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Annotations for Frog King

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The annotations for the Frog King fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations which appear on the Frog King Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated Frog King to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.

I have included the Grimms' notes to the tale as translated by Margaret Hunt followed by SurLaLune's textual annotations.

The Grimms' Notes For the Tale

This comes from Hesse, where there is also another story. A King who had three daughters was ill, and asked for some water from the well in his court-yard. The eldest went down and drew a glassful, but when she held it up to the sun, she saw that it was not clear. She thought this very strange, and was about to empty it again, when a frog appeared in the well, stretched forth its head, and at last jumped on to the edge of it. It then said to her,

"If thou wilt my sweetheart be,
Clear, clear water I'll give to thee;
But if my love thou wilt not be,
I'll make it as muddy as muddy can be."

"Oh, indeed, who would be the sweetheart of a disgusting frog?" cried the King's daughter, and ran away. When she went back again she told her sisters about the wonderful frog which was in the well and made the water muddy. Then the second went down and drew a glassful, which was also so thick that no one could drink it. The frog again sat on the brink, and said,

"If thou wilt my sweetheart be,
Clear, clear water I'll give to thee."

"That would be a chance for me!" cried the King's daughter, and ran away. At last the third also went to draw water, but she did not succeed better, and the frog cried to her,

"If thou wilt my sweetheart be,
Clear, clear water I'll give to thee."

"Very well, then," she answered laughingly, "I will be your sweetheart; I will really; only draw me some pure water that is fit to drink." She thought to herself, "What can it signify, it is very easy to please him by saying that; after all, a stupid frog can never be my sweetheart." The frog had, however, leapt back into the well, and when the King's daughter again drew some water, it was so clear that the sun was actually sparkling in it for joy. So she took the glass upstairs and said to her sisters, "Why were you so stupid as to be afraid of the frog?" Then the King's daughter thought no more about it, and went to bed quite happy. And when she had lain there a while, but had not fallen asleep, she heard a noise outside the door, and some one sang,

"Open thy door, open thy door,
Princess, youngest princess!
Hast thou forgotten what thou didst say
When I sat by the well this very day,
That thou wouldst my sweetheart be,
If clear, clear water I gave to thee?"

"Why, if that is not my sweetheart the frog!" said the King's child. "Well, as I promised, I will open the door for him." So she got up, and opened the door for him a very little, and then lay down again. The frog hopped after her, and at last hopped on the bottom of the bed to her feet, and stayed lying there, and when the night was over and day dawning, it leapt down and went out by the door. The next night when the King's daughter was in bed, it again crawled to the door, and sang its little song, she again opened the door, and the frog lay for another night at her feet. On the third night it came once more; then she said, "Mind, this is the last time that I shall let thee in; in future it won't happen." Then the frog jumped under her pillow, and she fell asleep. And when she awoke next morning, and expected the frog to hop away again, a handsome young prince was standing before her, who said that he had been the bewitched frog, but was now set free, because she had promised to be his sweetheart. Then they both went to the King, who gave them his blessing; a magnificent wedding was celebrated, and the two other sisters were vexed that they had not taken the frog to be their sweetheart. In a third story from the district of Paderborn, the King's son, after he has been delivered from his frog's shape, gives his betrothed, when he takes leave of her, a handkerchief, on which his name is written in red, and tells her if that should become black it will betoken that he is either dead or unfaithful. One day the princess sees, to her sorrow, that the name really has become black. On this she and her two sisters disguise themselves as troopers, and hire themselves to him. Some people suspect them, and strew peas,(1) thinking that if they really are girls and fall, they will be afraid, but if they are men they will swear. They have, however, discovered the plot, and when they fall on the peas, they swear. After this when the King's son travels away with the false bride, the three have to ride behind the carriage. On the way, the King's son hears a loud crack, and cries, "Stop; the carriage is breaking!" on this, the true bride behind the carriage, cries, "Alas, no, it is one of my heart-strings which is breaking." Twice more there is a crack, and each time he receives the same answer. Then he remembers the true bride, recognizes her in the disguise of the trooper, and marries her.

