The Frog King
A relationship or a business deal?
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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:
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: