Kissing, Consent, and The Frog Prince


Mention frog stories and anyone familiar with European fairy tales is likely to respond, "The Frog Prince!" -- it's indisputably the most famous frog story in the western canon. The modern imagination puts a kiss at the center of the story, implying that everyone deserves a chance no matter the other's feelings, implying that kissing someone we'd rather not will transform both parties into lovey-dovey crooning sweethearts.

First, yuck. But second, that's not actually the (old) story at all. The old story is so much better.

In the Grimm Brothers' version, a princess loses her golden ball down a well, and a frog says he'll fetch it for her if she promises he can be her companion everywhere: sit next to her at the table, sleep next to her at night... The princess is so desperate to get her golden ball back that she agrees.

But she's surprised and afraid when the frog shows up at the palace: she'd made the promise out of desire for the ball, not desire for the frog, and didn't really expect to see him again. Indeed, the frog took advantage of her vulnerability to secure a promise the princess didn't really want to make.

Her father, the king, colludes with the trick, welcoming the frog to dinner, making the princess keep her promise despite her fear and abhorrence. That night the frog expects to sleep on her pillow. Horrified and disgusted, the princess hurls the frog across the room. When he hits the wall, he turns into a prince.

A kiss implies consent but in the case of this princess, at least, it would be coercion. In fact, in order for the needed transformation to take place, the princess must not submit to the demands of the king and the frog. No! She must assert her strength and independence. Speaking her truth unequivocally is not only her prerogative, it is the magic that frees the princess from her promise and frees the prince from the dark spell he himself is under. When both are their true selves, then they may join together fully and freely.

The postscript to the story is just as important. The prince has a friend, Iron Henry, who put iron bands around his heart to stop it from breaking when the prince was cursed. When the two are reunited, the bands snap apart, freeing his heart in profound happiness. What we learn from Iron Henry is that authentic friendship and deep connection -- grounded in abiding faith in each other -- enlarge all of us, free us into the joyful fullness of ourselves.

The frog carving in the picture above is part of a bench crafted from a log in the outdoor preschool area at the Tacoma Nature Center. Surely the Grimms' version of The Frog Prince is a better lesson for preschoolers and the rest of us than one about kissing someone you'd rather not.