Grimm's Household Tales UNDER CONSTRUCTION | Annotated Tale

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1. Frog-King, or Iron Henry, The

IN OLD times when wishing still helped one, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which has seen so much, was astonished whenever it shone in her face. Close by the King'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 King's child went out into the forest and sat down by the side of the cool fountain, and when she was dull she took a golden ball, and threw it up on high and caught it, and this ball was her favorite plaything.

                Now it so happened that on one occasion the princess's golden ball did not fall into the little hand which she was holding up for it, but on to the ground beyond, and rolled straight into the water. The King's daughter followed it with her eyes, but it vanished, and the well was deep, so deep that the bottom could not be seen. On this she began to cry, and cried louder and louder, and could not be comforted. And as she thus lamented some one said to her, "What ails thee, King's daughter? Thou weepest so that even a stone would show pity." She 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 she; "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 she--"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 she, "I promise thee all thou wishest, if thou wilt but bring me my ball back again." She, however, thought, "How the silly frog does talk! He lives in the water with the other frogs, and croaks, and can be no companion to any human being!"

                But the frog when he had received this promise, put his head into the water and sank down, and in a short while came swimmming up again with the ball in his mouth, and threw it on the grass. The King's daughter 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 him to scream his croak, croak, after her, as loudly as he could? She did not listen to it, but ran home and soon forgot the poor frog, who was forced to go back into his well again.

                The next day when she had seated herself at table with the King 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, "Princess, youngest princess, open the door for me." She ran to see who was outside, but when she opened the door, there sat the frog in front of it. Then she slammed the door to, in great haste, sat down to dinner again, and was quite frightened. The King saw plainly that her 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 she. "It is no giant but a disgusting frog."

                "What does a frog want with thee?" "Ah, dear father, 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 he so insisted, I promised him he should be my companion, but I never thought he would be able to come out of his water! And now he is outside there, and wants to come in to me."

                In the meantime it knocked a second time, and cried,

"Princess! youngest princess!        
Open the door for me!        
Dost thou not know what thou saidst to me
Yesterday by the cool waters of the fountain?        
Princess, youngest princess!        
Open the door for me!"

                Then said the King, "That which thou hast promised must thou perform. Go and let him in." She went and opened the door, and the frog hopped in and followed her, step by step, to her chair. There he sat and cried, "Lift me up beside thee." She delayed, until at last the King commanded her to do it. When the frog was once on the chair he wanted to be on the table, and when he was on the table he said, "Now, push thy little golden plate nearer to me that we may eat together." She did this, but it was easy to see that she did not do it willingly. The frog enjoyed what he ate, but almost every mouthful she took choked her. At length he 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 King's daughter began to cry, for she was afraid of the cold frog which she did not like to touch, and which was now to sleep in her pretty, clean little bed. But the King grew angry and said, "He who helped thee when thou wert in trouble ought not afterwards to be despised by thee." So she took hold of the frog with two fingers, carried him upstairs, and put him in a corner. But when she was in bed he crept to her and said, "I am tired, I want to sleep as well as thou, lift me up or I will tell thy father." Then she was terribly angry, and took him up and threw him with all her might against the wall. "Now, thou wilt be quiet, odious frog," said she. But when he fell down he was no frog but a King's son with beautiful kind eyes. He by her father's will was now her dear companion and husband. Then he told her how he had been bewitched by a wicked witch, and how no one could have delivered him from the well but herself, and that to-morrow they would go together into his 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 King's servant Faithful Henry. Faithful Henry had been so unhappy when his master was changed into a frog, that he had caused three iron bands to be laid round his heart, lest it should burst with grief and sadness. The carriage was to conduct the young King into his Kingdom. Faithful Henry helped them both in, and placed himself behind again, and was full of joy because of this deliverance. And when they had driven a part of the way the King's son heard a cracking behind him as if something had broken. So he turned round and cried, "Henry, the carriage is breaking."

                "No, master, 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 King's son thought the carriage was breaking; but it was only the bands which were springing from the heart of faithful Henry because his master was set free and was happy.



