Monday, October 15, 2012

Jerry Griswold on Frog Prince

In his book The Meanings of Beauty and the Beast:  A Handbook, Jerry Griswold analyzes not only the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, but other Animal Bridegroom tales for comparison. One of the more commonly known ones is The Frog Prince, more specifically the version found in the brothers Grimm.

 One of the most common questions that arises with this version is the fact that the prince is NOT transformed by a kiss, a motif that has mysteriously become associated with this fairy tale, but when the princess hurls the frog against a wall. It was very uncharacteristic of the Grimms to publish tales in which such behavior, from a princess who otherwise tends to come across as being selfish and spoiled anyway, is rewarded.

The most common interpretation of this is that the frog, in its slimy and disgusting self, represents the idea of sex to someone who isn't ready yet-Griswold mentions children learning the facts of life and reacting with revulsion, but other scholars (I think Marina Warner, and others) have pointed out that during a time when young girls were given away in marriage to older men, not only were they not given a choice, but they may not have been emotionally and pysically ready for marriage. And really, a frog wanting to share your plate and your bed would not be especially pleasant, promise or no promise.

In comparing this story to Beauty and the Beast, Griswold points out that BATB (in his mind) is a story of transferring Beauty's affections from her father to the Beast, and Frog Prince could be seen in the same light. Again we have a daughter with a father but no mother figure in the story, and it is the father who reminds his daughter to keep her promise. When the princess resists allowing the frog to stay in her bed, it is his threatening to tell her father that prompts her to throw him against the wall. Thus, Griswold suggests, the act of violence could be seen as an act of independance. I had never considered this interpretation but it's a very interesting one. But once again I am uncomfortable with the notion of transferring one kind of love to gain another-since when can one love grow dependant on another love dying? Like I've said before, your relationship with your parents should change as you grow older, but not diminish. So it's not just the idea of growing independant from your parents that bothers me but also Griswold's wording-referrring to the princess, "having broken with her father, she is ready for a partner, and the frog changes into a prince" (emphasis mine). She disobeyed her father, she didn't break all ties with him.

Griswold also includes this interpretation, but it bothers me that this is only a footnote, because I personally like it a lot better: given that the title refers to the Frog and not the princess, maybe it's more about his maturation than hers. "From this perspective, the Grimm tale is an account of a bad date. He acts like an animal with her. He is too forward and pushy...Finally, when she forcibly throws him across the room, he is given the 'no' that means 'no' and learns that his animal and aggressive manner is not the way to be with a woman. So, he changes into a gentleman."

Once again Griswold mentions the idea that the Animal Bridegroom tales represent the Otherness in a heterosexual relationship, but in an exaggerated way.

I agree with that concept but have one more bone to pick with Griswold: he mentions at the end of this chapter the story "The Pig King" by Straparola, saying "the enchanted Prince is otherwise human iscept for a porcine snout and the pleasure he takes in wallowing in the mud." I double checked the text on the Surlalune site, and this is simply untrue. The child is cursed: "the son whom she shall conceive shall be born in the skin of a pig, with a pig's ways and manners." The baby prince would "put his little snout and his little paws in his mother's lap, and she, moved by natural affection, would caress him by stroking his bristly back with her hand, and embracing and kissing him as if he had been of human form. Then he would wag his tail and give other signs to show that he was conscious of his mother's affection."

Clearly the child was fully in the form of a pig. This is the second major error I've caught in this book, but the first is a very widespread misconception dealing with the translations of the Villeneuve version of BATB. In Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale, Betsey Hearne quotes from an Ernest Dowson translation which is significantly different than Jack Zipes', and most academic sources on the internet, and many books as well, quote from Hearne. I've brought up this issue before but I'll mention it again now that my readership has grown: does anyone know anything about the Dowson translation? Or the actual French version? Or why else there is such a disparity between versions of the Villeneuve version, mainly how sexual the Beast's advances were to Beauty?

Frog Prince illustrations by Walter Crane


  1. Thanks for setting the record straight. Too often (in all types of circumstances), people hesitate to correct scholars because of some misconception of their infallibility.

    My immediate reaction is to strongly agree with your interpretation.

  2. I can't answer your question, but I love your thoughtful comments on fairy tales and get excited every time I see you've updated. :)

  3. Miss Kristin, I don't know how to contact you, but wanted to ask if you'd be interested in writing a guest post on Beauty and the Beast for SSiG, however you think it fits into the theme.

    If you're interested, would you mind emailing me?