The Frog-King or Iron Henry is a story that you know. You’ve heard is probably a million times, well, maybe not that many. You’ve seen this story played out on television, in movies, and in plenty of other books. It’s a well-known Grimm’s story, although the Iron Henry reference may be a little confusing.
This story is about a princess who goes into the forest to play with her golden ball by a lovely well of water. As she is tossing this ball up and down, each time catching it, there is one time that it fails to return to her hand. Before she can even really discern what is going on the ball has ended up in the well, which is very deep.
The princess starts to cry. She hears a voice and it is coming from a frog. The frog says he will retrieve the princess’s golden ball if she allows him to be her companion. The princess agrees already considering not to keep her promise. As the frog promised he soon returns with the golden ball. The princess hastily runs home without the frog.
At dinner a knock is heard upon the castle door. When questioned about it the princess admits to her father that she promised a frog that he could be her companion for rescuing her golden ball. The kind is apparently pretty strict on promises and says that the girl must fulfill her promise. They let the frog in. He proceeds to sit beside the princess on the table and eat from her very same plate. The princess is kind of disgusted. When it is time to go to bed the frog goes with the princess to sleep on her pillow.
The princess decides to throw the frog against the wall in a fit of anger. When she does this the frog becomes a man, a prince to be exact. The prince says that he is going to take the princess away to his kingdom the very next morning.
The next morning a carriage arrives with white horses to take the prince and the princess away. The man driving the carriage is a devote servant named Henry. When the prince had the curse placed upon him by a witch, Henry had iron bars placed around his heart.
As the carriage was driving away, the newly minted couple heard a sound as if something was going terribly wrong with the carriage. They called up to Henry saying that maybe the carriage was broken. Henry says it is not the carriage that is breaking, but the iron bands placed around his heart because he is filled with such joy at having his master returned to manhood.
You will notice that there is no kiss involved in this story. Most of the time when we hear this story there is a kiss. The princess kisses the frog and he turns into a prince, true love’s kiss and all that jazz, blah, blah, blah.
You will also notice that your experience with this tale does not include Iron Henry. That’s probably because people thought Iron Henry was superfluous and kind of gruesome. Do you know who reminds me of Iron Henry? The Grinch. Remember how the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes in one day? I wonder if Dr. Suess got the idea about the Grinch’s heart from this story. I’ll probably never know.
The princess is very bratty. I have to wonder what age the princess is. If she is playing with a golden ball she’s probably on the younger side. Back in the day, even girls of very young ages were taught to be productive and toys were kind of frowned upon. I can’t help feeling that the princess is probably twelve or thirteen years old in this tale, possibly younger. She certainly acts young.
Marriage to very young girls was not uncommon in this era, and it’s still not uncommon in some parts of the world. Edward II of England married Isabella of France when she was only twelve years old. This girl became the Queen Consort at twelve years old. This was in the very early 1300s. Some of these Grimm’s fairy tales are quite old, so I can see the princess in this story being very young.
I also notice in the story that the men surrounding the princess determine her actions. The princess does not choose for herself. Her father makes her fulfill the promise then he makes her marry a man who was formerly a frog. The frog-prince/king/whatever really doesn’t give the princess any choice in the matter. He pretty much says, “We’re getting married, like tomorrow.”
Another observation is that the prince really doesn’t care that the princess is such a brat. He doesn’t care how she treated him while he was a frog. If I was this prince I think I would go marry someone a little less bratty, but that’s just me, maybe the princess was well-endowed?
The central theme of this story is that you should not treat people harshly based on their appearances. How true that story is. You never know what a person has/doesn’t have or is/isn’t simply by their outward appearance. Some CEOs dress like hobos, who are we to treat them any differently because they’re wearing clothes from the Goodwill? You’re not supposed to treat them differently. You’re supposed to treat even the scummiest looking person with the same respect that you would treat the most well-dressed person you have ever encountered.
This theme, of course, extends beyond the simple idea of clothing and possessions. Guess what…if a person is taller, shorter, fatter, thinner, older, younger, blacker, whiter, purplier or more red-headed than you, you are supposed to treat them as you would want to be treated. No, I don’t care that society says it’s ok for you to treat obese people a certain way. I don’t care if society says it’s ok the treat elderly people disrespectfully. You are supposed to treat everyone with respect even if they happen to look like a frog. Every person has inherent value even if they don’t look the way you think they should look. Take that Mike Jeffries!
(If you don’t know you Mike Jeffires is, Google him. He’s kind of a jerk and even though he looks like a frog, I still choose to respect him as a CEO, but not really as a person. Maybe I’m being a hypocrite…)
As a thought…let’s set a bunch of frogs loose in Abercrombie and Fitch. I’m just saying, it would be poetic justice, or rather… Grimm justice. *puts on sunglasses*
Oh yeah, let’s talk about Iron Henry a bit. Iron Henry is a butt-kissing martyr. This story just goes to show you that there are people who will inflict pain and humiliation upon themselves to get a little further in life. Who would put iron bars around their heart because someone got turned into a frog? Do you remember O, Brother Where Art Thou? when the two dufuses thought that Pete had been turned into a toad by the southern sirens? I really don’t have a point to make about this reference other than the fact that they didn’t stop their lives just because their friend got turned into a toad, which he didn’t.
I get the loyalty. It’s nice to be loyal to someone. It’s nice to develop an Alfred/Bruce type of relationship with someone, but this story is a bit morbid in how far it takes that loyalty.
I believe The Frog-King has an important message to people of all ages. The Grimm’s Brothers were wise for choosing it to be in their collection.
abercrombie and fitch, Dr. Suess, frog, golden ball, grimm’s brothers, grimm’s fairy tales, iron henry, mike jeffries, o brother where art thou, princess, the frog prince, the frog-king or iron henry, the grinch
Grimm’s Fairy Tales