Friday, July 30, 2010

The Frog Prince

“Sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.” We tell this to our daughters and it’s true. Besides which if you’re too proud to kiss a frog, you don’t really deserve a prince, do you?

The original Grimm version of this story is entitled “The Frog King or Iron Henry.” In this version, it is not a kiss from a beautiful princess that ends the spell but being thrown across the room by said princess and hitting the opposite wall. After his transformation, we meet his manservant, Henry, who has been wearing iron bands until his master is restored. It is unclear why the brothers chose to include this character who has no bearing on the rest of the story whatsoever, but it’s no mystery why he has been forgotten to us.

With or without Iron Henry, The Frog Prince endures because of its simple, universal themes of the deception of appearances and the importance of keeping promises. Also cuz it has a frog in it. Frogs are cool. And I humbly dedicate this story to my all-time favorite talking amphibian, Kermit the aforementioned Frog.

nce upon a time there lived a king and queen who were blessed with a daughter, whom they named Anna. She was very beautiful and fair, but her mother, equally beautiful and fair, died bringing her into this world. For this reason the widowed King doted upon her and, it must be said, spoiled her quite a bit. As she grew older, Anna remained beautiful and fair, but she had grown so used to having everything her way that she was not a lovely person. She fired servants for making the slightest mistake. She treated all others as though they were beneath her. She refused the company of all princes seeking marriage. She despised men. For what man, she thought, could ever be good enough for me? Anna’s only real love was a golden ball which had once belonged to her mother.

One day—the day of her eighteenth birthday, in fact—Anna was playing with her ball by the old well in the courtyard. Suddenly she heard an unfamiliar voice say “Good afternoon, milady.” She was so startled that she dropped her beloved golden ball into the well. Furious and frightened, Anna looked around for the stupid man who had caused her to drop the ball, but all that her eye fell upon was a medium-sized bullfrog sitting on the edge of the well.

“Good afternoon, milady,” said the Medium-Sized Bullfrog again, with infinite patience.

“How dare you!” cried the princess. “How dare a slimy, disgusting thing such as yourself talk to a beautiful and perfect princess.”

“How dare a spoiled, nasty thing such as yourself talk to a cool and handsome frog like me!” said the Frog, very proud of how witty he had been. But this was the first time in Anna’s life anyone had dared to talk back to her and it made her even angrier than before.

“I’ll have you know, Frog, that you made me drop my golden ball into the well. Thanks to your stupidity I shall never see it again!”

My stupidity?” said the Frog incredulously. “I suppose I dropped the ball into the well just because someone said ‘good afternoon,’ which, by the way, you still haven’t said back yet!”

“This is no time to talk about that! Can’t you see my life is ruined now that I don’t have my golden ball?” The Frog was about to retort, but now Princess Anna had begun to cry. Mean and spoiled though she was, the Frog hated to see anyone cry.

“Well,” said the Frog, staying firm, but pitying the girl, “perhaps if you were to ask me nicely, I could be persuaded to swim down and fetch it up for you.”

“If you can do that, do it at once. By order of the princess.”

“Your highness,” said the Frog, “does not even the lowliest of your subjects deserve the respect of his ruler?”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I’m a frog! I don’t work for you. I will, however, be more than happy to get your ball, Princess Anna…as a favor. One which you must repay.”

“I? Princess Anna? Grant a favor to a, a…a frog?

“Either that or you never see your beloved golden ball again,” said the Frog. He then sat quietly humming to himself, waiting for the Princess to answer. It infuriated the Princess how smug the Frog was acting. She figured he had no right, being an amphibian and all.

“Fine. What do you want? Gold? Jewels? Anything.”

“What would a frog do with gold or jewels?”

“Well, you could…okay, that’s a good point. Then what do you want you increasingly vexing amphibian?”

“After I bring back the ball, you must invite me to your home. I will sit at the table as a guest. Then I will spend the night on your pillow, next to your head, and before I go to sleep…you must kiss me goodnight.”

Now, the idea of kissing a frog was disgusting to Anna, as was the idea of treating one with kindness, even friendship. Eating and sleeping with a frog? Revolting! Besides, she was known throughout the land for her perfect complexion; could her reputation withstand the risk of warts? But she saw that unless she at least pretended to agree to the terms that she would never see her ball again, so she quietly said yes.

The Frog was delighted and dove eagerly into the water. It was not an easy task for the ball was quite heavy and, as I’m sure you know, swimming through a dark well while carrying a golden ball in one flipper is exceedingly difficult, even for such an expert swimmer as the Frog. Finally, he succeeded and pushed the ball over the edge of the well where it fell into Anna’s waiting hands. As soon as she got it, without another word to the Frog, she ran off home.

