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Computational Approaches to Narrative - Week 1

I was inspired by the readings on Defining Narrative by Abbott Porter and the idea of stories being adapted, yet still recognizable. The idea of the "traveling story" brings forth questions such as where does a story stop becoming one story and instead another? Where is that line? It also reminded me of the philosophical thought experiment about identity with the Ship of Theseus. Can a story follow this same logic? A story is not an object and follows different rules, but I thought there were some similarities. For example, if the ending of a story was changed, thus changing the overall moral of the story, is it the same story? Porter says this question can never fully be addressed due to our different interpretations of each story.

I also thought the idea of change and recurrence as inevitable in stories interesting - "Elements of a story persist even as they are subject to change" (24). Many fairy tales had been around for a long time before being adapted by Disney with the classic, Happily Ever After endings. I wanted to focus on these elements of change and recurrence. The fairy tale that came to my mind was The Little Mermaid. Before being adapted into the Disney version with Ariel, it existed as a slightly different version by Hans Christian Anderson. They major difference between the two is that in the Disney version, the little mermaid lives happily ever with the prince and in the Danish one, she dies. I had actually grown up watching the Danish version before I had seen the Disney one.

But there were also various other differences that should be noted, which I think affect the moral of the story and maybe how each person reads the story and what they take away from it. In the Danish version, the little mermaid has another reason for wanting to have legs and walk amongst the humans. Only humans have immortal souls unlike mermaids who merely became sea foam, never to live again. Only through marriage could a mermaid obtain an immortal soul if he loved her "so much that [she] were more to him than his father or his mother, and if all his thoughts and all his love were fixed upon [her]". However, mermaid tales are not attractive to humans and thus the idea of an immortal soul is a very big reason the little mermaid seeks the sea witch. Another element is the idea of suffering and pain that the mermaid endures to be with the prince:

"You will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly. Every step you take, however, will be as if you were treading upon sharp knives and as if the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you."

This also includes cutting off her tongue to give up her voice to the witch. Love and a kiss isn't enough like the Disney version. In the Danish tale, while the Prince loves her, it is "as one would love a little child. The thought never came to him to make her his wife." Marriage is what is stressed as the way to obtain legs and an immortal soul.

When it comes to the ending, the Prince marries a woman who he thinks saved him on the shipwreck and the little mermaid's sisters trade their hair to give her one more chance to survive. She must kill the prince before sunrise. Either he or she must die. Unable to kill the man she loves, she accepts her fate. However, she finds herself surrounded amongst the "daughters of the air", allowing her to obtain a chance at an immortal soul. So while the little mermaid dies in the human sense, she is allowed the chance to achieve an immortal soul, which was half her quest in the first place.

For me, I found these differences meaningful to change my perception of what I took away from each story. I wanted to use Tracery to mold these two stories into one and see if this would alter the story entirely, or stay the same in essence. What I found hardest was condensing the stories into merely actions/events and separating that from its discourse. I think this stands at a first attempt at examining the different elements of each story and combining them together.

The Tracery sketch generator can be found here.

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