I mentioned at the end of my Not Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” post that Book 2 of my Dreaming Princesses Series would be based on a version of “The Princess and the Frog.” If you haven’t read Fairest and the Frog, don’t worry, this post won’t spoil it. I simply want to explain the various versions of the tale so it’s understood that YES, Fairest and the Frog IS a retelling of “Snow White” and “The Princess and the Frog.”
The question is–which versions?
I’ve discovered that most Americans only know the following snippet of the tale:
With that as the public knowledge, it’s not surprising that the creators at Disney Studios turned the story into a lengthy adventure across a swamp with Mardi Gras and voodoo.
Perhaps this is because the tale has such a wide scope of variations. All that technically classifies this tale is: a prince is won when a girl accepts a frog. Kisses not required.
Don’t believe me? I won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ll claim to know more than the average Joe after researching, studying, and picking apart western European fairy tales, British literature, and American folklore on the university level.
So, with the help of one of my university “textbooks,” Iona and Peter Opie’s “The Classic Fairy Tales,” (1974), let me take you back to the origins of the tale.
As I mentioned in my “Sleeping Beauty” post, writers didn’t create the “original” fairy tales.
The classic fairy tales we know were originally created orally by storytellers. If you’ve ever played the game of Telephone, then you know that words change with each person who shares the story. Fairytales grew and developed as various folklorists wrote them down to share with others.
That’s how we have stories like “The Frog Prince,” “The Frog King,” “Prince Paddock,” “The Popular Tale,” and “The Well of the World’s End.”
Brothers Grimm version(s)
If you know any more than the Disney version of “Princess and the Frog,” it’s probably because you’ve read the “Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.” However, my collection includes two different versions of this telling.
I asked someone who speaks German and thoroughly studied the Grimms tales to learn that BOTH versions are accurate–simply published at different times for different audiences.
They both begin as such:
A young princess would play with a golden ball (her favorite toy) near a spring of water. One time while playing, her ball fell into the water and became lost. She cried aloud until a frog came and asked what was wrong. Lamenting the loss of her ball, the frog said he would retrieve her ball if she promised to let him live with her, eat from her plate, and sleep in her bed.summary of first section of The Frog Prince, by Brothers Grimm
Thinking that a crazy talking frog couldn’t actually retrieve her ball, the princess agreed. Straight away, he retrieved her ball. She took it then ran home before the frog could follow her.
That night while eating supper, there was a knock on the door. It was the frog speaking in rhyme about letting him in and keeping her promise. Her father, the king, demanded that she keep her promise, so she let the frog in. They ate from the same plate then prepared for sleep in the same bed. The princess complained, but her father insisted.
At this point, the two stories of my collection divert. One version continues:
The young princess slept with the frog in her bed. When waking, he was gone, and she was relieved to think she’d never see him again. She was wrong.summary of The Frog-Prince, by Brothers Grimm, from Iona and Peter Opie’s “The Classic Fairy Tales”
He returned the next night for the same requests to eat from her plate and sleep in her bed.
When waking after the third night of sharing her plate and bed with the frog, she found no frog, but a handsome prince standing at the head of her bed. He explained that a malicious fairy had cursed him to be a frog until a princess would let him sleep with her for three nights.
Now freed from his curse, he asked the princess to marry him and join him in his kingdom where he was reunited with his faithful servant, Henry, and they lived happily ever after.
I’m guessing the moral of the story is supposed to be about keeping your promises, but honestly, I get caught up by the fact that she lets a strange frog/man sleep with her for three days and is rewarded for doing so.
However, it’s this moment of sleeping with the frog when she joins the collection of “sleeping princesses.” Considering this, I made my characters in Fairest and the Frog already married to represent the princess and the frog.
The other version in my collection, instead goes as follows…
Rather than let the disgusting frog sleep in her bed even for one night, the young princess “became really cross, picked him up, and threw him with all her might against the wall.”summary of The Frog King, by Brothers Grimm, from Maria Tatar’s “The Classic Fairy Tales”
I think she meant to kill him, because she says, “Now you’ll get your rest, you disgusting frog!” 😲
When the frog landed, he became a beautiful prince. He explained how a witch had cursed him to be a frog and only she [the princess?] could release him from the spring. The king bid them to marry, and they set out to the prince’s kingdom with a carriage driven by his faithful servant, Heinrich. Heinrich had been so saddened by the prince’s curse that he had his heart encased by three golden hoops to keep it from breaking.
While driving, the prince heard breaking noises and asked Heinrich if the carriage was breaking. This happened three times as Heinrich replied that it was the sound of the hoops breaking around his heart because he was so happy that the prince was healed.
What’s with the random bromance at the end? And did anyone expect the princess to try killing the frog? What’s funny is this isn’t the only version…
Despite the German Brothers making it famous, the story is largely from the United Kingdom. Its concept appears to originate in Scotland from a list of stories that shepherds told each other back in 1549AD. This makes it a fairly new fairy tale compared to others like Cinderella (which has roots back to 23AD). “The Frog Prince” actually has a Cinderella-ish quality to it as “the royal suitor accepts her as his bride while she is in her humble state.” (Opie, 121, emphasis added).
Back to Scotland (a beautiful place, if I may say), shepherds had a list of stories that they shared with each other, called “The Complaynt of Scotland,” recorded in 1549. “The tayl of the volfe of the varldis end” [The Tale of the Well of the World’s End] was included on this list. However, this version of the tale wasn’t written down until Robert Chambers “set down as much of it as he could” after hearing it from Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, who heard it from his nurse around 1784. You see how fairy tales are a game of Telephone?
The story basically goes as follows:
A lady is sent by her stepmother to draw water from the well of the world’s end. After encountering many dangers, she reaches the well and finds a frog. He says that first, she must become his betrothed or become torn to pieces. The lady agrees, draws the water, then returns home. At midnight, the frog appears outside and demands entrance, calling on her promise. He asks to be given supper, put to bed, and then…Summary of “The Well of the World’s End,” as recorded by Robert Chambers, 1842
Asks for an ax to chop off his head.
The young “lassie” does so, and “the Paddo” becomes “the bonniest young prince that ever was seen.”
Okay, how many of you expected a beheading in this tale?
Like the tale of “Sleeping Beauty,” the kiss awakening wasn’t a part of the story until centuries later.
I really enjoyed the concept of a young lady braving many dangers to reach the Well of the World’s End, and (thankfully) this version wasn’t the only one to feed my inspiration.
In the 1790s, “The Popular Tale” uses the basics of “The Tale of the Well of the World’s End,” but instead of asking for an ax, the frog asks to come in, jump up on the princess’s knee, and then he’s restored to human form.
Going back just a decade earlier, “Prince Paddock” also included a young princess to fetch water from the Well of the World’s End. Except, she didn’t have a regular bucket. She had to use a sieve.
A frog at the well said he could tell her how to do it, but only for her promise of marriage.
This was what I wanted for Fairest and the Frog. I wanted the adventure of finding the Well of the World’s End, the struggle of using a sieve to collect water, and the concept of learning to love a detested little frog, even/especially when they’re already married.
Stay tuned in for an exploration of Pearl’s retelling of “Snow White.”