The Frog Prince wasn’t always one of my favourite fairy tales, in fact it was quite low down on my list. The princess always came across as selfish, childish and a little spoilt. I never understood why the frog wanted her so badly and the overall story lacked sentiment in my opinion. For those of you who are thinking of the Disney versions and modern retellings you would of course disagree with me. But I am referring to the original telling of the story. The Brothers Grimm bought that usual darkness to the tale which I love, but as a “romance” it really falls short. Then again, I believe it was never intended to be told as one. These days, however, the story is often used as a point of reference for romance in general, for women struggling to find love: “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince!”
Whilst playing with a golden ball, her favourite toy, the princess drops it into a pond. Incredibly upset, she attracts the attention of a frog who offers to retrieve it for her if she promises to let him stay with her. She makes the promise knowing she has no intention of keeping it and runs away when she has her ball back. The frog follows her to the castle and begs her to keep her vow. Initially she tries to ignore the “disgusting frog” but her father, learning of her promise, forces her to keep it. After a few days of the frog following her around he turns into a prince and they marry. The end. Different versions have it happen in different ways. In some he merely changes, in the Grimm version she throws the frog against the wall in disgust. But the most famous of course is the kiss – leading to the more romantic interpretations.
For me I always assumed the story was about never judging a book by its cover.
But I believe that Beauty and the Beast delivered this sentiment far more sympathetically than the Frog Prince. Although initially shocked by the Beast’s appearance and tempestuous character, Belle learns to love him for who he is and would have stayed with him even if he had never reverted back to his human form. In the Frog Prince there is a distinct lack of such sentiment. The princess never really grows to love the prince until he has changed into a far more attractive form. Naturally this is not the case in modern retellings which aim to make the story much more romantic and moralistic like Beauty and the Beast. But with regards to the original tale, The Frog Prince has never “grabbed” me as much as the others in terms of sympathy for the main characters and the moral message that they try to convey.
However, when I started to rewrite it in rhyme I began to appreciate it more. There is an understated darkness and sorrow to the tale which I had never appreciated before. The sadness and desperation of a prince trapped in a frog’s body. A lonely princess who is no stranger to solitude, starved of love and affection, finally finding companionship in the strangest of places. And then it occurred to me. A fervent champion of the Brothers Grimm over Disney, I actually discovered that the tale worked better when the two “types” were mixed together. Separately they do not work for me. The Brothers Grimm version is too unsympathetic and unsentimental. The “Disney-fied”, romantic versions are too idealistic and sugary. But a mixture of the two really works, combining the Grimm’s customary darkness and bittersweet outlook and the romance of the newer and better known versions.