Listen to me read this version of The Frog Prince on SoundCloud
Did you ever wonder why the frog changes back into a prince when the princess splatters him against the wall? Then read on, for I must exercise my symbolism superpowers once in a while, and unless someone wants a dream interp, writing is my best excuse. And so we are both in luck, as they say.
Perhaps you grew up with a G-rated version of the story, where smashing the frog is replaced by kissing it. Since anger isn’t nice. As you may know, older published versions of fairy tales often contained material that was symbolically very clever, but most people had/have no idea what it’s for. Cinderella’s ashes, Snow-White’s glass coffin, Hansel and Gretel’s wicked witch oven, Sleeping Beauty’s finger prick; all, all symbolic. My department.
And not only symbolic, but instructive; of the human developmental wisdom journey, better known in my culture as the hero’s journey, or maybe the heroine’s journey. There’s actually more to the game than that particular phase, but since Joseph Campbell did such an amazing job of popularizing that hero aspect, it will suffice for beginners. It’s the whole turning lead into gold project; using our human troubles and limitations to develop compassion, freedom, joy, peace, and all such admirable things. Actually not things; unlike things these cannot be bought. For they are experiences, states of being.
Why were these stories encoded, then? Why didn’t the wise storyteller of old just write a goldarn self-help book? Because archetypal or symbolic stories have the power to effect transformational healing on a very deep level, and when I’m talking transformation, I’m not talking about a makeup do-over. Our personalities and their makeup are designed for stability in the physical reality; they cast wary eyes upon anything that smells like deep shifts in perspective.
The deepest part of who we are is inaccessible to the mundane personality; two different tracks. And symbolism along with the fine arts in general is tasked with hooking up the two, in a sneaky way. So the personality doesn’t get nervous. Art can’t change you, right? Stories? Movies? Poems? Music? A stupid painting on the wall?
So symbolic story allows us to hear the soul speak- even if we are not aware we are listening! How cool is that? The stories we call fairy tales were not designed for children, in fact, but their creators would know that the soul of a child is, in human terms, as mature as the soul of an adult. The encoded instruction of symbolic story enters the psyche in despite of age. Story and drama, including poetry, song lyrics, film, and more, are the ultimate artistic vehicles of deep soul connection.
Alright, now you know my quick answer to the question, Why symbolism? and Why story?, and Why art?, for that matter. On with the interpretation!
This story is titled The Frog Prince, in my favorite Grimms’ book. But the story has also been titled The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich. (link to version on pitt.edu) The Grimms published some of their stories more than once, and in German, so translators get to change things up in English language versions. Since symbolism is the picture that’s worth 1,000 words, it’s challenging to do an efficient interp job with these stories. The fun little devil is often in the details. But I am working on getting more succinct, so here goes.
The story begins with a king, actually; Long ago, when wishes came true, there lived a King whose daughters were all handsome, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun himself, who has seen everything, was bemused every time he shone himself over her because of her beauty. The introduction to these archetypal stories is a crucial interpretive compass-point. Thus we know from the get-go this story is not about a princess, as my culture pretty much styles it. It’s about a man; the title gives us that clue as well, although the focus will first be upon that youngest daughter. She is an aspect of the Frog Prince’s inner feminine.
This kingdom is a sort of ideally wise masculine reality. The beautiful daughters mean, symbolically, that the king or ruler of this reality is not negatively judgmental about the feminine, afraid of it and therefore dominating of it, too dependent on it, etc. It sees the feminine as eternally beautiful, for the sun has seen all there is to see, and it finds no fault here. It sees the sacred feminine, the divine aspect of the feminine, which is sometimes hiding beneath the facade of physicality, right? I’m talking archetype here; the masculine and feminine that we all hold within. These stories are intended to be instruction on our inner life, which will then affect our outer life.
So in alchemical or archetypal symbolism, the king, or the sun, or in this case both, are glaringly (ha ha) representing a masculine perspective. Our story’s father-king is very enlightened, compared to the average citizen in my culture. That point is important as set up for what he is going to do pretty soon. You can’t interpret a person’s actions unless you know their character more or less, right? For example, a killer is either a hero, or a murderer, depending on your view.
The story lens next focuses on the youngest princess, where it will stay for a while. The princess is now going to do what the feminine does; in other words, she’s going to act out the archetypal feminine. She goes to a dark wood, next to a cool well, … she would take out a golden ball, and throw it up and catch it again, and this was her favorite pastime.
The dark wood of fairy tale fame is, in short, internal space- the feminine prerogative. Masculine is outer, the realm of the sun; feminine is interior, the cave or the darkness, the womb. A cool well is symbolically similar to the dark, enclosed wood, for earth and water are the feminine elements. It’s a deep, unfathomable source; it’s the inner-focused soul itself.
The princess’s golden orb is a doublefold symbol, for it can be the sun in its most powerful and enlightening symbolism, and/or the interconnected human soul. Soul is an aspect of human experience that is egalitarian, lovingly connected with the All, and holds the keys to our destinies and our individual development. Both enlightened sun power (the nonjudgmental father-king) and soul represent the state of unity consciousness.
So the ball falling into the well tells us our princess is going deeper into the soul realm. There she will find an inner masculine aspect. The princess weeps and she hears a voice: ‘What ails you, King’s daughter?’…And when she looked to see where the voice came from, there was nothing but a frog stretching his thick ugly head out of the water. ‘Oh, is it you, old waddler?’ said she; ‘I weep because my golden ball has fallen into the well.’
Notice the difference between the sun-king that judges not the feminine, and the princess’s finding the frog ugly. Notice also the correlation between weeping and the well; feminine water element. Grief, defined as the human emotion that signals the processing of loss, is the greatest of water element powers. It’s obviously linked with the power to change, to transform, because it is a letting go function. The frog represents change and transformation, too. Amphibians have distinct developmental stages, right? Sources disagree on the number of stages, but that’s cool. If we go for three, we have egg, larva, and adult.
Frogs are also extremely sensitive to the elements, which is why they are important ecological indicators. They are thin-skinned, conventionally understood as a more feminine trait. So, though the archetypally masculine tough guy or warrior is able to separate from his environment, to stand on his own against adversity, the frog represents a more connected male, or man, since connectivity is feminine archetype. Frog Prince is more in alignment with feminine water, which is always changing, always flowing, always connecting.
Enough for today! Mercer Mayer and his wife Marianne Mayer did an awesome version of The Frog Prince, titled East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Credited as Norwegian, this “fairy tale” is obviously alchemical/archetypal, for it uses the four directions and four elements. In this version, the prince disappears after his transformation, and the princess must go on a quest to rescue him from the spell. She uses gifts from the four directions/four elements as assistance.
Danish Art Nouveau illustrator Kay Nielsen did a marvelous job with the story, too, in 1914:
Next: Why cozy up to a frog? And, Does Dad force his daughter to make out with an amphibian?