Before you see the Disney film The Princess and the Frog, keep this in mind: everything you know about the fairy tale may be wrong.

You may know the story of the Frog Prince: a handsome young prince was innocently minding his own business when, for no apparent reason, an evil witch cursed him and turned him into a particularly ugly little frog. He was doomed to live in this miserable, lowly condition until a princess with a pure, loving heart saw past his ugly exterior and kissed him. Her purity and sweetness would break the evil spell and turn him back into a handsome prince-and the perfect boyfriend for the lucky princess. That’s how the story goes, right?

Wrong.

Pick up Grimm’s Fairy Tales and you’ll read an entirely different version. The true story of the Frog Prince is better still.

You see, the witch in the story wasn’t really evil at all. Her name was Ellspeth, and as she told it in her autobiography Ellspeth’s Book of Shadows, Prince Heinrich wasn’t as innocent as he later claimed. He refused to get out of her path as she walked up the mountain pass, searching for wild witch hazel. To add insult to injury, he called her all kinds of foul names. Ellspeth cursed the ill-tempered young prince for his own good, to teach him a lesson in manners.

When the princess (whose name was Anika) came along, tossing her famous golden ball in the air, and dropped her ball into the bog that Heinrich called home, Heinrich saw it as his golden opportunity to take advantage of Anika. He offered to retrieve her golden ball from the pond, if she’d let stay at the castle. His plan was mooch off Anika and her father the king, while all the while staying warm, moist and comfortable in the royal palace. Anika agreed, but she could only put up with Heinrich’s selfish, greedy ways for so long. When he wanted her to allow his slimy carcass to sleep on her pillow, Anika got disgusted and threw Heinrich face-first into a stone wall. That would have killed an ordinary frog. But in Heinrich’s case, it made him wake up and smell the bogwater. He realized he’d been an awful jerk, and turned back into a prince.

Anika, however, chose not to forgive Heinrich’s thoughtlessness. She and the prince did not get married, and they certainly never lived happily ever after. In fact, after that incident, whenever Anika and Heinrich crossed paths, she was polite but distant to him. He accepted that he was never going to get anywhere with her romantically, though in his later years, he did become rather bitter about the lack of a closer relationship. He’s said to have circulated rumors that the princess was born with webbed toes, which were later corrected through surgery. In fact, webbed toes ran in Heinrich’s family, though he himself did not inherit the gene.

A fascinating variation on the fairy tale is “The Frog Princess” by Barbara G. Walker, from her book Feminist Fairy Tales. In it, a female frog aspires to marry a handsome and kind-hearted prince. She goes to a good fairy of the woods, who agrees to transform her into a human being if she can get the prince to kiss her. The clever frog succeeds, but her success comes at a terrible price. Although the prince and the frog both end of living happily, their happily-ever-after is spent apart. Female frogs, Walker notes in her introduction to the tale, are often larger and stronger than the males of their species. For that reason, the frog makes the perfect symbol of the independent woman who can make it in the world, even without her handsome prince.

Works Cited

“The Frog Prince,” Grimms’ Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm. There are many editions; mine happens to be translated by Mrs. E. V. Lucas, Lucy Crane and Marian Edwardes. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1945.

“The Frog Princess,” Feminist Fairy Tales by Barbara G. Walker. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996.

“Relationship Basics: Never Kiss a Frog,” The Magical Girl’s Guide to Womanhood by Violetta Marmalade-Spirit, as told to Erin E. Schmidt. Unpublished, 2008.

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