“The Little Mermaid” has become popular around the world since the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen published it almost two centuries ago. Lucy Fraser’s The Pleasures of Metamorphosis: Japanese and English Fairy Tale Transformations of “The Little Mermaid” (Wayne State University Press, 2017) uses Japanese and American transformations of “The Little Mermaid” to think through the pleasures that the text provides for consumers. Building on Mayako Murai’s From Dog Bridegroom to Wolf Girl: Contemporary Japanese Fairy-Tale Adaptations in Conversation with the West, Fraser tracks transformations from the nineteenth century through 2008, with particular attention to literary and filmic media.
The binary languages of the title are matched by a series of binaries that Fraser identifies within The Little Mermaid and its transformations. Fraser shows how Andersen’s story presents readers with strict binaries – like human-merfolk, sea-land, and soul-soulless – only for the protagonist to transgress them. The Pleasures of Metamorphosis then presents readers with more binaries – between transformations that emphasize the (male, human) prince and those that emphasize the (female, non-human) mermaid, for example – to show the diverse pleasures inherent to the text. In so doing, The Pleasures of Metamorphosis traverses Disney’s classic animated film and Studio Ghibli’s more recent Ponyo (2008) as well as literature by a host of skilled writers, including Yumiko Kurahashi, Banana Yoshimoto, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Oscar Wilde, Kōbō Abe, Yōko Ogawa, Shūji Terayama, and Hiromi Kawakami. The book concludes by showing the promise of theories surrounding Japan’s shōjo, or girls’, culture for non-Japanese works.
Lucy Fraser is Senior Lecturer in Japanese at The University of Queensland, Australia, where she teaches Japanese language and literature.
Amanda Kennell is an Assistant Teaching Professor of International Studies at North Carolina State University who researches Japanese culture and contemporary media.
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