You Need to Snog a Lot of Frogs to Find a Tolerable Prince

The Frog Prince” by Scott Gustafson (2003, 2023)

Did you know that fairy tales are teaching our youth the dangers of premarital sex?

The Wolf that stalks Little Red Riding Hood is trying to deflower her, Beauty spends her story taming the Beast’s masculine sexual aggression. Animalistic tendencies are painted in a purely violent manner, emphasizing traits of toxic masculinity.

However, modern day retellings of these stories use the animal attributes of these characters to make them more human and to express broader ideas of how masculinity can be presented. New renditions of fairy tales tame their inspiration’s animalistic princes and redefine what it means to be a man.

E. D. Baker’s The Frog Princess uses a prince who has transformed into a slimy frog to highlight aspects of masculinity that foil traditional masculine stereotypes. This transformation allows readers to celebrate themes of fragility in a gender that is often characterized by its strength.

In the novel, Prince Eadric is turned into a frog because he insults a witch’s smell and appearance when trying to pick a flower for a princess he is attempting to woo (which proves unsuccessful due to his transformation into a frog). This altercation leads to Prince Eadric accidentally transforming the main character of the story, Princess Emeralda (Princess Emma), into a frog as well when she kisses him in an attempt to turn him back into a man (not realizing that she is wearing a bracelet that reverses spells).

While this concept of the princess becoming a frog has been explored in other renditions of the story (most notably in Disney’s 2009 The Princess and the Frog which takes inspiration from E. D. Baker’s book), the prince retains the core idea of creepy masculinity presented in “The Frog King, or Iron Henry,” first transcribed by the Brothers Grimm in 1810. Unlike in The Frog Princess, the earlier version of the tale focuses heavily on the “repayment” of a debt owed by the young princess to the Frog who had saved her toy golden ball from his swamp. This repayment, in which the princess is forced to allow the frog to eat from her plate, play with her toys, and allow the frog to sleep in her bed, is enforced by the princess’s father, the King. The frog eventually turns back into a prince when the princess violently throws him against the wall for dirtying her sheets.

This violent reaction to the broken boundaries of the princess is expected by modern readers who read this tale through a modern lens. The princess’s anger and frustration at being forced to share a bed with a frog, whom she repeatedly refuses to interact with, is understandable.  This refusal is because of his slimy and mud-covered countenance, which highlights how the image of a frog and the characteristics associated with it relate to negative aspects of masculinity, such as leering gazes or bathing habits that are not to the standard of their intended. Men are slimy and gross and use the power of other men in order to gain the upper hand so that they may violate young girls’ bedclothes.

The use of animalistic characteristics in the earlier story, specifically looking at those used to describe the frog, stands in stark difference to E. D. Baker’s novel. Instead of focusing on the frog’s stickiness, muddiness, or love for eating bugs (which, don’t worry, is still in the novel), Baker uses the characteristics of a frog, specifically its status as prey, to highlight a different form of masculinity.

Prince Eadric is allowed to express vulnerability because he is a small creature that lives on the second from the bottom rung of the food chain. This vulnerability, shown as he and Princess Emma run from predators, is an echo of his previous life. Fear of animals such as snakes and dogs plague Prince Eadric and hamper his ability to act “prince-like” in his new form. This fear is a bit strange for a prince, especially since the archetypal image of a prince includes running head long into danger. From the beginning of what we, as readers, see of frog life, our protagonists are food. During a frog choir concert, a snake decides to visit and, “Before anyone could move, the snake struck, sinking its fangs into a member of the audience” (Baker 52). This is, in a single word, horrific. There is no warning before Prince Eadric’s froggy friend is devoured, and there’s no promise that he or Princess Emma will make it out of this encounter alive. The danger they are in is unequivocable, but it is still seen as a deviation from the danger princes thrust themselves into since it is that of a victim rather than a hero. Even though there is danger in his life as a frog because Prince Eadric is now a creature that can be eaten, there is no longer the expectation to go out and find danger because of his status as a prince.

In this way his frog-hood can be seen as his “retirement” from the traditional role of princes in these stories. Prince Eadric is allowed to embrace the softer side of his masculinity, drawing himself away from a life of daring fights and instead focus on leisurely pleasures. Some critics claim that this transformation into a frog results in  feelings of inadequacy on the part of the prince, as James McGlathery writes: “the transformation might reflect a lovesick youth’s fear that a beautiful girl could only find him repulsive, which is indeed the immediate result of the curse in this case” (156). Though in earlier renditions of the tale the transformation into a frog is vilified, in the novel it is instead celebrated.  Prince Eadric does not have a duty to slay and run headlong into danger, and instead joins a frog choir! His transformation from a man into a frog relies on human emotions rather than a fear of rejection or predatory sexual desires.

Though frogs are seen as somewhat gross creatures with sticky tongues and covered in mud, it is not always a perverse image of masculine sexuality. Past and present renditions of this fairy tale paint masculinity in this  lewd light, but The Frog Princess portrays the transformation into a frog as a positive experience for the prince. Instead of the image of a frog being used to display the stickier parts of masculinity, the novel allows for the frog to be seen as a vulnerable creature at ease in its place in the world

Works Cited

Baker, E. D. The Frog Princess. Bloomsbury, 2002.

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, edited by Alfred William Hunt et al., Pantheon Books, New York, NY, 1972.

Macglathery, James M. Fairy Tale Romance: The Grimms, Basile, and Perrault. Univ. of Illinois Press, 1991..


Maggie Steuer (MA ’24)

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