19th Century Illustration by Arthur Rackham of 'The Frog Prince'
19th Century Illustration by Arthur Rackham of The Frog Prince (Heiner 2002)

Title Page


The Tale


Evolution of the Tale

Works Cited

The Quiz

Other Versions of the Tale

          Stith Thompson (1946) writes, "Even more tangible evidence of the ubiquity and antiquity of the folktale is the great similarity in the content of stories of the most varied peoples. The same tale types and narrative motifs are found scattered over the world in most puzzling fashion" (p. 6). Once we understand these similarities and why they came about, he writes, we will have a better understanding of the very nature of human culture. Below are just a few versions of this ancient tale that come from various cultures in the world. For even more, including one from Sri Lanka, visit Frog Kings at http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/frog.html. For a list of other animal bridegroom stories, including hog and snake/serpent bridegrooms, visit http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/frog.html#links.

          Click on any of the three links below to access these other versions of the tale on this page:

The Enchanted Frog (Germany) (Ashliman 1999)

          Once upon a time there was a merchant who had three daughters, but his wife was with God. Once he planned a journey across the ocean to a foreign land in order to bring back gold and other valuable things. He consoled his weeping children, saying, "I will bring back something beautiful for you. What do you want?" The oldest asked for a silk dress, "and it must be made of three kinds of silk."

          The second desired a feathered hat, "and it must have three kinds of feathers."

          The youngest finally said, "Bring me a rose, dear father, and it must be fresh and have three colors."

          The merchant promised to do this, kissed his daughters, and departed.

          After arriving in the foreign land, he ordered the dress of three kinds of silk for his oldest daughter and the hat with three kinds of feathers for the second one. Both were soon finished, and of seldom splendor. Then he sent messengers throughout the entire country to seek a three-colored rose for his youngest and dearest daughter, but they all returned empty handed, even though the merchant had promised a high price, and even though there were more roses there than there are daisies here.

          Sadly he set off for home and was downhearted the entire voyage. This side of the ocean he came to a large garden in which there was nothing but roses and roses. He went inside and looked, and behold, on a slender bush in the middle of the garden there was a three-colored rose. Filled with joy, he plucked it, and was about to leave, when he was magically frozen in place.

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          A voice behind him cried out, "What do you want in my garden?" He looked up. A large frog was sitting there on the bank of a clear pond staring at him with its goggle-eyes. It said, "You have broken my dear rose. This will cost you your life unless you give me your youngest daughter to wife."

          The merchant was terrified. He begged and he pleaded, but all to no avail, and in the end he had to agree to marry his dearest daughter to the ugly frog. He could now move his feet, and he freely walked out of the garden. The frog called out after him, "In seven days I shall come for my wife!"

          With great sorrow the merchant gave his youngest daughter the fresh rose and told her what had happened. When the terrible day arrived, she crept under her bed, for she did not at all want to go. At the hour of noon a stately carriage drove up. The frog sent his servants into the house, and they immediately went to the bedroom and dragged the screaming maiden from beneath her bed, then carried her to the carriage. The horses leaped forward, and a short time later they were in the blossoming rose garden. In the middle of the garden, immediately behind the clear pond, there stood a small house. They took the bride into the house and laid her on a soft bed. The frog, however, sprang into the water.

          Darkness fell, and after the maiden had awakened from her unconsciousness, she heard the frog outside singing wonderfully sweet melodies. As midnight approached, he sang ever more sweetly, and came closer and closer to her. At midnight the bedroom door opened, and the frog jumped onto her bed. However, he had touched her with his sweet songs, and she took him into bed with her and warmly covered him up.

          The next morning when she opened her eyes, behold, the ugly frog was now the handsomest prince in the world. He thanked her with all his heart, saying, "You have redeemed me and are now my wife!" And they lived long and happily together.

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The Toad-Bridegroom (Korea) (Ashliman 1999)

          Long ago there lived a poor fisherman in a certain village. One day he went fishing in the lake as usual, but found he could not catch as many fish as he was accustomed to. And on each of the following days he found his catch growing smaller and smaller. He tried new baits, and bought new hooks, but all to no avail. At last even the water of the lake began to disappear, until in the end it became too shallow for fishing.

          One afternoon in the late summer the bottom of the lake was exposed to view, and a big toad came out from it. The fisherman immediately thought that it must have eaten up all the fish and angrily cursed the samzog or three families of the frog, its parents, brothers, wife and children, for it is popularly believed that the toad is a relative of the frog. Then the toad spoke to him gently, rolling its eyes, "Do not be angry, for one day I shall bring you good fortune. I wish to live in your house, so please let me go with you." But the fisherman was annoyed that a toad should make such a request and hastened home without it.

          That evening the toad came to his house. His wife, who had already heard about it from her husband, received it kindly, and made a bed for it in a corner of the kitchen. Then she brought it worms and scraps to eat. The couple had no children of their own, and decided to keep the toad as a pet. It grew to be as big as a boy, and they came to love it as if it were their son.

          Nearby there lived a rich man who had three daughters. One day the toad told the fisherman and his wife that it would like to marry one of the three daughters. They were most alarmed at this most unreasonable request and earnestly advised it to forget such an impossible ambition. "It is utterly absurd," they said. "How can poor people like us propose marriage to such a great family? And you are not even a human being."

          So the toad replied, "I don't care what the rank of the family is. The parents may object, but yet one of the daughters may be willing to accept me. Who knows? Please go and ask, and let me know what answer you receive."

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          So the fisherman's wife went and called on the mistress of the rich man's house and told her what her toad-son had asked. The lady was greatly displeased and went and told her husband. He was furiously angry at such a preposterous suggestion and ordered his servant to beat the toad's foster-mother. So the poor woman returned home and told the toad of her painful experience.

          "I'm very sorry that you have been treated like that, Mother," the toad said to her, "but don't let it worry you too much. Just wait and see what will happen." Then he went out and caught a hawk and brought it home. Late that night he tied a lighted lantern to its foot, and crept stealthily to the rich man's house. He tied a long string to the hawk's foot and then climbed a tall persimmon tree which stood by the house. Then he held the end of the string in his hand and released the hawk to fly over the house.

          As it flew into the air he solemnly declared in a loud voice, "The master of this house shall listen to my words, for I have been dispatched by the Heavenly King. To-day you rejected a proposal of marriage, and now you shall be punished for your arrogance. I shall give you one day to reconsider your decision. I advise you to accept the toad's proposal, for if you do not, you, your brothers, and your children shall be utterly destroyed."

          The people in the house were startled by this nocturnal proclamation from the sky, and they opened the windows to see what was going on. When they looked up into the sky they saw a dim light hovering overhead. The master of the house went out into the garden and kneeled humbly on the ground looking up into the sky. Then the toad let go of the string he held in his hand, and the hawk soared skywards with the lantern still tied to its foot. The rich man was now convinced that what he had heard was spoken by a messenger from Heaven, and at once resolved to consent to the toad's marriage to one of his daughters.

          Next morning the rich man went and called on the toad's foster parents, and apologized humbly for his discourteous refusal on the previous day. He said now that he would gladly accept the toad as his son-in-law. Then he returned home and asked his eldest daughter to marry the toad, but she rushed from the room in fury and humiliation. Then he called his second daughter, and suggested that she be the toad's wife, but she too rushed from the room without a word. So he called his youngest daughter and explained to her that if she refused she would place the whole family in a most difficult position indeed, so stern had been the warning from Heaven. But the youngest daughter agreed to marry the toad without the slightest hesitation.

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          The wedding took place on the following day, and a great crowd of guests attended consumed by curiosity at such an unusual happening. That night, when they retired, the toad asked his bride to bring him a pair of scissors. She went and got a pair, and then he asked her to cut the skin off his back. This strange request startled her greatly, but he insisted that she do so without delay, and so she made a long cut in his back. Then, lo and behold, there stepped forth from the skin a handsome young man.

