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The Frog Prince (The Frog King)
The origins of the popular fairy tale
The fairy tale also known as The Frog Prince and Iron Henry is a classic written by brothers Grimm.
In last decades it is mostly know by the name: Princess and the Frog, but if we want to understand the meanings behind all these titles, we should probably take some time to refresh our memories with a short summary of Frog Prince and then educate ourselves about amazing history of this famous story and its possible hidden meanings.
It is a well studied fairy tale, particularly popular at psychoanalysts, loaded with subconscious messages and none of its earliest version was never meant for children...
(All used images are Public Domain and Royalty Free)
The Frog Prince summary
The story starts with a king's daughter playing with a golden ball near a fountain in the forest. The ball drops in the water and she starts crying.
Suddenly a frog comes out of the fountain and asks her why is she crying. She tells him about the ball and frog promises to find a golden ball for her. But he want something in exchange. The princess is willing to promise him everything: her jewels, her clothes, even her crown, but frog wants something different: frog wants to become her companion and friend, to share her food and drink and even her bed.
She promises all he wants but thinks the frog can't be serious. After all she is a princess and a frog is just a frog. When frog bring her a ball, she takes it and runs to the castle already forgetting about her obligation.
Later, at the time for dinner, frog knocks on the door demanding what she promised. She still doesn't want to keep her word but the king, her father, supports the frog.
So the princess with an open aversion shares her food and drink with a frog and finally carries him to her bedroom.
The princess never took frog seriously!
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In princess' room the final clash occurs. She puts frog in the corner and goes to bed. He insists to put him up or he will tell her father.
Than she becomes very angry and trashes him against the wall. In next moment instead of frog handsome prince appears in front of her.
They soon became man and wife. After that prince's servant comes with a carriage.
His name is Henry and we find out he was so sad when witch put a spell on his master to transform him in a frog, he bound three iron bands around his heart to protect it against breaking.
On the way all bands break one after another...
Explanation of symbols
Beware: every symbol can be interpreted in various ways, so this
explanation (or any other work, no matter how many doctors are signed
under) can offer only some insight into astonishing power behind the
Read it on your Kindle!
This is digital edition of famous fairy tale illustrated by Walter Crane. He was He made a terrific job with this book.maybe the most influential illustrator of picture books in history.
He made a terrific job with this book. Crane didn't only made full colored illustrations but also rewrote the text and designed the whole book about the Frog who explained the princess how important is a given word. Frog King (as Frog Prince is also called) is one of the classics which should be known to every one. With this edition it is available free of charge!
The most obvious and most important symbol in this fairy is certainly a frog.
In general frogs brings good, although it can be connected to witchcraft. On symbolic level it is widely used and is in most cases connected with fertility, new life and optimism. This probably comes from ancient times and observations of first scientists who noticed frogs appearing 'out of nothing' on first warm days. They didn't know about hibernation and transformation, so these animals made pretty magic impression.
In ancient Egypt frogs were extremely popular because they were seen in huge masses after the floods of the Nile. Because Nile was source of life for the whole nation frogs were associated with life and fertility.
Seeing a frog can be interpreted as prediction of new opportunities, it brings good luck and it is linked with all sorts of transformation. In many cultures this amphibian is an intermediary between worlds of living and dead. In Japan they use the same word for 'frog' and 'return'.
When we talk about frog symbolism in fairy tales we should note fairy tales come from oral tradition of folk who was strongly connected with nature. With observing the astonishing amount of eggs the frog lays the link between frogs and fertility was also a logic consequence.
Frog meaning in fairy tales is in many cases very simple: frog predicts pregnancy. Remember The Sleeping Beauty? It was the frog who brought the good news about newborn finally on her way!
In The Frog Prince (The Frog King) the role of the frog is slightly different. It is not only a messenger, it also wants to be a partner. Sharing food and drink and bed... Well, it can be easily interpreted as a tale about growing up, maturity and possibility of pregnancy. In older versions of this fairy tale this is even more obvious than in Grimm's.
Grimms changed the story into a moral about importance of a given word and keeping one's promises, but it is still mainly a story about responsibility which is - let-s face it - actually the favorite subject of brothers Grimm.
More symbols' meanings...
The frog is not the only symbol in this fairy tale. I'll try to mention only the most obvious ones. Here we go:
- Golden ball: symbol of the vanishing childhood of the princess; when she loose it, she is so desperate she would give everything, even her crown to get it back.
Mythologists clearly see the sun in the ball and psychoanalysts explain it as pleasure, pure pleasure without responsibility, something only without a partner can be achieved.
- King: this one is easy. King in fairy tales in most times represents father (I will not go into depths of Freudian or Jungian approach) and always represents authority. His word is a law and he is the one who tells the princess she should keep her promise.
- Iron Henry: there are many interesting explanations of his role (I will present my original below), but some psychoanalysts think he represents mother. Proud mother who is happy and sad at the same time because she is losing a child. Prince and princess are getting married!
- We have more symbols: a forest (princess has to cross the forest to play with the ball and meet finally meet the frog), a castle (although the transformation of the frog could happen in any bedroom), a feast (not necessary representing appetite for food), a fairy tale number three (frog has three demands, Iron Henry three iron bands, in some versions there are three princesses, in others frog sleeps in her bed for three nights...), carriage by which they drive away in the ending scene (carriage can represent uterus) and many others.
