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The Frog King

Updated on October 27, 2014

A relationship or a business deal?

Illustration by Paul Meyerheim (1842-1915)
Illustration by Paul Meyerheim (1842-1915)

Kissing frogs or living your fairy tales?

Brothers Grimm wrote more than two hundred fairy tales and about a dozen of them became classics, known all over the world. The Frog King, also known as The Frog Prince, is one of them.

They found it particularly important because they put it in the first spot of their collection and it stayed there in all seven editions published during their life.

This story also entered in pop culture with widely known quote about kissing frogs in order to find a prince and with about five hundred years of history and many variations we can use it as a great studying material about some important changes in society.

We'll focus on three main characters and the goal of the story which is of course the marriage between the princess and the frog.

Brief summary

Princess lost a golden ball and frog helped her in exchange of her word. She promised to be his friend only to get her toy back and then ran away. But her father insisted she should keep her promise what finally lead to transformation of the frog into handsome prince.

There are many ways to interpret this tale and you are welcome to explore them through further readings at the end of the article. Here we'll investigate only the powers of all involved characters and their conflicts in relation with the marriage.

Successful marriage needs more than two people

Illustration by Walter Crane (1845-1915)
Illustration by Walter Crane (1845-1915)

The Princess

She is young and beautiful. (Even the sun admires her.) She is immature what is shown on several occasions. It looks playing is all she does in her life. Losing a ball is not a sign of responsibility as well. Keeping her word? No, thanks!

Even when her father gave clear directions, she still tries to avoid the responsibility. Grand finale is the scene in her bedroom. She drops annoying frog against the wall so hard it transforms!

Princess and a frog (by Anne Anderson, 1874-193?)
Princess and a frog (by Anne Anderson, 1874-193?)

While the princess is desirable as a possible wife from physical point of view, she is incompetent and obviously needs guidance.

This is provided from the highest authority - her father.

We need to understand her position. She is young, very young. If she would be older and more experienced, she would already be married and had couple of children. Or she would be dead because of diseases or complications at births.

The reality of 19th century was harsh. Yes, they loved a romance just like people in 20th and 21st century, but they lived in reality.

The King

It's hard to read anything from Carl Jung without immediately connecting a king with a figure of the father and we all know what is the role of the father: to protect and guide his offspring. He does exactly that in the story of Frog King. Although he is not violent, his authority is indisputable. His word is a command.

Princess is a teenager. As every teenager she tests the boundaries. Father's job is to keep her in the safety zone until she settles up with another competent person: her husband. Please note: there is no mother in this fairy tale.

Prince from The Frog Prince (by Walter Crane)
Prince from The Frog Prince (by Walter Crane)

The Frog

He is the ultimate suitor. When frog notices her problem, he is willing to help only if she promises to start a relationship with him. Being ugly, even repulsive, he doesn't care about his physical apparence. All his actions are directed in one way only: he wants to get in her bed. He uses everything he can to achieve his goal. When this is not enough, he uses the authority of her father and her feelings are never his slightest concerns.

When he transforms in prince, we find out he was enchanted by a witch. None of dozens known variations of the story explains why did happened. Maybe every man is actually a frog by default until he manages to find a girl willing to help him gaining a human form?

Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)
Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

Appearance

One of most obvious messages in the Frog Prince is not to judge others by appearance. Same is true in The Beauty and the Beast. But if we stay at this statement we would be hypocritical. In both cases the beauty of the brides is described in superlatives and after transformations of both grooms we are informed they are handsome too. In majority of fairy tales appearance does matter, what is probably most clearly presented in The Puss in the Boots.

Source

Marriage

The fairy tale of the princess and the frog is very stereotypical. It's all about male dominance and female submission but it actually faithfully reflects the situation in society. Everybody has to play his or her role, assigned by birth. The frog has to conquer her. She plays hard to get. Her father leads their actions to the successful ending.

From biological point of view success is creation of children. Marriage is not necessary for that and in early versions young couple actually sleeps in bed before the marriage is even mentioned. But in later versions marriage becomes more important and brothers Grimm systematically deleted extramarital activities in all fairy tales of their later editions.

Many old fairy tales follow the same story pattern. He has to prove his abilities before he 'earns' her. We can easily find hundreds of examples of the same behavior in animal kingdom as well. While it looks she is considered only as sort of trophy, biology never cared about emancipation. Male should carry best possible genes (fast, strong, courageous), so he has to be tested.

Reward for all his risks are children. While a mother always knows her children carry her genes, male never knows, so he is trying to be as sure as possible. This is the reason why brides in fairy tales are always very young and isolated from the rest of society. This is the reason why they are passed directly from fathers to husbands.

Is The Frog Prince outdated?

Do you think classic fairy tales promote too conservative values?

See results
Illustration by Anne Anderson (1876-193?)
Illustration by Anne Anderson (1876-193?)

Originals and improvements

What makes this particular fairy tale standing out from the crowd are probably rewritings of brothers Grimm.

They were not only collectors of old tales and guardians of folklore, they were also active chroniclers of their times.

They lived in 19th century when new states were formed, traditional centers of power vanished and many time-tested patterns were lost.

One of the biggest changes was a breakdown of a traditional family as a basic social unit. Thanks to many shifts in society young people suddenly gained a lot of freedom and freedom always brings risk.

We could also say it is a synonym for responsibility. Brothers Grimm probably felt the danger of thousands and thousands marriages based on impulses rather than careful considerations. This is where the king hard to replace. He doesn't only present the authority, he also preserves traditional values and guides passionate youngsters with his experience and wisdom.

Brothers Grimm believed traditional marriage was best possible environment for raising children (they had plenty of opportunities to see how hard can be a life of a child without one or both parents, they lost their father at early age, too) and in traditional marriage love of two young people wasn't enough.

