Monday, April 7, 2014

The Grimm Project: Tale I (or How "The Frog-King" is Like the Softball Alarm Clock I Had When I Was Nine)

The Grimm Project: Tale I
The tale I was reading when I was struck by the idea for the Grimm Project is "The Frog-King." This story seems like a perfect place for us to start, because it is a tale that is so skewed in the general cultural memory, it barely even resembles its former self. Let's spin it this way: when I say the words "The Frog Prince" or "The Princess and the Frog," most people probably think of a story in which a marriageable girl locks lips with an amphibian and miraculously, through the powers invested in her kisser, turns him back into a Prince. Either that, or you think of the most recent Disney version, and the Shadow Man, Tiana, and Prince Naveen. Either way, we are waaaaaaay off base (although I must say, I do have a soft spot for the Shadow Man).

The Grimm's version of this tale is much creepier, steeped as it is in a young girl's forced acceptance of a "frog" into her bed. In the story, a princess makes a promise to a frog that, if he will retrieve the precious golden ball she has accidentally dropped into his well, she will love him and let him eat off of her plate, drink out of her cup, and sleep in her bed.  Even though the girl is disgusted by the frog - the sounds he makes, his cold and slimy body, his needling, she is forced by her father to take the frog into bed with her. What ensues is not what we've been conditioned to accept. In fact, after the girl tries to put the frog in the corner for the night and he "cre[eeps] to her and sa[ys], 'I am tired, I want to sleep as well as thou, lift me up or I will tell thy father,'" the Princess gets "terribly angry, and t[akes] him up and thr[ows] him with all her might against the wall," saying "Now, thou wilt be quiet, odious frog."


When I was about nine, imagining myself to be the same age as the girl in the tale, I equated the Frog Prince with this pain-in-the-ass alarm clock that I had bought myself that looked like a softball. When you wanted to make it snooze, you whizzed the ball against the wall, where it would land with what was initially a very satisfying thud. I imagined the Princess throwing the Frog with as much hateful might as she could muster, the same passionate hatred with which I threw my alarm when I didn't want to get up in the morning (which was, if I'm being honest, every single school day). Now, the only problem with this ball/clock was that, when your 10-minute snooze was up, it would blare again and you had to get OUT of bed to turn it off (I imagine this is probably the point, but it absolutely infuriated me as a young girl ... they should make alarm-clock boomerangs).

If you want to really annoy your tween-age kids, order them a softball alarm clock. They'll think they are going to love it. April fools.  
Turns out, for the princess, throwing the frog against the wall does not have the satisfactory results she expected either. For when the frog flops onto the ground, he transforms into a King's son, who "by her father's will was now her dear companion and husband." In this, the frog is transformed by an act of violence on the princess's part, not by an act of romance, which I found somewhat thrilling as a young reader. Kisses seem rather, well, been there, done that, imaginatively speaking. A girl hurling her future lover into the wall .... that's a whole other can of worms.

Speaking of worms, this tale, nowadays, seems very disturbing, mainly because the girl hurls her future lover (mandated thus by her father) into the wall because she finds him completely repulsive. He has a "thick, ugly head"; he comes "creeping splish splash, splish splash, up the marble staircase"; the girl is "afraid of the cold frog which she did not like to touch" that wants to lie in her "silken bed" with her, so afraid that her heart beats violently when he is near (the phallic/sexual imagery here is obvious). What is interesting to me is that the girl doesn't play the victim, accepting the frog's overtures. Instead, she literally tries to kill him.


This is what I love about the original Grimm tales. They are filled with the unexpected. Most of today's versions are like morbidly obese cats that have gorged themselves on old stories and that only lie in the sunshine. The Grimm tales are lithe and lively. They are also filled with some of the most exquisite language, as the opening lines of this tale reveal. In old times, when wishing still helped one, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which has seen so much, was astonished whenever it shone in her face. So simple, and yet so evocative.

I hope you keep reading to see what else lies in store. A/J

P.S. If you haven't entered the Grimm giveaway yet, we draw the winner Friday night. Enter for your chance to win below!

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