          In the morning the bridegroom put on his toad skin again, so that nobody noticed any difference. Her two sisters sneered contemptuously at the bride with her repulsive husband, but she took no notice of them. At noon all the men of the household went out on horseback with bows and arrows to hunt. The toad accompanied them on foot and unarmed. But the party had no success in the hunt and had to return empty-handed.

          The bridegroom stripped off his toad skin and became a man when they had gone, and waved his hand in the air. Then a white haired old man appeared and he bade him bring one hundred deer. When the deer came he drove them homeward, once more wearing his toad skin. Everyone was most surprised to see all the deer, and then he suddenly stripped off the toad skin and revealed himself as a handsome young man, at which their astonishment knew no bounds. Then he released all the deer and rose up to Heaven, carrying his bride on his back and his parents on his arms.

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The Frog Who Became an Emperor (China)
(Ashliman 1999)

          Once upon a time there lived a very poor couple. A baby was on the way when the husband was forced to leave his home to find a living somewhere far away. Before he left, he embraced his wife fondly and gave her the last few silver pieces he had, saying, "When the child is born, be it a boy or a girl, you must do all you can to bring it up. You and I are so poor that there is no hope for us now. But our child may be able to help us find a living."

          Three months after her husband's departure, the wife gave birth. The baby was neither a boy nor a little girl, but a frog!

          The poor mother was heart-broken, and wept bitterly. "Ah, an animal, not a child!" she cried. "Our hopes for someone to care for us in our old age are gone! How can I ever face people again!" She thought at first she would do away with him, but she did not have the heart to do so. She wanted to bring him up, but was afraid of what the neighbors would say.

          As she brooded over the matter, she remembered her husband's words before he went away, and she decided not to kill the child but always keep him hidden under the bed. In this way, no one knew she had given birth to a frog-child. But within two months, the frog-child had grown so big that he could no longer be kept under the bed. And one day, he suddenly spoke in a human voice.

          "Mother," he said, "my father is coming back tonight. I am going to wait for him beside the road." And sure enough, the husband did come home that very night.

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          "Have you seen your son?" the wife asked anxiously.

          "Where? Where is my son?"

          "He was waiting for you by the side of the road. Didn't you see him?"

          "No! I saw no sign of anyone," her husband answered, surprised. "All I saw was an awful frog which gave me such a fright."

          "That frog was your son," said the wife unhappily.

          When the husband heard that his wife had given birth to a frog, he was grieved. "Why did you tell him to meet me?" he said.

          "What do you mean, tell him to meet you? He went without any telling from me. He suddenly said you were coming tonight and went out to meet you."

          "This is really extraordinary," thought the husband, brightening up. "No one knew I was coming. How could he have known?"

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          "Call him home, quickly," he said aloud. "He might catch cold outside."

          Just as the mother opened the door to do so, the frog came in. He hopped over to his father, who asked him, "Was it you I met on the road?"

          "Yes," said the frog. "I was waiting for you, Father."

          "How did you know I was coming back tonight?"

          "I know everything under heaven."

          The father and mother were amazed by his words and more amazed when he went on.

          "Our country is in great peril," he said solemnly. "We are unable to resist the invaders. I want Father to take me to the emperor, for I must save our country."

          "How can that be?" said the father. "Firstly, you have no horse. Secondly, you have no weapons, and thirdly, you have never been on a battlefield. How, then, do you propose to fight?"

          The frog was very much in earnest. "Only take me there," he pleaded. "I'll defeat the enemy, never fear."

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          The father could not dissuade the frog, so he took his frog-son to the city to seek an audience with the emperor. After two days' journey, they arrived at the capital, where they saw the imperial decree displayed!

          "The imperial capital is in danger. My country has been invaded. We are willing to marry our daughter to the man who can drive away the enemy."

          The frog tore down the decree and with one gulp swallowed it. The soldier guarding the imperial decree was greatly alarmed. He could hardly imagine a frog accepting such a responsible duty. However, since the frog had swallowed the decree, he must be taken into the palace.

          The emperor asked the frog if he had the means and ability to defeat the enemy. The frog replied, "Yes, Lord." Then the emperor asked him how many men and horses he would need.