But this should be enough for our little trip into depths of the story!
- Fountain: it is a symbol of purification and rebirth. In this case this is more related to the frog than the princess. There are also versions of the Frog King where water is unclear until the princess makes her promise.
Fountain can represent life force (this is true for a well too), inspiration and delight. Fountain of life is a known element in many fairy tales and it is also incorporated in Christianity through baptism. Water symbolism is always closely related to life.
Princess and frog
- there are many possible explanations of the basic elements
- to sum it up story talks about importance of given word and responsibility in human relations, especially among members of different genders
- the target audience are adolescents
The changes brothers Grimm made
It was the first story in first edition of Grimm's Household and Children Fairy Tales in 1812. Before we got the 'final' version in 1857 The Frog King came through many changes, mostly to improve the narration style, but there was also a lot of censorship. These can be read here:
Do you believe promises should be taken seriously?
Do you keep your promises?
Grimms' is not the most violent version!
There are many known versions of the Frog Prince. And there are Frog Princesses too.
There are versions with three princesses and without ball, there are version with deadly sick king who needs water to survive and only a frog with magic powers can provide it and there is also a variant from Scotland where the girls has to behead the frog before he transform into a prince.
We can also find a tale where the role of the frog is played by a snake and where the transformation of the beast into human being can happen only after burning the skin (groom has human form by night but he dresses into a skin in the morning), what reminds us of the myth about Cupid and Psyche.
None of known versions explains why the prince was enchanted. None of them involved the kiss.
Iron Henry is not present here, everybody's just fine without him
The Iron Henry
Who needs him?
Iron Henry is from dramatic point of view totally unnecessary. All characters in the fairy tale fulfilled their missions, we have a happy ending and there is really no need for the faithful servant, who is pretty unconvincing (if he was so faithful he probably shouldn't leave his master alone in a fountain, right?).
There is a psychoanalytic explanation about his role: he represents the missing mother,as we already mentioned above. With him the transformation of all members of traditional family should be completed.
Maybe, but from the narration point (and Grimms were not amateurs in this field) the ending with Iron Henry just becomes more boring. And we know from many fairy tales from their collection the didn't really bother if one of parents was absent.
So here is my little theory:
Grimms were for sure familiar with more than one version of the Frog King. One (from Germany, their fatherland) doesn't stop with the marriage between princess and the frog. He has to leave her and gives her a magic handkerchief. If the name on this handkerchief changes the color, she should know he is dead or unfaithful.
Later the color really changes and princess decides to go after him. She disguised herself into a soldier and succeed to get close enough to the unfaithful king, so he could hear how something metal loudly breaks. First he thinks about defection the carriage (just like in Grimms' version) but after he realizes these are metal bands around the heart of his sad wife.
He remembers her and happy ending follows.
I believe there is a good chance brother Grimm liked the idea of her love, dedication and fighting spirit, but not the idea of his unfaithfulness. So they used the idea of metal bands on the faithful servant instead.
And maybe I am wrong...
You have to kiss a lot of frogs
Where the expression "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince" comes from?
Transformation from frog to prince is the most attractive part of The Frog Prince, so it seem obvious the term You have to kiss a lot of frogs... and all related expressions originates in this fairy tale.
We have already noticed The Frog King is loaded with blackmailing, sense of duty, pressure, anxiety and violence, but there is no kissing scene in it, at least in the Grimms' lifetime.
Search for the origin of the expression in literature doesn't give definitive answer on the question above. We don't know when the kiss replaced beheading or trashing the frog against the wall. Best found explanation was: "You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince..." probably comes from americanized variants of the story.
This is very possibly related with generally present disneyification of classic fairy tales. We know how Disney changed The Snow White with addition of the kiss in the awakening scene and in The Frog Prince the same scene looks similarly justified. There is one more important change:
Princess and The Frog
Note: The Frog Prince (or Frog King) is in latest versions mostly known as The Princess and The Frog. The perspective on the story is changed:
- Princess becomes the title character.
- Princess is more important than the frog.
- The target audience is better defined.
The terms about frog kissing is closely related with the world of dating, but we can find it in other areas of life too.
In business, for instance, kissing frogs is closely related with persistence and willing to take risks. Most of successful businesses were not instant hits. Many entrepreneurs tried many things before they found a winner and this approach faithfully follows the values of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, represented in the Frog Prince and many of their other fairy tales.
The same stands with education (sometimes you have to do some things you don't like to achieve what you want), health (sometimes the first medicine will not help you and sometimes you have to take it for some time before you notice the results) and I believe this term is very true even when we are talking about lens making.
What do you say? Is this lens a prince or a frog? A princess or a toad?
Zabji kralj in simbolika pravljic - My main resources are in my native Slovene language
There is a link to my translation of Frog King with some interesting background and a link to my blog about symbolic of the fairy tales.
- Zabji kralj z razlago (The Frog Prince with explanation)
Full translation of The Frog Prince (Zabji kralj) in Slovene language, interesting facts about its history and its background.
- Simbolika pravljic (The Fairy Tales Symbolism)
My blog about usage of symbols in the fairy tales (Simbolika pravljic): fairy numbers, the role of the king, stepmother, colors and so on and on.
- The promise
How important is to keep one's promise? When we read fairy tales, we can notice it is very important!