THIS comes from Hesse, where there is also another story. A King who had three daughters was ill, and asked for some water from the well in his court-yard. The eldest went down and drew a glassful, but when she held it up to the sun, she saw that it was not clear. She thought this very strange, and was about to empty it again, when a frog appeared in the well, stretched forth its head, and at last jumped on to the edge of it. It then said to her,

“If thou wilt my sweetheart be,
Clear, clear water I’ll give to thee;
But if my love thou wilt not be,
I’ll make it as muddy as muddy can be.”


"Oh, indeed, who would be the sweetheart of a disgusting frog?” cried the King’s daughter, and ran away. When she went back again she told her sisters about the wonderful frog which was in the well and made the water muddy. Then the second went down and drew a glassful, which was also so thick that no one could drink it. The frog again sat on the brink, and said,


“If thou wilt my sweetheart be,
Clear, clear water I’ll give to thee.”


“That would be a chance for me!” cried the King’s daughter, and ran away. At last the third also went to draw water, but she did not succeed better, and the frog cried to her,


“If thou wilt my sweetheart be,
Clear, clear water I’ll give to thee.”


“Very well, then,” she answered laughingly, “I will be your sweetheart; I will really; only draw me some pure water that is fit to drink.” She thought to herself, “What can it signify, it is very easy to please him by saying that; after all, a stupid frog can never be my sweetheart.” The frog had, however, leapt back into the well, and when the King’s daughter again drew some water, it was so clear that the sun was actually sparkling in it for joy. So she took the glass upstairs and said to her sisters, “Why were you so stupid as to be afraid of the frog?” Then the King’s daughter thought no more about it, and went to bed quite happy. And when she had lain there a while, but had not fallen asleep, she heard a noise outside the door, and some one sang,


“Open thy door, open thy door,
Princess, youngest princess!
Hast thou forgotten what thou didst say
When I sat by the well this very day,
That thou wouldst my sweetheart be,
If clear, clear water I gave to thee?”


“Why, if that is not my sweetheart the frog!” said the King’s child. “Well, as I promised, I will open the door for him.” So she got up, and opened the door for him a very little, and then lay down again. The frog hopped after her, and at last hopped on the bottom of the bed to her feet, and stayed lying there, and when the night was over and day dawning, it leapt down and went out by the door. The next night when the King’s daughter was in bed, it again crawled to the door, and sang its little song, she again opened the door, and the frog lay for another night at her feet. On the third night it came once more; then she said, “Mind, this is the last time that I shall let thee in; in future it won’t happen.” Then the frog jumped under her pillow, and she fell asleep. And when she awoke next morning, and expected the frog to hop away again, a handsome young prince was standing before her, who said that he had been the bewitched frog, but was now set free, because she had promised to be his sweetheart. Then they both went to the King, who gave them his blessing; a magnificent wedding was celebrated, and the two other sisters were vexed that they had not taken the frog to be their sweetheart. In a third story from the district of Paderborn, the King’s son, after he has been delivered from his frog’s shape, gives his betrothed, when he takes leave of her, a handkerchief, on which his name is written in red, and tells her if that should become black it will betoken that he is either dead or unfaithful. One day the princess sees, to her sorrow, that the name really has become black. On this she and her two sisters disguise themselves as troopers, and hire themselves to him. Some people suspect them, and strew peas, [1] thinking that if they really are girls and fall, they will be afraid, but if they are men they will swear. They have, however, discovered the plot, and when they fall on the peas, they swear. After this when the King’s son travels away with the false bride, the three have to ride behind the carriage. On the way, the King’s son hears a loud crack, and cries, “Stop; the carriage is breaking!” on this, the true bride behind the carriage, cries, “Alas, no, it is one of my heart-strings which is breaking.” Twice more there is a crack, and each time he receives the same answer. Then he remembers the true bride, recognizes her in the disguise of the trooper, and marries her.


