster about the "you should be so lucky you're still young" rant I recall hearing form adults at the time.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:52 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Very nice!

In related news, has anyone seen Maleficent yet? The AV Club didn't think much of it, but I don't care, still gonna see it.
posted by emjaybee at 2:53 PM on May 30, 2014

Where do we keep our national treasures? Ursula Vernon is at least eight of them.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:11 PM on May 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Not yet, planning to see it with the kiddo. Will report back.
posted by corb at 3:12 PM on May 30, 2014

Thanks for that! Our kids were in a children's theater production of TLM last summer, and I now know that story (and those songs!) far too well. I might show this to my daughter. She's pretty savvy for a nine year old, and I'm curious about her take on it.

Also, is a Little Mermaid FPP by The Whelk considered to be eponysterical?
posted by mosk at 3:17 PM on May 30, 2014

"It’s well known that during Jafar’s tenure as Grand Vizier Agrabah had a flourishing Jewish community, including the noted scholar, historian and physician Ya‘acub Musa ibn Saba. Indeed, despite Jafar’s reputation for managing Agrabah with an iron hand, the city’s intellectual and commercial standing never recovered after he was deposed. With his successor—according to popular lore an illiterate boy Sultan Abu al-Ma‘ali’s daughter became infatuated with—unable to manage the city’s defense and civil services to the same level of competence, Agrabah became easy prey for approaching Turco-Mongolian armies."
posted by Iridic at 3:23 PM on May 30, 2014 [9 favorites]

Wow, that was impressive.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:30 PM on May 30, 2014

That is lovely, and describing Ursula Vernon as a national treasure is spot-on.
posted by seyirci at 3:31 PM on May 30, 2014

they could keep sirens in cages on whaling ships to call the whales in–fish-speakers to drive the king-of-herring’s subjects into the nets

I had to read that about ten times before I parsed it correctly. Thought she was talking about a very convenient way for mer-people to listen to music.
posted by Wulfhere at 3:53 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ursula-as-Ursula's thinking here plays well with my own pet theory about The Little Mermaid: that the Disney film read at face value is the prelude to a socioeconomic tragedy.


1. Ariel is a creature of the ocean. All of her family and friends and kin are sea creatures; merfolk, fish, crustaceans, and on and on. And she's more than just associated with all this aquatic life: she is royalty over it. One of the highest members of the aristocracy of the sea.

2. Eric is the prince and heir apparent of a seaside kingdom of humans. Humans in seaside economies subsist in no small part on what they take from the sea. What they take from the sea is fish flesh.

Ariel & Eric's love, however genuine it may be, binds together two civilizations fundamentally at odds with each other, with no clear indication of how the cultural and economic fallout will be handled.

If Eric outlaws pescatarianism and the production of industrial fish byproducts, he'll be sending the local economy into freefall; fishermen will be unemployed, villagers will go hungry, craftsmen and traders will lose their livelihoods. Even presupposing a long-term plan for fundamentally reworking the seaside economy, the adjustment in the short term will be profoundly austere and painful at best, with chaos or mass emigration a distinct possibility.

And yet, if he doesn't mandate these changes? Is his wedding gift to his red-haired bride the flat refusal to upset the status quo, a promise to definitively perpetuate the barbarism and savagery his people have historically and systemically visited on the creatures over whom she purportedly rules, to whom she and her family presumably offer protection? Does he ask her to concede not only her own ethical druthers but the whole basic concept of egalitarian treatment of her kingdom as equal to his own?

What satisfying compromise, even, could exist? These fish deserve our protection, those fish are beneath and can be slaughtered and eaten? Instead of outright destroying the local human seaside economy, move by half-measures to merely cripple it? The problems remain and the pragmatism is galling and cold in its own right.

The fundamental conflict of their marriage and the doom it entails is presaged in the opening of the film, as lusty human fisherman—Eric blithe and cheerful among them—reel in fish by the hundreds and manhandle their corpses. A lone fish escapes, by chance, thrown into the water by a fisherman, and heaves a sigh of relief at having not been, that day at least, murdered for food by humans. The fish swims down into the deeps.

The image is returned to later in the film, when Eric himself is thrown from a ship by an exploision; he falls into the water and slides breathless and unknowing toward a quiet death below the waves. Untouched, he'd be just a human casualty of the dangers of sailing in rough weather; mourned by his kingdom, replaced by marriage or birth by another heir.

But Ariel appears; Ariel saves him; Ariel falls in love. No sigh of relief, this time; no saving of the fish from the men. She acts, and by acting, dooms both kingdoms.

The kindest, noblest thing Ariel could possibly have done for her people, and perhaps for Eric's, is let him drown.
posted by cortex at 4:29 PM on May 30, 2014 [60 favorites]

Wait, so what the heck do the mer-people eat in the Disney movie, or is that conveniently glossed over and we must assume instead that it's like Mickey Mouse cartoons where he goes from feeding Pluto a steak to talking with Goofy and Clarebell Cow as equals?
posted by kewb at 4:31 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Eponysterical. Really, it took this long?

The Sea Witch Sets The Record Straight by Ursula Vernon.
posted by The Whelk
posted by Dreidl at 4:36 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I tell you what, I am actually pretty relieved that I'm not the only one who has spent this much time thinking about the economic groundwork of a cartoon about a singing fishlady.
posted by cortex at 4:47 PM on May 30, 2014 [13 favorites]

Ursula Vernon is like magic. She has a podcast that involves alcohol, a beagle, and ranted reviews of health food screeds: http://kuec.libsyn.com
posted by mikurski at 4:55 PM on May 30, 2014

That was really good, count me in on Team Ursula.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:27 PM on May 30, 2014

"She was a few grunions short of a run," is going into regular rotation.

Back when I worked in an art museum, "the grunions are running" was code for "all hands on deck; unexpected large party of children approaching."
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:31 PM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

you took her voice because you're an octopus. don't try to kid me.

do you know what the word "taco" means in a sushi bar? hint: it's entirely different from the meaning in a taqueria.
posted by bruce at 8:09 PM on May 30, 2014

Seanan McGuire has given me a certain fondness for sea witches and this tickled it.
posted by NoraReed at 10:09 PM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

So fantastic, thanks for sharing!
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:27 PM on May 31, 2014


I've been in lurv with Ursula Vernon's cartooning since she started doing these honey badgers. The Digger Omnibus and her other comic work are definitely on my list.
posted by Zed at 1:02 AM on June 1, 2014

NoraReed, she was my first thought as well....I may have just tweeted this at her.
posted by athenasbanquet at 6:19 PM on June 1, 2014

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