This fairy-tale novella retells the Brothers Grimm’s classic “The Frog Prince” as a parable on the importance of keeping promises.
While out hunting frogs, teenage prince Gerit falls into a bog; when Wibke, a witch, happens by, he begs for her help so that he won’t drown by morning. She saves him but only after extracting elaborate promises from him. Unwilling to meet her demands, he runs away, and as punishment, she transforms him into a frog with a spell that can only be broken by three kisses from a princess. Gerit spends several months learning to survive as a frog by keeping moist, hunting insects, and avoiding predators. After hibernating through the winter, he travels to a neighboring kingdom, where the young princess Anneliese lives. When she loses a golden ball in a pond, Gerit offers to retrieve it in exchange for the requisite kisses. Like Gerit did, Anneliese makes the promise in bad faith and runs away, angering her father: “Your word...is your bond, regardless of to whom you offer it,” he says. He commands her to keep the frog as a guest in her home until she makes good on her promise. Klaassen includes a translation of an early version of the fairy tale—one which notably omits the plot point regarding the kiss, which became traditional in later tellings; instead, the spell is broken when the angry princess strikes the frog against a wall. It’s fun to see this story from the frog’s perspective, as his situation is the most desperate and strange; at one point, for example, he gets his tongue comically stuck to his own face. But although the tale is framed as a parable about promises, it seems to offer a better lesson on the distastefulness of coercing unreasonable concessions from vulnerable children. Readers may find the king’s chastisement of the princess for refusing to kiss someone she has no desire to kiss to be off-putting, to say the least, but Wibke’s exploitation of the drowning boy’s peril is no less troubling.
The chapters about Gerit’s life as a frog in the wild are entertaining, but this retelling adds little depth or nuance to its source material.