Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

"You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs (Toads) before You Meet Your Handsome Prince": From Fairy-Tale Motif to Modern Proverb

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

"You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs (Toads) before You Meet Your Handsome Prince": From Fairy-Tale Motif to Modern Proverb

Article excerpt

During the past twenty years or so, the question concerning the origin of the motif of a princess kissing a frog has been raised in a number of exchanges among literary scholars and folklorists, including Charles C. Doyle, Donald Haase, Maria Tatar, Hans-Jörg Uther, Jack Zipes, and me. The question is, Does the motif come from the Grimm fairy tale "The Frog King" (KHM 1, ATU 440), which may have influenced the modem proverb "You have to kiss a lot of frogs (or toads) before you meet your handsome prince"? All of us have tried to solve this matter, with my friend Don finally writing to me on February 7, 2012: "It's still a mystery to me, but the kiss must have occurred first in one of the 19th-century English translations, don't you think?" This conjecture makes considerable sense in light of the fact that there is no kissing scene in the Grimm tale. This also explains why much of the scholarship on the fairy tale is mute regarding the transformation of the frog into a prince by way of a princess's kiss (Röhrich, "Das Froschkönig-Märchen"; "Mit dem Froschkönig ins Bett"). In fact, a kiss is actually mentioned only in those studies that present modem parodie adaptations of the fairy tale in prose or rhyme, but such compilations do not offer any explanations for where the kiss motif comes from (Mieder, "Modem Anglo-American Variants"; Röhrich, "Der Froschkönig und seine Wandlungen," "Froschkönig," "Der Froschkönig: Das erste Märchen der Grimm," "Der Froschkönig: Rezeption"). In the two encyclopedia articles I have written on "The Frog King" I do mention the infamous kiss. However, the more detailed research shared in the present essay will show that my earlier claim-that in most English versions of the tale the frog is kissed by the princess-no longer holds (Mieder, "The Frog King," "Frog King"). Moreover, my current research supports the hypothesis that the motif of the kiss originates in the proverb and not the tale. As it turns out, that kiss is much more complicated than scholars have assumed.

The most comprehensive study of "The Frog King" is Lutz Röhrich's detailed and richly illustrated book Wage es, den Frosch zu küssen! Das Grimmsche Märchen Nummer Eins in seinen Wandlungen (Dare to Kiss the Frog! The Grimm Fairy Tale Number One and Its Variants"), whose catchy title must have surprised quite a few of his German readers. After all, they know of no kissing scene in the actual Grimm fairy tale. However, by 1986 the modem American proverb "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your handsome prince" had become a common loan expression translated into German. And this resulted in a wave of often sexually allusive cartoons, comic strips, slogans, aphorisms, advertisements, and literary reworkings that eventually had their effect on the German fairy tale. Because Röhrich knew that his German readers had started to link the new proverbial wisdom with the traditional fairy tale, thereby replacing the scene of the princess throwing the frog against the wall with her actually kissing it, his provocative title was perfectly reasonable. His remarkable book also gives at least a partial answer to the vexing question of how the kiss motif became associated with the "Frog King" fairy tale.

Röhrich reprints the texts of the fairy tale as it is cited by the Brothers Grimm in their manuscript from 1810, in the first published version of 1812, and the final rendering in the seventh edition of the Kinderund Hausmärchen of 1857 (Röhrich, Wäge es, den Frosch zu küssen, 76-81). In all accounts the disgusted princess grabs the ugly frog and throws him against the wall, thus liberating herself from his ever more demanding advances. The sexual undertones of this scene in the princess's bedroom are more obvious in a variant of the tale that the Brothers Grimm published as number 13 in the second volume of their collection in 1815. Here the frog sleeps at her feet at the foot of her bed for two nights in a row. On the third evening the frog sleeps under her pillow, and when the princess wakes up in the morning, a handsome prince stands in front of her. …

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