“The Frog Prince”–Told From A Grammatical-Historical Approach

Consider this familiar fairy tale, as told from a strictly grammatical-historical approach. Isn’t the story so much better this way?*

“The Frog Prince” by the Brothers Grimm

One fine evening a young princess put on her bonnet and clogs, and went out to take a walk by herself in a wood [Now, scholars are not certain which wood is meant here, but historians agree a forest located in the environs of Germany is an appropriate backdrop to the story, considering the Brothers Grimm were of German descent]; and when she came to a cool spring of water, that rose in the midst of it, she sat herself down to rest a while [The Grimms grew up in the town of Hanau, and there is located there a historic spring named Wilhelmsbad. It is possible as boys that they played near such a spring].

GmimmTheFrogPrinceNow she had a golden ball in her hand, which was her favourite plaything; and she was always tossing it up into the air, and catching it again as it fell. [You might miss the significance of this little game if you don’t know the history behind it. The kids used to play a game called Kinderkugel in which they tossed a ball in the air and caught it.] After a time she threw it up so high that she missed catching it as it fell; and the ball bounded away, and rolled along upon the ground, till at last it fell down into the spring. The princess looked into the spring after her ball, but it was very deep, so deep that she could not see the bottom of it. Then she began to bewail her loss, and said, ‘Alas! if I could only get my ball again, I would give all my fine clothes and jewels, and everything that I have in the world.’ [Scholars believe that a princess of this esteem living in the regions of Germany would perhaps own at least 15 changes of clothes and 8 fine pieces of jewelry by age 15.]

Whilst she was speaking, a frog [It’s important to realize that in those days frogs were greenish-brown. They lived in ponds and were spawned from tadpoles in small pools. Frogs are amphibians, by the way.] put its head out of the water, and said, ‘Princess, why do you weep so bitterly?’ ‘Alas!’ said she, ‘what can you do for me, you nasty frog? My golden ball has fallen into the spring.’ [Archaeologists have unearthed golden balls in the forests of Germany ranging in size from 11cm in diameter up to 20cm in diameter.] The frog said, ‘I want not your pearls, and jewels, and fineclothes; but if you will love me, and let me live with you and eat from off your golden plate, and sleep upon your bed, I will bring you your ball again.’ [It is characteristic of this genre of literature to encounter talking animals. Literary scholars refer to this phenomenon as anthropomorphism, the attributing of human characteristics to non-human entities.] ‘What nonsense,’ thought the princess, ‘this silly frog is talking! He can never even get out of the spring to visit me, though he may be able to get my ball for me, and therefore I will tell him he shall have what he asks.’ So she said to the frog, ‘Well, if you will bring me my ball, I will do all you ask.’

Then the frog put his head down, and dived deep under the water; [The words “dived deep” are a translation of the German word hineinspringen, not that it adds anything to the story, but I just wanted you to know that I can translate German] and after a little while he came up again, with the ball in his mouth, and threw it on the edge of the spring. As soon as the young princess saw her ball, she ran to pick it up [By “run”, the author means the German word laufen, which means “to put one foot quickly before the other whilst moving one’s arms in a forward thrusting motion]; and she was so overjoyed to have it in her hand again, that she never thought of the frog, but ran home with it as fast as she could. The frog called after her, ‘Stay, princess, and take me with you as you said,’ But she did not stop to hear a word. [Scientific studies have found that if a frog were ever able to talk, his voice would be quite soft and very difficult to hear if one was running away from it.]

The next day, just as the princess had sat down to dinner, she heard astrange noise—tap, tap—plash, plash—as if something was coming up the marble staircase [In the 1800s, the onomatopoeiac word for a watery-frog-splatting-on-marble-staircase sound was “plash”]: and soon afterwards there was a gentle knock at the door, and a little voice cried out and said: ‘Open the door, my princess dear, Open the door to thy true love here! And mind the words that thou and I said By the fountain cool, in the greenwood shade.’

