The Frog King

When the Grimm brothers got a hold of this tale they went to town changing it to suit their agenda. The Frog King (you might know it as The Princess and the Frog) is a Grimm fairy tale about a princess, a frog and her promise to him that she really doesn’t want to keep. There were many versions before the Grimm one that involved multiple princesses, the youngest of which was the only one to find interest in the frog. The frog promises fresh clean water to each but only the youngest took him up on his offer. When the frog turns up later the princess reminds herself of her promise and keeps it in good faith all on her own. He asks for love and devotion and that devotion was shown by allowing him to sleep under her pillow thus breaking the spell. When he becomes a prince they consummate their love immediately and live happily ever after. Needless to say there was not nearly enough violence and entirely too much immorality (premarital sex!) for the Grimm brothers. So they combined a few fairy tales and added quite a bit to make theirs.

In the Grimm fairy tale The Frog King a princess plays alone at a stream in the woods. She is so lovely that the sun marvels at her beauty. She also is tossing a golden ball at this time because it is her favorite play thing. She accidentally drops the ball into the stream and starts to cry. The frog hops up at this point and says, “What’s going on, princess? Stones would be moved to tears if they could hear you.” She thinks the frog is slimy and repulsive but decides to share her woe about her favorite golden ball. The frog promises to fetch the ball if she would make him her companion. She is shocked at this suggestion for who has a frog as a companion? That’s disgusting! She agrees to it but when the frog gives her the ball she immediately takes it and runs away with the frog calling after her.

That evening at dinner with the royal court there is a knocking at the door. It is none other than the frog. The princess slams the door in his face and returns to her meal. The king asks his daughter about it and she spills the entire story, about the frog and her golden ball and her promise. The frog then recites a rhyme:

Princess, little princess,
Let me in.
Think back now.
To yesterday’s oath
Down by the cold, blue water.
Princess, little princess,
Let me in.

The king orders his daughter to keep to her promise and so she is forced to allow the frog into the dining hall. The frog then demands to be lifted up to the chair, the princess hesitates and the king orders her to do so. Then the frog asks to be lifted up to the table. After that the frog asks for her to move her plate closer to him so that he can partake of the meal as well. I have talked before about the import of breaking bread and sharing a meal with someone in Godmother for the Elves. It was a sign of fellowship, of forming a whole together, in this case it might be considered a wedding breakfast. She is raising the frog to be a peer on her level by doing this.

When it was time for bed the frog asked to be taken up to her bedroom and for her to turn down the covers for him. At this point the princess begins to cry. He is disgusting and clammy, slimy and misshapen and she does not want him in her bed. The king then scolds her for making the promise in the first place if she didn’t want to keep it and orders her to take the frog up to her room. Once in the room the frog asks to be lifted up to the bed. Again the princess hesitated and the frog threatened to tell her father if she didn’t. Then the princess gets angry.

She is tried of lifting up this creature that is so beneath her and she is done with his clinging ways. She picks up the frog, alright, and then hurls him as hard as she can against the wall. “Now you’ll get your rest, you disgusting frog!” This is when the magic happens. The princess’ act of passion results in the frog, upon striking the wall, to begin to transform, the creature that stands up from the foot of the wall is not a frog at all, but a prince. The princess has broken the enchantment. They immediately rush off to her father and ask his permission to marry which he duly grants. Safely married only then do they consummate their marriage. In the morning they pack up and a carriage pulls up outside from the prince’s kingdom ready to return him to his rightful place on the throne with the princess at his side.

At the back of the coach was perched Heinrich, a faithful servant to the prince who had been loyal to him all these years he was a frog in the forest. As they set off a loud crack was heard and the prince asked what it was. The servant Heinrich replied that it was simply one of the hoops around his heart breaking now that he no longer needed them to keep his heart from bursting with pain and sorrow from the loss of his prince. The loud crack was heard two more times before Heinrich’s heart was free.

Heinrich was completely an invention of the Grimms and actually stole his hoops around his heart from a princess who had hers break in a different fairy tale. The Grimms hoped to make him a national icon, standing up this loyal and true male character against a female who continually tries to wiggle out of a promise and so wrote him into their flagship fairy tale The Frog King.

I also found it interesting that the Grimms felt the need to place a male king into this fairy tale to tell the princess what to do and to order her to do what was right, especially since following her heart (against the wishes of her father, I’m sure he wouldn’t have liked her killing the frog in anger after making that promise) was what got her the happily ever after. Also having this be the message changes the fairy tale significantly. Unlike Beauty and the Beast, which teaches women that if they simply learn to love their husband he will no longer be such an animal, The Frog King urges the princess to be more discerning about her suitors. If she finds that she constantly has to lift him up to her level be prepared to kick him to the curb, and maybe the wake up call will finally make him into a prince.

Obviously this is not the version most well known in America. Here the Grimm fairy tale was rewritten again by the Victorians to a more Beauty and the Beast message. They also renamed the tale from The Frog King to The Princess and the Frog. In their version the frog asks for a kiss in return for retrieving the golden ball. The message becomes love the frog, be brave enough to even give him a kiss, and he will turn out to be the man of your dreams.

There is also a coming of age thread in both of these fairy tales. The princess goes from being a child playing with a ball to being a wife to a prince. Some say that the clammy, slimy, frightening and disgusting frog is actually a phallic symbol. The princess fears the frog and doesn’t want to touch it, let alone allow it into her bed. Eventually doing so marks her transition from a child to a woman.

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