On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Frogs Make Great Suitors


Image via Wikipedia

For reasons we can only suppose, frogs are quite the popular substitute for human suitors in the folktale genre. Across the globe we find these amphibians wooing and smooching their human counterparts. More often than not, these tales involve the transformation of the frog into a human, reflecting a frog or toad’s own transformation from an egg to a tadpole and finally to his or her four-legged embodiment. Another moral facet is that of masked beauty and the leap of faith needed in order to realize or actualize the beauty.

Here’s one shining example of a frog-inspired fairy tale from China.

The Frog Who Became an Emperor

A poor woman gave birth to a frog-son while her husband was away. Frog-son knew the day his father would return, much to his parents’ surprise. When asked to be taken to the imperial castle to help fight the nation’s invaders, his father hesitated, stating the boy had no horses or weapons. Frog-son claimed he did not need these and later persuaded the emperor to let him fight alone. For three days and nights, frog-son swallowed a large pile of embers. He requested that the city’s gates be opened, much to the emperor’s chagrin. The request, however, was granted. As the enemies stormed in, frog-son dropped fire on them, winning the war.

Although the emperor had originally promised to award the hand of his daughter to the man who defeated the invaders, he vowed not to allow frog the pleasure. A casting call of sorts was held and men from far and wide came to try their luck at catching an Embroidered Ball. The first to catch it was frog, but that was an unacceptable option in the emperor’s opinion. With the second casting of a ball, a young, stalwart fellow caught it and wed the princess. This fellow turned out to be frog, of course, who during the day was clad in his frog cloak and at night shed his skin. The princess told her father of this secret. He then asked his son-in-law why he chose to remain a frog.

“Ah, Sire,” replied the frog, “this outer garment is priceless. When I wear it in winter, I am warm and cozy; and in summer, cool and fresh. It is proof against wind and rain. Not even the fiercest flame can set it alight. And as long as I wear it, I can live for thousands of years.”

The emperor asked to borrow the garment and once worn he could not get it off. Frog son put on the emperor’s robes and from then on was emperor.


Read more frog fairy tales here.


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