Then the princess ran to the door and opened it, and there she saw the frog, whom she had quite forgotten. At this sight she was sadly frightened, and shutting the door as fast as she could came back to her seat. The king, her father, seeing that something had frightened her, asked her what was the matter. ‘There is a nasty frog,’ said she,‘at the door, that lifted my ball for me out of the spring this morning: I told him that he should live with me here, thinking that he could never get out of the spring; but there he is at the door, and he wants to come in.’

While she was speaking the frog knocked again at the door, and said: ‘Open the door, my princess dear, Open the door to thy true love here! And mind the words that thou and I said By the fountain cool, in the greenwood shade.’ [Scholars do not agree on what is exactly meant by the term “greenwood” but are fairly certain it refers to a place that is green and has much wood.]

Then the king said to the young princess, ‘As you have given your word you must keep it; so go and let him in.’ She did so, and the frog hopped into the room, and then straight on—tap, tap—plash, plash—from the bottom of the room to the top, till he came up close to the table where the princess sat. ‘Pray lift me upon chair,’ said he to the princess, ‘and let me sit next to you.’ As soon as she had done this, the frog said, ‘Put your plate nearer to me, that I may eat out of it.’ [A frog’s diet typically consists of bugs, although American bullfrog stomachs have been found to contain rodents, small reptiles, amphibians, crayfish, birds, and bats] This she did, and when he had eaten as much as he could, he said, ‘Now I am tired; carry me upstairs, and put me into your bed.’ And the princess, though very unwilling, took him up in her hand, and put him upon the pillow of her own bed, where he slept all night long. [Traditionally, Germans slept with pillows on their beds. They would lay their heads upon the pillow and the rest of their body upon the bed longways, or in layman’s terms “hotdog-style”.] As soon as it was light he jumped up, hopped downstairs, and went out of the house. ‘Now, then,’ thought the princess, ‘at last he is gone, and I shall be troubled with him no more.’

But she was mistaken; for when night came again she heard the same tapping at the door; and the frog came once more, and said: ‘Open the door, my princess dear, Open the door to thy true love here! And mind the words that thou and I said By the fountain cool, in the greenwood shade.’

And when the princess opened the door the frog came in, and slept upon her pillow as before, till the morning broke. And the third night he did the same. [The number three appears often in folklore–e.g., Three Little Pigs, Three Blind Mice, etc., and as a common strophe is of no significant importance at this juncture except that I wanted to sound smart by pointing it out] But when the princess awoke on the following morning she was astonished to see, instead of the frog, a handsome prince, gazing on her with the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen, and standing at the head of her bed. [In 19th century Germany, it was quite uncommon to fall asleep next to a frog and wake up under the beautiful gaze of a handsome prince.]

He told her that he had been enchanted by a spiteful fairy, who had changed him into a frog; and that he had been fated so to abide till some princess should take him out of the spring, and let him eat from her plate, and sleep upon her bed for three nights. ‘You,’ said the prince, ‘have broken his cruel charm, and now I have nothing to wish for but that you should go with me into my father’s kingdom, where I will marry you, and love you as long as you live.’ [German marriage ceremonies typically involved a bride and a groom. No record has ever been found of a frog prince marrying a princess, although it does not mean it could not have happened.]

The young princess, you may be sure, was not long in saying ‘Yes’ to all this; and as they spoke a gay coach drove up, with eight beautiful horses, decked with plumes of feathers and a golden harness; and behind the coach rode the prince’s servant, faithful Heinrich, who had bewailed the misfortunes of his dear master during his enchantment so long and so bitterly, that his heart had well-nigh burst. [It was traditional in those days for servants to spend most of their waking hours crying in the event that their master was transmuted into a frog. It didn’t happen that often.]

They then took leave of the king, and got into the coach with eight horses, and all set out, full of joy and merriment, for the prince’s kingdom, which they reached safely; and there they lived happily a great many years. [In the early 20th century, the traditional fairy tale ending became “And they lived happily ever after” so as not to imply that the joy and merriment of the characters was ever interrupted as the phrase “a great many years” might imply.]

See, isn’t that so much better?

*Note: If it wasn’t readily apparent, this article is only slightly tongue-in-cheek.

(Text taken from http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/175/grimms-fairy-tales/3066/the-frog-prince)

(photo credit)

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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