In old times when wishing still helped one, there lived a queen whose sons were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which has seen so much, was astonished whenever it shone in his face. Close by the Queen’s castle lay a great dark forest, and under an old lime-tree in the forest was a well, and when the day was very warm, the Queen’s child went out into the forest and sat down by the side of the cool fountain, and when he was dull he took a golden ball, and threw it up on high and caught it, and this ball was his favorite plaything.
Now it so happened that on one occasion the prince’s golden ball did not fall into the little hand which he was holding up for it, but on to the ground beyond, and rolled straight into the water. The Queen’s son followed it with his eyes, but it vanished, and the well was deep, so deep that the bottom could not be seen. On this he began to cry, and cried louder and louder, and could not be comforted. And as he thus lamented some one said to him, “What ails thee, Queen’s son? Thou weepest so that even a stone would show pity.” He looked round to the side from whence the voice came, and saw a frog stretching forth its thick, ugly head from the water. “Ah! old water-splasher, is it thou?” said he; “I am weeping for my golden ball, which has fallen into the well.”
“Be quiet, and do not weep,” answered the frog, “I can help thee, but what wilt thou give me if I bring thy plaything up again?” “Whatever thou wilt have, dear frog,” said he — “My clothes, my pearls and jewels, and even the golden crown which I am wearing.”
The frog answered, “I do not care for thy clothes, thy pearls and jewels, or thy golden crown, but if thou wilt love me and let me be thy companion and play-fellow, and sit by thee at thy little table, and eat off thy little golden plate, and drink out of thy little cup, and sleep in thy little bed — if thou wilt promise me this I will go down below, and bring thee thy golden ball up again.”
“Oh yes,” said he, “I promise thee all thou wishest, if thou wilt but bring me my ball back again.” He, however, thought, “How the silly frog does talk! She lives in the water with the other frogs, and croaks, and can be no companion to any human being!”
But the frog when she had received this promise, put her head into the water and sank down, and in a short while came swimming up again with the ball in his mouth, and threw it on the grass. The Queen’s son was delighted to see her pretty plaything once more, and picked it up, and ran away with it. “Wait, wait,” said the frog. “Take me with thee. I can’t run as thou canst.” But what did it avail her to scream her croak, croak, after him, as loudly as she could? He did not listen to it, but ran home and soon forgot the poor frog, who was forced to go back into her well again.
The next day when he had seated himself at table with the Queen and all the courtiers, and was eating from her little golden plate, something came creeping splish splash, splish splash, up the marble staircase, and when it had got to the top, it knocked at the door and cried, “Prince, youngest prince, open the door for me.” He ran to see who was outside, but when he opened the door, there sat the frog in front of it. Then he slammed the door to, in great haste, sat down to dinner again, and was quite frightened. The Queen saw plainly that his heart was beating violently, and said, “My child, what art thou so afraid of? Is there perchance a giant outside who wants to carry thee away?” “Ah, no,” replied he. “It is no giant but a disgusting frog.”
“What does a frog want with thee?” “Ah, dear mother, yesterday as I was in the forest sitting by the well, playing, my golden ball fell into the water. And because I cried so, the frog brought it out again for me, and because she so insisted, I promised her she should be my companion, but I never thought she would be able to come out of her water! And now she is outside there, and wants to come in to me.”
In the meantime it knocked a second time, and cried,
“Prince! youngest prince!
Open the door for me!
Dost thou not know what thou saidst to me
Yesterday by the cool waters of the fountain?
Prince, youngest prince!
Open the door for me!”
Then said the Queen, “That which thou hast promised must thou perform. Go and let her in.” He went and opened the door, and the frog hopped in and followed him, step by step, to his chair. There she sat and cried, “Lift me up beside thee.” He delayed, until at last the Queen commanded him to do it. When the frog was once on the chair she wanted to be on the table, and when she was on the table she said, “Now, push thy little golden plate nearer to me that we may eat together.” He did this, but it was easy to see that he did not do it willingly. The frog enjoyed what she ate, but almost every mouthful he took choked him. At length she said, “I have eaten and am satisfied; now I am tired, carry me into thy little room and make thy little silken bed ready, and we will both lie down and go to sleep.”
The Queen’s son began to cry, for he was afraid of the cold frog which he did not like to touch, and which was now to sleep in his pretty, clean little bed. But the Queen grew angry and said, “She who helped thee when thou wert in trouble ought not afterwards to be despised by thee.” So he took hold of the frog with two fingers, carried her upstairs, and put her in a corner. But when he was in bed she crept to him and said, “I am tired, I want to sleep as well as thou, lift me up or I will tell thy mother.” Then he was terribly angry, and took her up and threw her with all her might against the wall. “Now, thou wilt be quiet, odious frog,” said he. But when she fell down she was no frog but a Queen’s daughter with beautiful kind eyes. She by his mother’s will was now his dear companion and wife. Then she told him how she had been bewitched by a wicked warlock, and how no one could have delivered her from the well but himself, and that to-morrow they would go together into her kingdom. Then they went to sleep, and next morning when the sun awoke them, a carriage came driving up with eight white horses, which had white ostrich feathers on their heads, and were harnessed with golden chains, and behind stood the young Queen’s servant Faithful Henrietta. Faithful Henrietta had been so unhappy when her mistress was changed into a frog, that she had caused three iron bands to be laid round her heart, lest it should burst with grief and sadness. The carriage was to conduct the young Queen into her Kingdom. Faithful Henrietta helped them both in, and placed herself behind again, and was full of joy because of this deliverance. And when they had driven a part of the way the Queen’s daughter heard a cracking behind her as if something had broken. So she turned round and cried, “Henrietta, the carriage is breaking.”
“No, mistress, it is not the carriage. It is a band from my heart, which was put there in my great pain when you were a frog and imprisoned in the well.” Again and once again while they were on their way something cracked, and each time the Queen’s daughter thought the carriage was breaking; but it was only the bands which were springing from the heart of faithful Henrietta because her mistress was set free and was happy.
by the Brothers Grimm (available in its original form at SurLaLune Fairy Tales)
Flipping this story, more clearly than any I’ve done before it, forced the story into a matriarchal world. The power is passed through the daughter’s lines and the prince is really kind of inconsequential. Beyond that, the story makes pretty good sense with gender-flipped characters. You have a flighty, spoiled prince, a practical queen who wishes her son had some better manners and a frog princess who really just wants to change back to herself and get back to her kingdom. I actually thought the weird gold ball thing might make more sense to modern readers with the princess changed to a prince. Who knows? I do like that this classic version of the story is kiss-free. It’s slightly less creepy that way.