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Pond Life


Although the Beauty And The Beast variations may appear simple on the surface, it is clear that this yarn would never have captured the imagination so widely if there wasn’t more to it. The transformation of the beastly suitor into a handsome Prince at the climax of the tale is most readily interpreted as simply a change of perception on the part of the Princess and, through her, everyone else. He doesn’t actually change physically, it is just that no-one sees him as repellant anymore.

Of course it would be impossible to examine this tale type without referencing the problems of gender politics which so often beset fairy tales. For instance, the Beast has a lot of information about Beauty’s family which could only have been gained by stalking, he and Beauty’s father enter in to a deal which would be condemned by a modern court as trafficking and, after months or even years of captive grooming, Beauty eventually develops a love for her captor which would make a text book example of Stockholm Syndrome. Less of a romance and more of a horror story!

However, in the type of psychological analysis in which all the characters are representative of elements of a single psyche, the marriage and transfiguration can also be seen as the internal unification between the ego and a shadow part of the mind, a trait or aspect of personality that has been rejected but is finally accepted and incorporated into the self. And we’re back to a happy, though slightly deeper, ending. Phew!

The amphibian versions are often the most succinct with the action condensed into a couple of days: A princess drops the golden ball she is playing with into a pond and a frog offers to retrieve it if she will take him back to her pad for an evening at her side and a night in her bed. The princess agrees and gets her ball back but reneges on the deal and runs home. The next day, during tea, the frog turns up (usually talking in rhyming couplets for no really good reason), and the princess’ parents insist that she has to go through with the deal she made. She reluctantly shares her food with the slimy pond dweller and has to sit with him on her lap then take him to her room at the end of the evening. She leaves him in a corner but he climbs into bed with her. Annoyed at his sliminess and not keen to sleep in a wet patch, she throws him against the wall. This breaks the spell, releasing the enchanted prince from his green exterior, upon which they get married. It’s classic folktale.

The Frog Prince appears to keep the message of the story simple: “don’t judge a frog by its colour”, but in doing so it seems it misses out on the rich, psychological layer cake of interpretative fun that can be had with the longer versions. In order to move the story along the princess has no sisters, her parents are an authoritative presence but little more, the frog’s back-story is a line at best and the action and motivation are kept firmly in the binary relationship between she and he. As a result of this, the coercion that the disfigured man uses to get access to the woman has to be exerted directly on the princess, rather than on her father as it is in Beauty. So the girl becomes the deal breaker, making her the antagonist and turning the frog in to a sympathetic character pretty much throughout and often leaving me wondering why he wants to marry the rather selfish girl after he is restored. Unless prince froggy is just as much an internal shadow as the Beast and the Black Bull and the only way anyone gets any peace is when the soul is unified in the inevitable psychological marriage. Do you see why I am fascinated with this stuff? Even the pond life is deep!

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