First of all: Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for many things this year, including my publisher, Sourcebooks, the great people who work there, and all of my readers. Thank you for giving me an audience for bizarre notions.
I’ve been on vacation from the day job, and cleaning, and therefore listening to the soundtrack to Once On This Island–which is The Little Mermaid, but in the Antilles and with class divides instead of actual mermaids. And is by far my favorite version of the story.*
OMGSPOILERALERT: it does not have a happy ending. (Well…bittersweet.)
And while I usually tend to avoid stories without happy endings, and don’t particularly complain if those endings get changed so I don’t come out of the show needing half a bottle of vodka and a small puppy, I’m okay with the sadness in OoTI. In fact, I think that particular fairy tale, both in the original and in the newer versions, is one that really doesn’t go happy, by nature.
Why? (Other than “The original is by Hans Christen Andersen, and dude needed some serious SSRIs”, I mean.) Because neither the hero nor the heroine is in love with a real person.
In every single version of the story, the heroine doesn’t really know the hero at all when she chooses to make some sort of horrible sacrifice for him: she just thinks his world is The Best Ever. (Ti Moune in OotI has the most legitimate desire there, which is another reason I like the musical–while the chick doesn’t exactly formulate a sophisticated theory of income inequality, I have a lot more sympathy for “Hey, my life is full of poverty and suck, theirs seems pretty cool, WTF?” than I do for Poor Little Undersea Rich Girl.) She meets a guy who’s from that world, he’s cute, he’s in trouble, and…she’s sixteen. Not the best age for getting it.
This comes across semi-strongly in all versions I’ve seen. What’s less obvious, or what was less obvious to me, is that the same thing goes for the hero. Daniel in Island is most blatant about it: there’s this bit in the deliberately-OMG-sketchtacular “Some Girls”, where he’s singing about how Ti Moune is “not small talk or shiny cars”, and I remembered that she was singing about…wanting a shiny car…not five musical numbers ago, and was all “…oh, honey, no” at both of them.
Because in every single iteration of the story, it comes down to He/She Is So Very Different, on both ends. He represents this exciting new world! She’s exotic and mysterious and not bound by my social constraints! It must be love!
And oh, hey, it’s time for a TV Tropes link that will destroy your life: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LovingAShadow . We’re talking Aragorn and Eowyn here, and Scarlett and Ashley, and…nothing that actually works in the end. It doesn’t work even if the other person’s projecting onto you as hard as you are onto them, because nobody lives up to the fantasy. People are people; they may work as symbols in some contexts, but that doesn’t last. If you don’t know them and like them as a person already when they break archetype…that’s not going to be pretty.
There’s this bit in Island–see, I was totally coming back here–where Ti Moune’s mom is trying to convince her not to follow Daniel. You’ll find some other boy to save, she says, and then a little later: Your heart is young. New dreams are everywhere.
And the thing is? She’s right.
Which actually tangents into one of the other reasons I like the play: it’s a lot broader than the basic love story, tragic or not. It starts with the island itself, the two “worlds” of peasants/Grand Hommes, and the gods; it ends not with Ti Moune’s death, but with her legacy to the wider world; and the secondary characters are only barely “secondary” at all. That song I quoted above? I am not a parent, nor do I anticipate becoming one, but damned if that didn’t hit me the hardest of anything in the play, that final recognition that someone you love is going to destroy themselves, probably, for no good reason, and there’s nothing you can do except love them and let go. It’s a gutpunch, in a good way.
Well, in an artistically excellent way.
More minorly, there’s Andrea, the girl who at first seems to be the Evil Fiancee, and who *is* pretty damn catty at first. Except then she realizes that Ti Moune is naive enough to think Daniel’s going to marry her, and Daniel, the git, hasn’t said Word One to disillusion her, and she switches to harsh-but-sympathetic: dude, she doesn’t know, you *have* to tell her, what are you doing? It’s a more complex take on the trope, and I like it.
Also, the music just makes me happy. I don’t have musical training of any sort–barring two semesters in ninth grade and some drunken Rock Band–but the songs are catchy, the lyrics are good, and it seems to me that many of them fit with the transformation theme of the original fairy tale. There are a *lot* of Dark Reprises, there are a lot of bridges in one song that come from another, and there are two songs in particular–“Forever Yours” and “Some Girls” that start out as sweet, sentimental love songs and become something very different by the end. Being as fond as I am of different iterations and playing with archetypes, I couldn’t help but like that.
Plus, Papa Ge is just made of awesome. I have a distinct soft spot for morally ambiguous death gods.
*Admittedly, this isn’t hard. The Disney version inspires a lot of “shut up, Ariel”, because I have little patience for Nobody Understaaaaands Meeeee teenage angst, and also some speculation about whether she’s like the Timothy Treadwell of the undersea kingdom, all infatuated with things that want to eat her friends…ooh, or like those club kids in S2 of Buffy.
Which, on at least one blog, turned to a debate about whether merpeople and the other Triton’s-Kingdom folk…Tritonians…eat fish, with Defense Exhibit A being the way Crazed French Chef and Ursula eating the…polyp things?…and the shark are played for horror, and Prosecution Exhibit A being, well, dude, what *else* do they eat? And it never got settled either way, but this is why I love my other blogs.
ETA: Also, Wiki says the music’s by Stephen Flaherty, who also wrote “Ragtime”, which…”Back to Before” is one of my go-to wistful angst songs, so that makes sense.