This story is one of the oldest in Germany. It was called by the name of Iron Henry, from the faithful servant who had caused his sorrowful heart to be bound with iron bands. Rollenhagen thus names it in the Old German Household Tales, and Philander von Sittewald refers to it (3. 42) when he says, "Then her heart would lie in my hand, more fast than in an iron band," which occurs in the same proverbial fashion in Froschmeuseler. The band of sorrow, the stone which lies on the heart, is spoken of elsewhere. An old Minnesinger says beautifully, "She is stamped on my heart as on steel;" and Heinrich von Sar (Man. p. 1. 36) has the expression, "My heart lies in bands." We find in the Lied von Heinrich dem Lowen, St. 59, "her heart lay in bands;" in Keller's Wurtemberger (p. 35), "tho body bound with iron bands." Wirnt says of the breaking heart,

von sime tde si erschrac
sô sêre daz ir herze brast
lüte als em dürrer ast,
swâ man den brichet enzwei (2).
Wigalois, 7697-82.

In its main features the story is still current in Scotland. In the Complaynt of Scotland (written in 1548), the tale of the "wolf of the warldis end," which has unfortunately been entirely lost, is mentioned among other stories, perhaps the Saga of the Northern Fenrir. J. Leyden, in his edition of the Complaynt (Edinb. 1801, pp. 234, 235), believes that fragments of it are still existing in various songs and nursery tales, and says that he has heard fragments sung in which the "well of the warldis end "occurred, and was called the "well of Absolom" and "the cauld well sae weary." He connects our story with it, although the well of the world may very easily have worked its way into various traditions, and we perceive in the German no connection with the wolf (or should we in the original read wolf instead of well?) Leyden's words are these: "According to the popular tale, the lady is sent by her stepmother to draw water from the well of the world's end. She arrives at the well, after encountering many dangers, but soon perceives that her adventures have not come to a conclusion. A frog emerges from the well, and before it suffers her to draw water, obliges her to betroth herself to the monster, under penalty of being torn to pieces. The lady returns safe, but at midnight the frog-lover appears at the door and demands entrance, according to promise, to the great consternation of the lady and her nurse."

"Open the door, my hinny, my hart,
Open the door, my ain wee thing;
And mind the words that you and I spak,
Down in the meadow at the well-spring."

The frog is admitted, and addresses her:

"Take me up on your knee, my dearie,
Take me up on your knee, my dearie,
And mind the words that you and I spak
At the cauld well sae weary."

The frog is finally disenchanted, and appears in his original form as a prince.

It.is likewise deserving of notice that the name of Henry for a servant, has something about it that is popular, as is fully shown in our edition of Der arme Heinrich, 213-216.

[This story bears some resemblance to the ballad of Earl Mar's daughter. She went out to play and saw a dove sitting in a tree, which she persuaded to come down by promising it a cage of gold and silver. The bird flew down and alighted on her head. She took it home and kept it daintily, but when night came a handsome youth stood by her side, who told her that he was the dove she had brought home, and that his mother was a queen skilled in witchcraft, who had turned him into a dove to charm such maidens as herself, and that he loved her and would live and die with her. She entreated him never to leave her.

For six years he lived in her bower, and she bore him seven sons, but whenever one was born he instantly flew away with it, and gave it into his mother's care. After twenty-three years a great lord came to court the maiden, who refused him, and said she was content to dwell alone with her bird cow-me-doo. Hereupon the Earl swore he would kill the bird. The bird heard of this, and flew to his mother's castle beyond the sea, and told her that next day his wife, the mother of his seven sons, was to be married to another. The mother changed twenty-four stalwart men into storks, the seven sons into swans, and cow-me-doo into a hawk, and the birds flew over the sea to Earl Mar's castle, seized the men and bound them to trees, and then seized the maiden and carried her away with them.-TR.]

1: Die Zwolf Jager, No. 67, has many features in common with this story.-TR.

2: His death shocked her so much that her heart broke with a sound loud as that of a dry bough which is broken in two.

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.

SurLaLune Annotations

1. Castle: According to Jack Zipes, the original Grimms manuscript did not mention a castle and offers an ambiguous setting. The later versions of 1812 and 1857 have integrated the castle and made the princess a more obviously wealthy and spoiled child (Zipes 1983).
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2. Forest: The ever present forest emphasizes the Germanic nature of this version of the tale. While the forest is not as important in this tale as in others, it still provides a presence and a setting. Over a quarter of Germany is forest and thus the forest is a familiar setting for its inhabitants.
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3. Fountain: In some versions of the story, the fountain is a well. Traditionally, good spirits live in wells, and from thence came the tradition of throwing coins into wells in hopes of having a wish come true (Philip 1997).
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4. Golden ball: The golden ball is twofold in symbolism. As an item made of gold, it is the frivolous and flaunting wealth of royalty and of a selfish, immature princess. As a toy, it shows the princess' immaturity as she holds the toy as more important than her clothes, jewels or crown.

