Beedle The Bard’s Chronicles Of Tall-Tales: ‘The Frog Prince’ and ‘The Frog Princess’.

Up in the dank loft of his house, a muggle finds a fading chronicle authored by a writer whose name is a mystery to us all. Making it his life’s work to preserve what’s left of the chronicle, the boy decides the internet is the greatest place of all to store this hidden wonder of knowledge.

Original Artwork by Omar Rayvan © 2011

Welcome dear reader, to the first chronicle penned by yours truly, Beedle The Bard!

Together, we will go on a journey through what muggle’s call fairy tales, starting with my two favourite adaptations from this sort of literature: ‘The Frog Prince’ and ‘The Frog Princess.’ Although it is hard even for the best wizard to turn a prince into a frog, the magic in each word is a difficult energy to ignore.

After all, our distant relatives have a long and rich history in creating magical stories that even rival our own, and these two adaptations prove this.

Nevertheless, it would hardly be a surprise if a few of you knew about these muggle fables, since stories about a spoiled monarch befriending a frog hardly seems like profitable material for adaptations!

So, without further ado, let me elaborate further on these works and enrich you understanding all about them.

‘The Frog King’ and ‘The Frog Princess’ are the best well known adaptations of The Frog Prince, both of which roughly follow the latter/the original in terms of plot: A young member of royalty finds and befriends a frog, which is revealed to actually be a muggle with high social standing. Once the protagonist completes a quest, the frog transforms into its actual human self.

Although neither tale carries the same recognition as say  Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood, do not assume that they bring nothing to the table of muggle folk literature. This is hardly the case, as both were considered culturally meaningful at some point in their existence.

But, sadly, this is where their similarities end. These two adaptations diverge massively in terms of characters, and the reasons why they are culturally valuable. But first, let us discuss what they share in common.

Like Hogwarts’s Dumbledore in our wizarding world, both adaptations are described by scholarly folk as having cultural meaning. Why? Because they are representing some part of the culture, history, or identity of its audience.

‘The Frog King’ was a product of the Grimm Brothers transcribing oral versions of pre-circulated tales. They considered it as the “oldest and most beautiful in German-speaking regions” at the time, and so became their favourite tale. This explains why it was chosen to be the first story in ‘Childhood and Household Tales’, a collection of Germanic fairy tales released in 1812—the year when I turned 235, no less!

The Frog-King or Iron Henry – One-Eleven Books2
A cutting from German Translation of ‘The Frog King’, found between the pages of this Chronicle.

This passion for ‘The Frog King’ is explained by their political views regarding folk literature. The Grimm Brothers were nationalists, and not necessarily the version that He Who Cannot be Named proscribes to! A dominant political view in their lifetimes, nationalism in Germany argued that unifying the then-divided country must be completed if the country was to be modernised. How, I hear you wonder? Well, like Ulick Gamp’s attempt to make the wizarding world come together, the Grimm Brother’s believed that Germany’s shared culture was the key. Germanic folklore (including fairy tales such as ‘The Frog King’), was evidence of a collective culture amongst the disparate peasantry. So, by using ‘The Frog King’ and its counterparts, a strong foundation for their romantic ambition of a one, unified Germany could be formed.

Like the Grimm Brothers with ‘The Frog King’, the Russian Soviet State used ‘The Frog Princess’ to their own political end. However, the State’s political motivation to use the likes of ‘The Frog Princess’ differed from the romantic notion of the Grimm Brothers’. While the latter used ‘The Frog King’ as the means to build a new nation, the former used ‘The Frog Princess’ to propagate Socialist beliefs and values among the Russian population.

In Post-War Russia, the government began to utilise the once-agrarian folklore of the Proletariat (Russia’s equivalent to German peasants) in their propaganda. Fairy tales signified the cultural richness of the country. Like the Ministry of Magic in their quest to prove wizard superiority, the Soviet Union used ‘The Frog Princess’ to highlight their literary superiority over their capitalist opponents. In Russia, ‘The Frog Princess’ wasn’t simply another fairy tale to be placed within an anthology. Yes, it signified a sense of patriotism like the Grimm Brother’s reading of ‘The Frog King’, but to Russia ‘The Frog Princess’ meant much more. It was the means to prove a broader political message: That the Soviet Union had a more vibrant culture than their contemporaries; A message that some of us love to make, much to the detriment of mud-bloods.

Inevitably, their cultural value would justify their adaptation into other forms: ‘The Frog Princess’ was adapted into a large-budget film in 1939 by Aleksandr Rou, and into two animations in 1953 and 1977. Similarly, ‘The Frog King’ was adapted on multiple occasions throughout the 20th century for film and stage.