          "Not a single horse or a single man," answered the frog. "All I need is a heap of hot, glowing embers."

          The emperor immediately commanded that a heap of hot, glowing embers be brought, and it was done. The heat was intense. The frog sat before the fire devouring the flames by the mouthful for three days and three nights. He ate till his belly was as big and round as a bladder full of fat. By now the city was in great danger, for the enemy was already at the walls. The emperor was terribly apprehensive, but the frog behaved as if nothing unusual was happening, and calmly went on swallowing fire and flame. Only after the third day had passed did he go to the top of the city wall and look at the situation. There, ringing the city, were thousands of soldiers and horses, as far as the eye could see.

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          "How, frog, are you going to drive back the enemy?" asked the emperor.

          "Order your troops to stop plying their bows," replied the frog, "and open the city gate."

          The emperor turned pale with alarm when he heard these words.

          "What! With the enemy at our very door! You tell me to open the gate! How dare you trifle with me?"

          "Your Imperial Highness has bidden me to drive the enemy away," said the frog. "And that being so, you must heed my words."

          The emperor was helpless. He ordered the soldiers to stop bending their bows and lay down their arrows and throw open the gate.

          As soon as the gate was open, the invaders poured in. The frog was above them in the gate tower and, as they passed underneath, he coolly and calmly spat fire down on them, searing countless men and horses. They fled back in disorder.

          The emperor was overjoyed when he saw that the enemy was defeated. He made the frog a general and ordered that the victory should be celebrated for several days. But of the princess he said nothing, for he had not the slightest intention of letting his daughter marry a frog.

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          "Of course I cannot do such a thing!" he said to himself. Instead, he let it be known that it was the princess who refused. She must marry someone else, but whom? He did not know what to do. Anyone but a frog! Finally he ordained that her marriage should be decided by casting the Embroidered Ball.

          Casting the Embroidered Ball! The news spread immediately throughout the whole country and within a few days the city was in a turmoil. Men from far and wide came to try their luck, and all manner of people flocked to the capital. The day came. The frog was present. He did not push his way into the mob but stood at the very edge of the crowded square.

          A gaily festooned pavilion of a great height had been built. The emperor led the princess and her train of maids to their seats high up on the stand.

          The moment arrived. The princess tossed the Embroidered Ball into the air, and down it gently floated. The masses in the square surged and roared like a raging sea. As one and all stretched eager hands to clutch the ball, the frog drew in a mighty breath and, like a whirling tornado, sucked the ball straight to him.

          Now, surely, the princess will have to marry the frog! But the emperor was still unwilling to let this happen.

          "An Embroidered Ball cast by a princess," he declared, "can only be seized by a human hand. No beast may do so."

          He told the princess to throw down a second ball.

          This time a young, stalwart fellow caught the ball.

          "This is the man!" cried the happy emperor. "Here is the person fit to be my imperial son-in-law."

          A sumptuous feast was set to celebrate the occasion.

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          Can you guess who that young, stalwart fellow was? Of course it was the frog, now in the guise of a man.

          Not till he was married to the princess did he change back again. By day he was a frog but at night he stripped off his green skin and was transformed into a fine, upstanding youth.

          The princess could not keep it a secret and one day revealed it to her father, the emperor. He was startled but happy.

          "At night," he said to his son-in-law, "you discard your outer garment, I hear, and become a handsome young man. Why do you wear that horrid frog-skin in the day?"

          "Ah, Sire," replied the frog, "this outer garment is priceless. When I wear it in winter, I am warm and cozy; and in summer, cool and fresh. It is proof against wind and rain. Not even the fiercest flame can set it alight. And as long as I wear it, I can live for thousands of years."

          "Let me try it on!" demanded the emperor.

          "Yes, Sire," replied the frog and made haste to discard his skin.

          The emperor smiled gleefully. He took off his dragon-embroidered robe and put on the frog-skin. But then he could not take it off again!

          The frog put on the imperial robe and became the emperor. His father-in-law remained a frog forever.

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