According to Bettelheim, the ball represents the princess' "undeveloped narcissistic psyche, it contains all potentials, none yet realized." He believe it also symbolizes perfection as a sphere and as the precious metal, gold (Bettelheim 1975).
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5. Frog: Frogs symbolize new life in many cultures and thus often appear helpful or kind in folklore. However, frogs also have connections with witchcraft, often as witches' familiars, and are despised by some religious groups for that reason (Philip 1997).

Frogs are also animals involved in natural transformations as they progress from tadpoles to frogs. The frog's transformative nature makes it an acceptable animal to transform into a prince at the end of the story.

Some critics emphasize the phallic symbolism of the frog, theorizing that the story is about a maiden maturing and overcoming her fear and disgust for the male genitalia. Julius Heuscher states: "The innocent young girl's fear of and repugnance toward the male genitals and the transformation of this disgust into happiness and sanctioned matrimony can hardly be symbolized better than by this transformation of the frog into the prince" (Heuscher 1974).

The story as one about sexual maturity and acceptance of a marital relationship is more explicit in the earliest Grimms manuscript of 1810. In the early version, the frog's desire to sleep with the princess is overt and not hidden in ornate details (Zipes 1983).
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6. "My clothes, my pearls and jewels, and even the golden crown which I am wearing.": Unlike Rumpelstiltskin, the frog makes no pretense of wanting material possessions despite the princess' desire to pay her debt with her riches. She values them much less than her own personal comfort, so it would not be a proper sacrifice as it is for the miller's daughter in the first part of the Rumpelstiltskin tale.
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7. That which thou hast promised must thou perform: After changes made by the Grimms, the primary moral of the story is to keep a promise once it is made. The king, being a good father, emphasizes this lesson to his royal daughter, insisting she keep her promise to the frog.
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8. Threw him with all her might against the wall: The earliest versions of the story have the princess committing an act of violence which breaks the spell instead of the now famous kiss. Most often the frog is thrown against the wall, but in some versions he is beheaded or his skin is burnt. Sometimes, simply sleeping in the princess' bed is sufficient to break the spell. Maria Tatar notes that "passion rather than compassion leads to a happy ending" to this tale (Tatar 1988).

The kiss, which is now an established part of our popular culture, apparently first appeared in English translations of the tale, influenced by Edgar Taylor's English translation of the tale in 1823. Taylor believed in a more passive and romantic princess who breaks spells without a fit of temper. Instead of an act of violence, or a kiss, the frog sleeps with the princess for three nights before the spell is broken. Then the princess awakens to discover the disenchanted prince in her room. While Taylor chose this ending over the one offered by the Grimms, he did not invent it. It actually appears in a similar form in another version of the tale outlined by the Grimms in their notes (see the notes at the top of this page). This passivity eventually became a romantic kiss, although the exact edition and translation when it first appeared is unclear.

Kissing the frog is now the best known element of the tale and referenced quite often in pop culture.
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9. King's son with beautiful kind eyes: One wonders if the princess deserves such a blessing after her behavior, but her royal status traditionally makes her the proper bride for a prince. Besides, she is responsible for breaking the spell however objectionable her methods may be. The description of the eyes also implies the prince is not upset over the mistreatments he received while still a frog.
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10. Bewitched by a wicked witch: No version of the story explains why a witch cast the spell on the prince. However, it is interesting that a witch is mentioned in passing as the culprit. Witches are often responsible for casting transformation spells in other tales, so the witch is essentially a stereotype used in this story.
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11. Faithful Henry: Faithful (or Iron) Henry is often included in the title of the story. The sound of the breaking of the bands around his heart "externalizes the sense of liberation felt by all the characters" (Tatar 2002).

Bettelheim ignores Faithful Henry in his analysis because he does not consider the character to be a material addition to the story. He explains that Faithful Henry's "extreme loyalty is added at the story's end like an afterthought made to compare his faithfulness to the original disloyalty of the princess" (Bettelheim 1975).
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©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
Page created 2/1999; Last updated 7/29/2013