Why the Russian adaptation is more culturally valuable can be seen in an analysis of both adaptation’s plot, tones, and characters.

 ‘The Frog Princess’ massively contrasts with ‘The Frog King’ because the former possesses characters that have an existence outside of this text, within Russian culture. The characters in ‘The Frog King’ live entirely in its plot: Without this tale, characters like Faithful Henry and the King’s Daughter would never exist. They simply do not have the cemented cultural legacy and adequate development like some of the characters in ‘The Frog Princess’. Take Baba Yaga, the chief antagonist who rebukes Prince Ivan’s plea for her help; she is a well-recognised witch from Slavic Folklore, with numerous appearances in Russian fairy tales documented by Alexander Afanasyev in the mid-1800s. Even my own works feature the odd guest appearance from Baba Yaga!

Moreover, the value of ‘The Frog Princess’ is illustrated by its authentic portrayal of Russian fairy tale plot and tone. ‘The Frog Princess’ has a lengthier plot than ‘The Frog King’, a typical feature in most Russian fairy tales. Its story contains many twists and turns, like any of mine, as the protagonist must overcome two to four antagonists to find a bride before his brothers. In contrast, ‘The Frog King’ has a quick pace, ending quickly when the frog is thrown against a wall, and “when he fell down, he was no frog but a king’s son.”

While ‘The Frog King’ concludes on a high note, ‘The Frog Princess’ has no happy ever after: Ultimately, Prince Ivan fails to turn the frog back into a princess. This contributes to a bleaker and un-child friendly tone that contrasts with ‘The Frog Kings’ more innocent tone. This tone is hardly surprising considering the fact that Russian fairy tales came from agrarian societies before industrialisation, where hardship was as frequently harsh as the bleak Russian climate. In my eyes, the stories needed to be dark so the children could be toughened up and ready for what life had to throw at them.

Meanwhile, in 19th Century Europe, the profitable middle-class readership sought sanitised and moralistic fairy tales, ones which avoided dark tones that could corrupt the perceived innocence of children—much like how wizards never talk about the dark arts in front of children. This commercial pressure forced the Grimm Brothers to alter the tone in many of their fairy tales, sanitising the dark tone of their original source material. While ‘The Frog King’ was entrenched with a wholesome tone and a happy ending, ‘The Frog Princess’ was able to keep its bleak tone from a hopeless cultural past.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that ‘The Frog Princess’ is entirely free of typical fairy-tale conventions.

In Bernheimer’s essay ‘Fairy-tale is Form, Form is Fairy-tale’, she identifies four elements that create the typical fairy tale character. I will cover the one that is more relevant to this audio chronicle: Flatness.

Flatness refers to the removal of a complex psychology in characters, their entire identities constructed by one stereotype. This is demonstrated by the King’s Daughter in ‘The Frog King’, who has no identity beyond her social position: She has no name of her own and is never described in exact detail. Although the ‘The Frog Princess’ contains its own fair share of nameless, faceless characters, they number significantly less than those within ‘The Frog King’. As already mentioned, the antagonists Baba Yaga (and Koschei the Deathless too) have recognisable identities, each one having a fully developed backstory in Russian folklore.

‘The Frog Princess’ has a named protagonist: Prince Ivan. Granted, his name is not particularly inventive for a Russian aristocrat, but the attribution of a name to this character is far closer an individual personality than having no name, as is the case for the King’s Daughter in ‘The Frog King’.

‘Flat’ personalities hardly engage with modern audiences thirsty for complex characters that speak to the human condition. So, why does the element of flatness exist within the characters of ‘The Frog King’ and ‘Frog Princess’?

Phillip Pullman argues that such fairy tales prioritise a plot “that moves with a dream-like speed”, where “what happens to [characters]” matters more “than their individuality.” Put simply, the plot’ matters more than developing the characters within these stories, leaving what can be called half-baked characters. Thank God I have never had to experience that in my own writing!

Although the idea that characters are kept light of personality in order to keep the pace quick is an intriguing concept, I actually prefer Bernheimer’s explanation about flat characters more. She argues that ‘The Frog King’ and ‘The Frog Princess’ possess flat characters for one simple reason: To allow the reader to define the characters with their own imagination. Their decision to skip the details is not done by the pressure of keeping the pace quick, but out of creative choice. By leaving the metaphorical canvas blank, the reader has the space to choose what their King’s Daughter or Prince Ivan will appear like. This, I find, is the most intimate way any creator will ever get to engage with their audience.

I’m afraid my listeners this is all the time we have for this chronicle. I hope you’ve found it enjoyable reading my findings, because it’s been a pleasurable experience recording them! As always, beware of dark magic!

© Thomas Gallimore Barker



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