10 Symbols in The Frog King

by Tolovaj

Frog King (or Frog Prince) is a classic fairy tale with powerful symbolism. Here are some of the symbols explained.

Frog King is one of the oldest German fairy tales and has a number on in the collection by Brothers Grimm. It's a story about a princess who loses a toy and promises great rewards to a frog to get it back but breaks her word. Yet, the frog is stubborn and the king, princess' father, supports it. Eventually, the frog transforms into a handsome prince that leads to another change - once a childish princess is ready to become a wife, a mother, and a queen.

Like many other fairy tales, The Frog King is packed with symbols. Here is just ten of them with short explanations:

1. Castle

Home essentially represents a home (My home is my castle.) In this case, it is an emphasized home. The princess is safe here. She enjoys maximum protection, her wishes are served by others, and she gives nothing in return. Yet it's clear from the very beginning this is not enough for here (anymore). She has to leave the castle to play with her ball and in the end, she'll leave it to start a new life in another castle.


2. Fountain / Well

Depending on the version, the princess plays at fountain or well. In both cases, water represents calmness, peace, but due to its fluidity and ability to change, also suggests a change. Fountains and wells are also closely associated with affluence. Only nobility had fountains on their property and everybody who has a well owns a source of water as a necessary condition for life.

In The Frog King by Brothers Grimm we soon find out the time of carefree pleasures is about to end for the princess. But there will be time for other, more adult pleasures which are also represented by a fountain. She will lose her ball (end her childhood) and enter the world of adults (with promises to be kept).

3. Forest

Numerous fairy tales use forests as places to visit or pass and they always symbolize some kind of danger, mystery, but also a place for revelation.

Sleeping Beauty is protected by dangerous thorns and the woods, Red Riding Hood has to enter the woods if she wants to visit her granny, Snow White escapes in the forest, Hansel and Gretel are lost there, ...

In all cases, the entrance means some kind of anticipation, and return from the forest suggest a crucial and irreversible change.

I intend to write a full article about the forest in fairy tales with examples.

There's also at least one more important meaning connected with the forest - it represents feminity.

4. Golden Ball

Gold represents the noble heritage of the princess. The ball represents her childhood with its complete package, from innocence to irresponsibility. Loosing the ball means losing her innocence - she will really find a groom very soon. And we are about to find out she is not ready to become responsible (grown-up) when she leaves the frog without the promised payment. Thanks to her father she'll be forced to grow up anyway.


5. Frog

A frog represents a change, a transformation, what is the main theme of this fairy tale. An unattractive animal turns into a handsome prince. The strange creature turns into a lifelong companion. 

Another popular association of the frogs is fertility. Frogs suggest new life since Egyptians noticed frogs coming with the floods of Nile. In the fairy tale The Sleeping Beaaty a frog is used as a messenger of the soon-to-be-born princess. Symbolism of frogs is versatile and powerful.


6. Clothes, Golden Crown, Jewels, ...

All the material goods the princess offers to the frog in exchange for the ball represent exactly that - the material goods. She is willing to part with everything just to get back in her irresponsible child state again. When she gets the ball she immediately proved she is still irresponsible and her word has no value.

But the frog is persistent. It doesn't care for the stuff she offers. The frog wants more - a companion as a support in the climb on the social ladder. Eating, playing, and sleeping with the princess means only one thing. It means belonging to her world. When the princess brokes her promise, the frog persists. A given word is a given word. And eventually, the frog wins.


7. Wall

A wall means a limitation, an obstacle. When the princess throws the frog against the wall (not in all versions!), she symbolically shows her dissatisfaction with the present situation. She is limited in her home, being commanded by her father, so she must destroy the walls of her room, her prison, to get a chance to find her new home.

She also shows her discontent with the frog. Despite her promise, it's not a suitable companion to her. The princess needs somebody of her rank and by the transformation of the frog into a prince she gets exactly that.


8. Kiss

The kiss became a part of the story later, after more violent reactions of the princess who wasn't very happy with the frog sleeping in her bed. Remember? She trashed the intruder against the wall! In some versions, she even beheaded it or burn its skin (as we found in the myth about Eros and Psyche, also retold in Beauty and the Beast)!

Kiss is very likely a part of the cultivation of a fairy tale as a literary genre aiming at a wider (and younger, more sensible) audience. A kiss can mean many things (thanks to Juda it also became a symbol of treason) bt n this case it suggests the union and harmony of two people. A kiss is a sign of affection and an introduction to an even more intimate relationship. Remember what happened after the kiss in Sleeping Beauty? Nothing less than marriage!


9. Nice Eyes

Eyes represent the gateway to one's soul.

After the transformation of the frog to the prince, it's important to show he is not angry with the princess and her behavior.

His nice eyes tell exactly that. After all, she broke a spell, isn't she?

They also inform the reader about his positive personality.

10. Iron

The iron of the bands around faithful Henry, the prince's servant, represents power, stability. Despite the magic threatening to destroy the prince's social status his servant never lost his loyalty.

Iron traditionally represents confidence, courage, dependence, honor, and protection. In magic iron works against bad luck (think about horseshoes) and is considered as a powerful protecting element due to its hardness and resistance. It even turns red (shows anger) when it's warmed to soften.

Updated: 07/05/2020, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj on 09/22/2023

Creating new life is in my opinion the ultimate superpower and probably the biggest source of conflict between genders.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/15/2023

The computer crashed before I could continue with my observation concerning the first typical element.

So I also meant to ask what, if any, superpowers might have been shared by Demeter and by Little Red Riding Hood's mothers?

You mention maternal powers as the first that the newborn notes. So might there not be a timelessness in what superpowers were wielded for ancient myths and for fairy tales?

DerdriuMarriner on 01/23/2021

Tolovaj, It's a revisit since I previously read and voted up this lovely article so non-traumatically thought-provoking during the COVID months.
As an arborist, I look forward to the actualization of your intention under "3. Forest" that "I intend to write a full article about the forest in fairy tales with examples." Will that be sometime this year?
Would there be particular tree species, outside or within forests, appearing in fairy tales?

DerdriuMarriner on 11/05/2020

Tolovaj, Thank you for the images and the symbols.
It intrigues me that wells represent affluence. Is it possible, not in the instance of The frog king but perhaps elsewhere, that they represent community since all the extraordinary ordinary people accessed communal wells? Or were all wells on, or under the control of, the powerful and wealthy?

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