They sincerely believed in extended family.

Love is only part of equation. In their fairy tales the opinion of fathers is important as well. Were they conservatives? Yes of course. Did they try to preserve the status quo in society? I don't think so. I'd rather say they wanted to keep at least some order in chaotic changes with unpredictable results.

Illustration by Walter Crane (1845-1915)
Illustration by Walter Crane (1845-1915)

Living happily ever after

We can look at fairy tales from different perspective as well. 'Living happily after' is a cliché, but for young audience it probably has much better (and comforting) effect than 'they lived until they divorced'. Listening her father sounds boring, but in majority of fairy tales we also see conflicts of generations and youngsters in the end always gain at least some kind of independence.

This is probably the most important message of all fairy tales. Kids grow up. They make mistakes but in the end they are able to become responsible citizens. They can use some wisdom of older generation by the way as in the story of Frog King, they can succeed despite the mistakes of their parents (like in The Sleeping Beauty) or they can even find happiness thanks to mistakes of their parents (like in The Beauty and the Beast).

And the most subversive message? Despite all the archetypes everything is possible!


Do you need more?

All used images are public domain because they were first published before 1923 and their authors died more than 70 years ago. More about vintage illustrations you can find on:

http://topillustrations.wordpress.com/

If you would like learn more about The Frog King (Frog Prince), you can check next article which deals with explanation of some of the most important symbols and variations of this fairy tale:

http://tolovajwordsmith.hubpages.com/hub/frog_prince

Do you think the princess in The Frog Prince should be more active?

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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting hub!

      I have seen and know of many traditional marriages and in many cases such marriages is just about having a wife to have kids and the rest of the marriage is silent. There is no life for the women. The fairy tale thought does not fit into reality something to dream about but nothing more. I do think the Frog Prince should be more active.

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 3 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      You wrote about the suitor only wanting to get into her bed. I think you miss the point that she was rich and spoiled and had value for her position and wealth too. That was part of her desirability too.

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      We can find many issues in traditional marriages. Not only brides, grooms are often pushed into marriages against their will. There are many problems with modern marriage which is becoming a disposable item like everything else. It is not my intention to judge what is better or what is 'lesser evil'. I simply state fairy tales are reflection of society and as every media help to (re)shape it. They fascinate me as learning tool about our history, our society and above all - about me.

      Thanks, DDE, for your thoughts. I always appreciate your comments.

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      You are right, I didn't explicitly write about the princess being rich and spoiled (well, her golden ball probably gives a clear hint about both), what I actually covered in another article where I focused on importance of given word (she broke it), while I tried to stay here within the area of marriage, especially the role of her father.

      I politely disagree about her position and wealth. Maybe we could say she was desirable because without her the frog could not get his position back? Or he simply wants her because she is young and beautiful. In the end it is clear they (prince and princess) leave her home and move to his castle and it is clear he is very rich. I don't think this story is about wealth, it is in my opinion about marriage, distribution of power and social norms and values in 19th century which (like it or not) are not so different than today's.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Hi Tolovaj,

      This is interesting from a man's point of view, but it seems to me that these kinds of fairy tales teach little boys that girls/women are just for mans pleasure and portray them in a bad light.

      But they are interesting.

      voted up and interesting.

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      I agree, Shyron E Shenko, brothers Grimm wrote from man's point of view. In their minds it was very clear what is a man's job and what is a lady's job. (And they almost worshiped, not only love and respect their mother!) They were raised in very strict conditions with very rigid set of rules. This is exactly why I find their collection so fascinating. Most of their 'bestsellers' were heavily rewritten in last centuries and yet nobody managed to make a remake which would be better (I mean better, more realistic characters) AND popular. Isn't that telling something about our society? Right here, right now?

      Thanks for your comment, I appreciate your support!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      This does seem to have some correlation with the Beauty and the Beast tale--Very interesting!

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Exactly. Both tales have the same motif and are based on the same myth about Cupid and Psyche. In both cases we learn about the importance of given word and how we should not judge others by physical appearance. Thanks, AudreyHowitt!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      Yes its very much like beauty and the beast. the self centered girl, the ugly prince or frog, the moral of the story is of course never judge a book by its cover so to speak, interesting hub, voted up!

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Thanks, Nell Rose for your feedback, it's very much appreciated. I would like to add one important difference: although both girls are kind of rebels against the norms of society, Beauty is in general noble and unselfish while the princess in the Frog King isn't. This gives us two main groups of so called animal groom fairy tales, all related to the myth about Psyche and Cupid, and hundreds of variations in sub groups.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 3 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      I really enjoyed this story and your review of it.

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Thanks, Sandyspider, I m glad to hear that!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I remember this story and how wonderful it was to read. I love the classics from Grimm. Thank you for sharing the highlights of this awesome literature.

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      It's really a classic, isn't it? Thanks for stopping by, teaches12345!

    • jtrader profile image

      jtrader 3 years ago

      Never had the fairytale analyzed quite like this before. Interesting as always.

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Glad to hear that:)

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 3 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Hi Tolovaj, I enjoyed reading this hub. Fairy tales may indeed reflect the reality of life in the 19th and 20th century, but they also served as cautionary tale. It's hard to imagine life back then, today the Prince would be done for child abuse.

      An interesting and thought provoking read.

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      You are right, times are different. Not only Prince, the King would probably get into problems as well:) But! The message about importance of keeping one's word is still fresh. I know a lot of people who apparently haven't learned that from this tale.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Though I would choose something from C.S.Lewis over Grimm for kids any day, your post is an interesting read.

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      I look at authors and 'authors' (brothers Grimm were officially collectors) as different sorts of dishes. None is so good you could live only from this particular one and it is always good to have some versatility on the menu. Thanks for stopping by, RTalloni:)

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