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The Frog King

NickOct 29, 2019, 6:12:11 PM

We start our journey of analysis with one of the Brothers Grimm's favorites: The Frog King.

Brief Historical Overview

The tale is popular. It was first adapted to film in 1908, and then undertook a journey of renditions: A Muppet version was produced in 1971, a movie version was produced in 1986 (which was a critical failure), an operatic version was produced, a musical, and finally the well-known Disney version, aptly renamed The Princess and the Frog.

The tale is considered by some to be one of the oldest in the German language. Evidence suggests that the text dates back to Roman times, as similar elements appear in the text of Petronius. Indeed, there is a quote in the Satyricon that is markedly similar to the story we know today:

"The man who was once a frog is now a king."

Whether or not the story is traced back to this quote, and it's debatable given that Nero the King was often called a "frog", it's clear that the idea of transformations has been a prominent story arc for thousands of years. Why transformations from frog to man or beast to man are popular is a topic for speculation.

Plot Synopsis

The most beautiful daughter of the king is playing with her golden ball, when it accidentally falls into a well. She begins crying until she hears a voice that she soon realizes is coming from a frog in the well. The frog tells her that he will retrieve the ball if and only if she promises to be his companion.

She agrees, but breaks the promise once she receives the ball. Once the frog shows up at her door, her father insists that she keeps the promise, and she takes the frog up to her bedroom.

In disgust and frustration over her promise, she throws the frog against a wall. But, in a surprise twist, the frog becomes a hansom prince with beautiful eyes.

They go off into the sunset in a carriage led by white horses and the prince's loyal and faithful servant, Heinrich. He was so sad over the spell that was cast upon his master that he had three iron bands placed upon his heart.

Once the spell was broken, Heinrich was so relieved that the bonds were broken from his heart and he become free.

Critical Analysis

- Most of the tales are set in 'olden times' and never 'present times' so as to suggest that to some degree, tradition implies importance.

- The king's daughters are beautiful (indeed, in what stories do the royal families present as ugly?) -- one is so beautiful that the rays of sun are amazed at her beauty.

- The setting is Immediately contrasted by the dark forest near the castle (Hogwarts sounds similar). On a deeper level, it seems that protected castles are almost always surrounded by dark forests. In the story of Adam and Eve, there is a garden (originally a "walled paradise") that is surrounded by evil.

- Within this Forrest, though, is a Linden tree - traditionally a symbol of love, fertility, and protection. Furthermore, there is a well of water under the tree.

- The princess was playing with a ball within the forest, and lost it in the well. Could this be symbolic of her innocence? The frog asks "what will you give me if I fetch your ball" to which she responds "anything you like, my clothes, pearls and jewels, even my crown"

The frog, however, does not want any material items. Instead, the frog wants love, and to sit beside her, and to sleep in her bed.

- There is a dark analysis that we could ponder: is the frog grooming the girl to some extent, or is this innocent?

She thinks "how can the frog expect a human being to accept him as a companion" so she ignored the frog, though, and ran off with the ball after he had done a favor for her.

After the frog shows up at her door, her father insists that she ought to keep the promise. After she eats with him, the frog wants to go to bed with her. The girl begins crying and does not even have the "courage to touch him". I ask again if this is darker than we would originally think.

The frog, upon being rejected, says "lift me up, or I'll tell your father" -- using a threat to enlist her help. Eventually she throws the frog against the wall, and the frog turns into a hansom prince.

The action of throwing the frog against a wall is the deepest form of disobedience. Rather than listening to her father, she angrily disobeys him by acting out violence. Incidentally, it is anger that overcame her anxiety.

Evidently, a witch had cast a spell on the prince that only she could break.

- At this point in the story, out of nowhere, a distressed young Heinrich, the king's servant, came with white horses to take them off to a new kingdom. 

- Heinrich had ordered 3 iron bands to keep his heart from bursting with sadness and grief. But now, Heinrich has been overcome by joy.

As they ride into the distance, there is a cracking sound that the king believes is the carriage. But Heinrich explains it is not a carriage, but the bands around his heart breaking.

The cracking noise was heard two more times, but each time the master believed it was the carriage.

Heinrich is overturned with joy for a man that has no care for him.

Final Thoughts

There are three main themes from this narrative tale. The salient theme is to keep promises. Since the princess kept her promise (even if under duress), she found her prince charming.

The secondary theme has to do with the persistence of the prince. If you desire something, go after it. In some ways, the story reflects upon the importance of determination.

The deepest theme has to do with the breaking of bondage. Frederick Douglass wrote "My Bondage and my Freedom", in which he discusses his life as a slave and his life in freedom. In this story, there are two opposing kinds of bondage: a literal bondage upon Heinrich's heart, which is riddled with deep philosophical material (the love Heinrich has for the prince is not reciprocated), and the bondage of the princess under the direction of her father.

Indeed, when the princess disobeys her father by turning her anxiety into actionable anger (i.e. throwing the frog against the wall), she becomes a woman who marries the very entity of disobedience - through which she found happiness.