The trailer for Walt Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” (to be released in December amid mounting hoopla, including made up controversy over the fact that everyone in the film is black except for the Prince) makes a major story element out of a universaly enjoyed activity.
“Everyone thinks they know the story of the Princess and the Frog but no one knows what happened after the kiss, until now. This holiday season comes the story of the most magical kiss the world has ever known.”
Well maybe not quite since the original Grimm’s tale did not actually include any kissing, although it did include the frog being thrown against the wall by the Princess upon which he turned instantly into a Prince. This solved her dilemma between having to obey her father the king and being repeatedly grossed out by a gallant (and somewhat stalkerish) amphibian whom she had to allow to drink out of her cup, eat off her plate and be carried by her to her bedroom.
So what’s with the kissing and where did this originate? The story of a girl having to keep her promise to care for a frog appears in several versions other than the well known (non-kissing) Grimms’ tale.
“The Well of the World’s End” which appeared in Joseph Jacob’s “English Fairy Tales” (1890) features, rather than a kiss after the same manner of indignities suffered upon our mortified heroine, the frog asks the girl to chop its head off thus ending the enchantment transforming him into a prince.
Other variants, most notably the one from Italo Calvino’s “Italian Folk Tales” (1956), have a frog princess who must prove her abilities at various domestic duties thus proving her suitability for an amphibiophobic prince, therefore simultaneously ending the enchantment while reinforcing gender role stereotypes.
In a more modern variant from her poetry collection “Transformations,” Anne Sexton adheres closely to the Grimms’ version:
She woke up aghast.
I suffer for birds and fireflies
but not frogs, she said,
and threw him across the room.
Like a genie coming out of a samovar,
a handsome prince arose in the
corner of her bedroom.
No kissing involved there either. And in another famous story where kissing was alleged to take place, in the Grimms’ “Snow White” the Prince also does not kiss the Princess but rather the apple bit fell out of her mouth when the carriage carrying her glass coffin was jostled. The only one of their famous fairy tales where a kiss becomes a plot element is in Sleeping Beauty wherein I might add, that the kiss did not in fact break the spell because the prince just happened to come by on the day the hundred years’ spell was up.
Kissing seems to have been a recent innovation, one often assumed by tradition rather than explicitly told in the collections. But that is the nature of folk tales, and since the idea of a prince and a princess kissing is satisfying to any audience, we may as well accept the fact that this oral (so to speak) tradition is here to stay.