An Illustration from 1874 of 'The Frog King' by Walter Crane
An Illustration from 1874 of The Frog King by Walter Crane (Heiner 2002)

Title Page

The Tale


Evolution of the Tale

Other Versions of the Tale

Works Cited

The Quiz


          The Frog King is a strange and wonderful fairy tale with a long history; indeed, a version of it existed as early as the thirteenth century in Germany (a Latin version of the tale) (Heiner 2002). It is unique in that, unlike other tales that depict the struggle to defeat what is wild and animalistic inside us, it depicts the startling realization "when that which seemed animal suddenly reveals itself as the source of human happiness" (Bettelheim 1975).

          The Frog King by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm was originally entitled The Frog King; or, Iron Heinrich, and it appeared in Kinder-und Haus-Marchen, 1st ed. (Berlin, 1812/1815), v. 1, no. 1 (Ashliman 1999). The Grimms were the first writers to "set down a complete telling of the tale" (Opie 1974, p. 184), and the story is widely considered "Grimms' first tale" (Jacobs 1911, p. 275).

          Walter Scott - after reading Kinder-und Haus-Marchen - remembered the legend of "Prince Paddock" from his childhood in the late 1700s. In this story, a princess is ordered to get water, using a sieve, from the Well of the World's End. The princess, while struggling to successfully fetch water using such an instrument, takes the advice of a frog and nonchalantly promises to marry the animal. John Leyden, who was born in the late 1700s as well, also recalled this same legend, which was called Wearie Well at the Warldis End (Ashliman 1999), or The Well of the World's End. The story is listed in this manner in The Complaynt of Scotland of 1549 along with other tales that are said to have been shared amongst groups of shepherds (Opie 1974).

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          The Well at the World's End was not written down in a narrative format until Queen Victoria's reign; at that time (1842), Robert Chambers wrote down as much as possible of the tale in Popular Rhymes of Scotland (Carpenter and Prichard 1984). In his version, though, after the frog asks to be put to bed with the princess, Chambers writes, "Here let us abridge a little" (Opie 1974, p. 183). He also included the frog's song in which he asks the princess to chop off his head with an ax, resulting in the disappearance of a frog and the appearance of a prince: "{A}nd nae sooner was that done than he startit up the bonniest young prince that ever was seen"(Opie 1974, p. 183). In the year 1784, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe's nurse had taught him this version; he, in turn, passed it on to Chambers (Opie 1974). The story, though, was incomplete, and eventually Halliwell-Phillipps in Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales added his own touches to the story, The Maiden and the Frog (1849) (Ashliman 1999), followed by Joseph Jacobs in his English Fairy Tales at the turn of the century (Opie 1974). In Jacob's version, he explains that he took the story from Leyden's edition of The Complaynt of Scotland from 1540 (Bettelheim 1975) with "additional touches" from Halliwell. Jacobs states that he took his "opening formula" from Mayhew, London Labour, iii, 390. Jacob's refers also to "The Wolf of the World's End" from The Complaynt of Scotland (Jacobs 1911, p. 275). However, Opie (1974) notes that lexicographer J.A.H. Murray explains that the tale was said to have been listed in the The Complaynt as "The tayl of the volfe of the varldis end." This, he explains, is a misprint for "volle" or "velle," which means "well" (p. 183).

An 1886 Illustration of 'The Frog King' by Walter Crane
An 1886 Illustration of The Frog King by Walter Crane (Godwin-Jones 1999)

          The story is still told in Scotland today and can be traced to the year 1548, according to J.F. Campbell of Scotland who documented a Gaelic version, if you will, of Wearie Well at the Warldis End called The Queen Who Sought a Drink From a Certain Well, told by Campbell's dear friend, Mrs. MacTavish of Port Ellen, Islay. This story appears in Popular Tales of the West Highlands (Ashliman 1999).

          The Grimms released a second version of the story entitled The Frog Prince in vol. 2 (no. 13) of Kinder-und Hausmarchen, 1st ed. This version was very similar to The Frog King and, for this reason, was not included in later editions of the Grimms' fairy tale collections (Ashliman 1999).

          The first translation of The Frog King into the English language occurred in the book German Popular Stories translated from The Kinder und Haus Marchen, collected by M. M. Grimm, from Oral Tradition (Ashliman 1999). The translation was done by Edgar Taylor who changed the title of the story from The Frog King; or, Iron Heinrich to The Frog Prince. He also changed the ending of the original tale by ridding the story of the hateful heroine's destruction of the frog (by throwing him against the wall) to a conclusion of peaceful consent. "It appears that, in {Taylor's} judgment, the English readers of the 1820's, unlike their German counterparts, would not accept a heroine who throws her frisky bed companion against the wall" (Ashliman 1999). Taylor's The Frog Prince seems to have combined the original version of this fairy tale and the Grimms' second version in that his story has the same beginning of the original tale and the ending of the second version (Ashliman 1999).

          Stories such as this one that belong in the "beast marriage cycle" are told all over the world as well as tales that are very similar and that show the "transformation of a water-guarding reptile or amphibian." One such example is a Kaffir tale, The Bird That Made Milk, in which a crocodile turns back into the man he once was when a kind girl licks his face (Leach 1972, p. 426).

          The Grimms' tales remain not only entertaining for children, but they are also often "the basis for ironical or satirical comments about today's society in which the enchanting world of fairy tales doesn't seem to have a place any more" (Mieder 1980, p. 111). This tale, in particular, is often evoked in the form of amusing commentary on the sometimes troubled relations between men and women. In a 1979 cartoon from Better Homes and Gardens, a frog longingly looks up at a young princess and says "But I don't want to be turned into a prince. I want you to accpet me for what I am." In a 1974 cartoon from Ladies' Home Journal a very jaded and irritated king and queen sit in their thrones next to one another as the king turns to her and says "If you must know, yes! I was happier when I was a frog!" Clearly, this ancient tale is not only a treasure for children. It -- along with the many other tales of the Brothers Grimm -- can also serve as a "significant statement for the adult world" (Mieder 1980, p. 134).

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