This story is one of the oldest in Germany. It was called by the name of Iron Henry, from the faithful servant who had caused his sorrowful heart to be bound with iron bands. Rollenhagen thus names it in the Old German Household Tales, and Philander von Sittewald refers to it (3. 42) when he says, “Then her heart would lie in my hand, more fast than in an iron band,” which occurs in the same proverbial fashion in Froschmeuseler. The band of sorrow, the stone which lies on the heart, is spoken of elsewhere. An old Minnesinger says beautifully, “She is stamped on my heart as on steel;” and Heinrich von Sar (Man. p. 1. 36) has the expression, “My heart lies in bands.” We find in the Lied von Heinrich dem Lowen, St. 59, “her heart lay in bands;” in Keller’s Wurtemberger (p. 35), “tho body bound with iron bands.” Wirnt says of the breaking heart,


von sime tde si erschrac
sô sêre daz ir herze brast
lüte als em dürrer ast,
swâ man den brichet enzwei [2].


Wigalois, 7697-82.

In its main features the story is still current in Scotland. In the Complaynt of Scotland (written in 1548), the tale of the “wolf of the warldis end,” which has unfortunately been entirely lost, is mentioned among other stories, perhaps the Saga of the Northern Fenrir. J. Leyden, in his edition of the Complaynt (Edinb. 1801, pp. 234, 235), believes that fragments of it are still existing in various songs and nursery tales, and says that he has heard fragments sung in which the “well of the warldis end “occurred, and was called the “well of Absolom” and “the cauld well sae weary.” He connects our story with it, although the well of the world may very easily have worked its way into various traditions, and we perceive in the German no connection with the wolf (or should we in the original read wolf instead of well?) Leyden’s words are these: “According to the popular tale, the lady is sent by her stepmother to draw water from the well of the world’s end.  She arrives at the well, after encountering many dangers, but soon perceives that her adventures have not come to a conclusion. A frog emerges from the well, and before it suffers her to draw water, obliges her to betroth herself to the monster, under penalty of being torn to pieces. The lady returns safe, but at midnight the frog-lover appears at the door and demands entrance, according to promise, to the great consternation of the lady and her nurse.”


“Open the door, my hinny, my hart,
Open the door, my ain wee thing;
And mind the words that you and I spak,
Down in the meadow at the well-spring.”


The frog is admitted, and addresses her:

“Take me up on your knee, my dearie,
Take me up on your knee, my dearie,
And mind the words that you and I spak
At the cauld well sae weary.”


The frog is finally disenchanted, and appears in his original form as a prince. likewise deserving of notice that the name of Henry for a servant, has something about it that is popular, as is fully shown in our edition of Der arme Heinrich, 213-216.


[This story bears some resemblance to the ballad of Earl Mar’s daughter. She went out to play and saw a dove sitting in a tree, which she persuaded to come down by promising it a cage of gold and silver. The bird flew down and alighted on her head. She took it home and kept it daintily, but when night came a handsome youth stood by her side, who told her that he was the dove she had brought home, and that his mother was a queen skilled in witchcraft, who had turned him into a dove to charm such maidens as herself, and that he loved her and would live and die with her. She entreated him never to leave her.


For six years he lived in her bower, and she bore him seven sons, but whenever one was born he instantly flew away with it, and gave it into his mother’s care. After twenty-three years a great lord came to court the maiden, who refused him, and said she was content to dwell alone with her bird cow-me-doo. Hereupon the Earl swore he would kill the bird. The bird heard of this, and flew to his mother’s castle beyond the sea, and told her that next day his wife, the mother of his seven sons, was to be married to another. The mother changed twenty-four stalwart men into storks, the seven sons into swans, and cow-me-doo into a hawk, and the birds flew over the sea to Earl Mar’s castle, seized the men and bound them to trees, and then seized the maiden and carried her away with them.—TR.]



[1] Die Zwolf Jager, No. 67, has many features in common with this story.—TR.

[2] His death shocked her so much that her heart broke with a sound loud as that of a dry bough which is broken in two.



Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: 1. Frog-King, or Iron Henry, The
Tale Author/Editor: Grimm, Jacob & Grimm, Wilhelm
Book Title: Grimm's Household Tales UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Book Author/Editor: Grimm, Jacob & Grimm, Wilhelm
Publisher: George Bell and Sons
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1884
Country of Origin: Germany
Classification: ATU 440: The Frog King or Iron Henry

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