The poor Frog was completely exhausted and didn’t even have the energy to shout “Wait!” after the princess before collapsing onto the grass.

Princess Anna had completely forgotten about her encounter with the Frog when she and her father sat down to dinner. About halfway through the meal, however, a footman entered the dining hall and reminded her, thus:

“Sorry to disturb you, your majesties,” said the footman, bowing low, “but there is a frog outside much wishes to speak to you.”

“A frog?” said the King, quizzically. “Do we know any frogs?” He racked his brain to try and remember any amphibians he had spoken to in his life.

“He says he is a friend of the princess.” The footman then told the King just what the Frog had told him, and how Anna had seemingly broken her promise. This made the King very angry, and insisted that the Frog sit at the table right between himself and his daughter because, after all, a promise is a promise.

The Frog was brought in at once and placed in the chair between the King and the Princess. This was, of course, remarkably foolish, and the Frog was quickly moved onto the table itself. The Frog was very grateful to the King and the King himself grew quite fond of him in return. For a Frog he possessed a great deal of knowledge about royal customs and how best to speak to a King. Moreover, he was a great wit and was very much the life of the party. Princess Anna, however, did not enjoy the meal at all and was angry at the Frog for getting her in such trouble with her father.

That night, as promised, Anna took the Frog to her room. But said that she would not share a bed with him.

“But you promised!” said the Frog. “You promised that I could sleep on the pillow next to you. And, as your father said, a promise is a promise.” Anna knew that if she didn’t keep her promise, the Frog would tell her father and she’d be in trouble again. So, having no choice, she laid out her best satin pillow for the Frog to sleep on. “Good night,” said the Frog and fell fast asleep, so tired from the exciting day he’d had that he completely forgot the princess’s promise of a kiss.

Anna couldn’t sleep that night. She was up all night thinking of how that horrid frog had embarrassed her. How he had extorted her with that well business. He probably did it on purpose, she thought. To force me to drop it in so I’d need him to help me. She stayed very mad at the frog for many hours. But nighttime has an interesting effect on people. And as the night wore on, Anna looked at the Frog and had to admit he was sort of cute…in a slimy way. And he had been very kind and brave in retrieving her ball.  Maybe he did deserve her respect. Just then she remembered that she had promised to kiss him and hadn’t. So she leaned in and kissed the Frog gently on the lips.

And then something wonderful happened. The little Frog, still sleeping, was instantly transformed into a handsome young man…Anna was so amazed that it was a moment before she realized that the man was, like the Frog, completely naked. This sort of thing happens all the time when evil curses are involved, but no one ever talks about it. She screamed. The Young Man awoke and saw at once what had happened.

“You kissed me!” he cried.

“I’m sorry,” said Anna. “Please cover yourself!”

“Oh of course,” said her companion and he wrapped the covers around himself. “I’m sorry about that. You know how it can be with these evil curses.”

“Curses? What do you mean? Who are you?”

“My name is Robin of Willead,” said Robin of Willead, “my mother and father are the King and Queen of Willead.”

“King and Queen? But that would make you—”

“A prince, that’s right. You see, my mother and father had a difficult time having a child, so they went to see the witch, Griselda, who made them a potion guaranteed to solve their problem. She didn’t ask for money in return, only a promise that she would be my godmother and come to the christening. But on the day of the christening, my parents forgot to invite her. She was so angry that she cursed me and turned me into a frog. My mother and father continued to take care of me, of course, but kept me a secret. One day I realized I was bringing them too much shame and just ran—or rather hopped away. Then I met you. And your kindness has broken the spell. Thank you for keeping your promises, Anna.”

And all at once Anna saw how foolish she had been to be repulsed by the Frog who had helped her. And as she looked at Prince Robin of Willead she felt something she didn’t expect. Genuine affection. For someone other than herself. She kissed him again and again and again…

And she went on kissing him for a long time after that. Because as soon as she had patiently explained to her outraged father what a nude man was doing in her bed and what had happened to the Frog, Anna and Robin were married and—except for Robin’s unfortunate habit of eating flies—they lived happily ever after.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • The Frog Prince (1971)(TV) The Jim Henson special which introduced the character of Robin the Frog (later identified as Kermit’s nephew)
  • “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV) starring Teri Garr, Renee Auberjonois and Robin Williams as the Prince…also named Robin, coincidentally. Written and narrated by Eric Idle
  • “The Frog Prince Continued” by Jon Sceiza, in which the Prince tries to turn back into a frog and encounters witches from other stories
  • The Princess and the Frog (2009) Disney’s animated musical takes the premise in another direction with voices Bruno Campos, Anika Noni Rose and Keith David

NEXT WEEK: “The Ugly Duckling”

No comments:

Post a Comment