Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Watch Out for Warts.

You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.

We’ve all heard that.

Usually after you get back from a date with a creep, one of your friends will trot this out to make you feel better. It’s supposed to evoke the story of the Frog Prince, where the princess kisses a frog to transform him to a handsome prince. Of course, like nearly all modern stories, it’s a big fat candy coated lie.

The Grimm story, Iron Henry, does indeed include a princess and a frog. The princess loses her golden ball, and the frog returns it to her. (I will gloss over all the bad jokes and Freudian implications here.) She has promised him the reward of sharing her supper and her bed in return for this service. Of course, once she has the ball in her hands she breaks all her promises and runs away because it’s just a nasty frog.

She does eventually keep her promises, because her father forces her to make good. At the end of the night, she throws the frog against the wall, hoping for a good splat and a quiet night’s sleep, but he then transforms into a prince who wants to marry her. The original story is European, mostly appearing in English and Germanic sources, but it shows up around the world with variants in Sri Lanka, Korea, and China.

I’ve always found this story a bit odd.

For one thing, the princess is beautiful but clearly a spoiled self-centered brat. And for another, she doesn’t show any kindness at all toward the frog, but rather a deliberate cruel streak. What exactly does the prince see in her again? I’m pretty sure that there are going to be some domestic violence charges somewhere down the road for this family.

The kiss got added later, when we modern humans tried to make the whole thing about love and romance. Romance itself is a concept that wasn’t around when the story first appeared, back in the thirteenth century or so. That may be why it makes no freaking sense.

Animal bridegrooms are a big, big section of mythology. Far too much to cover in one post, in fact, so I’m going to just stick to magical frogs.

You can understand, I’m sure, why the frog seemed so magical to the earliest storytellers. They do, in fact, transform. If they can change from tadpoles to hopping bullfrogs, maybe they can change even further and we just haven’t caught them at it. If you’re in Asia, frogs are good luck and probably bring wealth. If you’re in South America, they’re a vital ingredient in blowdart poison. If you’re a Pacific Northwest hippie, you’re licking toads for the hallucinogens.

See? Magic.

And if you were a toad – or a lowly peasant, or a deformed leper, man, don’t you wish you could change, too? So it’s easy to see where the idea of transformation, particularly a transformation from ugly slimy warty toad to handsome rich prince, is an attractive thing. The stories very rarely address the front end of the transaction where the prince gets cursed and becomes the frog, because that is neither hopeful nor fascinating.

Everyone who reads this story understands right away what’s in it for the princess. She acts like Paris Hilton, gets yelled at by her dad, throws a tantrum, and gets the reward of her ideal husband. Wait, WTF? She doesn’t have to be good, or kind, or virtuous in any way whatsoever. Just gets rewarded for being a princess.

The appeal of this is so widespread that getting some illustrations together for this post is requiring me to wade through page after page of tasteless commercial variations of a little plastic frog with a little plastic crown glued to it’s little plastic head.

What nobody has been able to tell me is what’s in it for the prince. What does HE get out of the deal? The nicest thing you can say about the princess is that she looks okay as long as she doesn’t talk. I guess he gets to not be a frog, and maybe flies taste bad enough that not being a frog is its own reward.

Or maybe he did something terrible that led to the curse in the first place, and his sentence isn’t lifted, just transformed. Maybe she’s the next punishment. Maybe their kids will have warts.

Or take out the pasted-on romantic crap, and perhaps he inherits the kingdom by marriage, and his reward is not the girl at all, but the money attached to her. So the frog is a money grubbing gigolo, and he and the princess deserve each other.

And they lived happily ever after.

Or, you know, not.

1 comment:

CountryMagik said...

Thank you for digging to the roots of the "fairy tales" and pointing out the general stupidity of the candy-coated versions!

I unfortunately lost my circa late-1800's Olde English book of tales which were certainly not sugar-soaked. Now I am going to have to start hunting on the used book sites again.....


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