On Kissing Frogs

should a certain
quite adorable princess
be walking in her garden
at such a time
and toss her golden ball
up like a bubble
and drop it into the well?
It was ordained.
Just as the fates deal out
the plague with a tarot card.
(Ann Sexton, “The Frog Prince” from Transformations)

“Horrid Old Thing”, thought the princess… (Illustration by Anne Anderson)

And so the story goes that a frog heard her weeping and offered his assistance in fetching her favorite bauble on the condition that she promises he may sit at her dinner table, eat from her plate and sleep in her bed. Thinking (or not-thinking, depending on your perspective) the frog couldn’t leave the water, she agreed. “Anything for my pretty toy!” The frog makes good on his end of the deal and the princess learns that a promise made in vain is still a promise.

Princesses are problematic. My daughter puts on a swishy dress and dances through the doorway, “I’m a princess!” she exclaims.

Princesses, I’ve discovered, are the standard to which young girls measure femininity. It’s not surprising — I understand the appeal of these beautiful little waifs with the prettiest things and the catchiest of theme songs. I don’t recall if the princess phenomenon was such a force in my own adolescence, I only know that I view it now with skepticism at best and abhorrence at worst. I can, as a mother, only issue warnings, “Don’t kiss frogs.”

In Grimm’s version, she doesn’t kiss the frog. The frog enters her dining room and sits at her table. He eats off her plate. And finally, demands entrance to her bedchamber. The King holds his daughter to this strange pact, so she carries the frog upstairs. The idea of sleeping with the frog is so repulsive to the princess that she dashes him against the wall — and in that moment he turns into a handsome prince.

In other versions, the frog-tossing is removed, along with a good deal of the princess’s agency. English audiences were treated to a rendition where the frog sleeps in the bed of the princess for three nights — and on the third he transforms into the handsome prince. Of course she has to marry him now (good thing he’s suddenly handsome, and a prince).

The kissing scene seems to have been added later. And the fickleness and falseness of the young princess is replaced by a sort of courageous sympathy that is rewarded when her kiss becomes the impetus for the transformation. The frog gets what he wants. The princess gets what she wants. Is kissing a frog really so bad? Maybe so, if you’re a princess.

Which tale do we tell? The one where the princess uses her charm and beauty to exploit others? The one where the frog offers to help a crying woman so long as she agrees to sleep with him? The one where she is so remorseful about her poor decisions that she commits a rather terrible act of violence?

Should the King have sheltered his daughter from the consequences of her choice? To what end should we keep to a promise? What if he never turned into a prince? What kind of a prince can this frog really be? Why does he accept her, knowing that her vanity prevents her from seeing the true nature of others?

In the end I’m not sure what to tell my children. Except maybe we’re all frogs and we’re all princesses. We all use people. We manipulate. We tell lies. We regret the things we say without consideration. We give ourselves away without thinking. We are all capable of violent outbursts when we’re forced into a corner. And we all change. We transform. And we go on. Ever after.


Author: Melissa

Melissa Jozefina is a poet, stargazer, and fortune teller.

  • These kind of conversations can be so difficult to have with children. On one hand I want to put certain books up on the shelf, at least until my daughters are old enough and armed enough with developed critical thinking and communication skills to work through the stories… But it is damned impossible to keep pop culture and deeply engrained societal biases off the radar of such acutely observant sponges! Yesterday I walked in my parents living room to find my sister reading aloud the biblical story of Job to my three year old. This particular book, which my little one selected is illustrated for childrens instruction with depictions of satan baiting god to torment his faithful servant. Its a story that Ive personally always reviled. I felt that if I stopped the reading my girl would only intensify her fascination. So I just left the house to remove my angry, negative energy. It was a difficult day for me. Im not sure what all my little one took away from the story, but my sister did say in the end that the story meant no matter how troubled your life gets or how much you hurt, it is best to do the right thing. To make good choices… Little people have such great and deep thoughts. I worry about the impressions they make when exposed to some of the ideas they are bombarded with at such a young age. We cannot shield them always, but we can help guide them as best we can with our words and our intentions. I just wish my head was clearer and wiser sometimes.

  • Dear Melissa–

    Thank you so much for this post. At first, I only read it because I like you and your writing and figured I would take the three minutes and run my eyes over it–just out of respect.

    But then I got to your final paragraph, and I realized that once again, as you have done in so many ways, you’re giving me permission to be who I am–princess, frog, kisser, slam-against-the-waller–and doing so by including me in the experience of just being human.

    You are the bees knees.

  • Oh its so true Melissa–how do we tell the tales to our little ones in a way that is both honest and not too cynical? I remember my mother and grandmother would finish all princess tales to me and my sister with the following line…”but just remember girls, no matter how handsome or good that prince is, the white horse he rides in on can still leave a mess on your front porch-make sure he sticks around to help you clean it up!” I think I appreciate their addendum more and more as the years go by.

  • Isn’t the deeper, Jungian meaning that she was stuck in childhood somehow, the well was her subconscious and the frog her animus? Too much for kids.
    I prefer the simpler old Mae West motif. Have a great time and get a nice jewelry collection going while you’re waiting for Cary Grant to show up, haha.

  • But yeah…you can’t take kids to the supermarket anymore without seeing those “DISNEY PRINCESSES!” coloring books at the checkout…what’s the message here? I give kids credit for knowing fantasy when they see it, but this says “love and magic is for the aristocracy” and that’s wrong, too.

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