The Royalty of Frogs

Walter L. Reed

When I was young, maybe thirteen, and in that awkward, amphibious stage of development know as adolescence, I was cast by my mother in a neighborhood play called "The Frog Prince." It was an adaptation of the fairy tale, whose source I don't remember. My mother had abandoned a fledgling career as an actress in New York when she got married and started having children, and she was beginning to exercise her theatrical talents on those children and their friends.

I will leave on the psychoanalyst's couch the confusion of feelings evoked by my mother directing me as the hero in a play in which I was to be kissed into human form and royal inheritance by the girl next door (well, a mile or so away--we lived in the country) on whom I had my first teen-age crush. What I would like to present to this gathering of stand-up intellectuals is my sense that the myth or legend or metaphor of the subhuman frog becoming the highest form of humanity (assuming that you are not too radical a democrat the allow the metaphorical appeal of kingship) is an interesting one. I guess I'd like to say that it seems to have spiritual implications. The frog-in-waiting was once the legitimate heir; he got turned into a swamp creature by that ubiquitous figure of evil the evil step-mother (if I remember the plot); and he could only be restored to his original condition by a non-wicked helper (of the female persuasion) being willing to overcome a deep-seated human revulsion and extend an act of creaturely charity, so that he could be retransfigured.

I have the feeling that I'm still back on the psychoanalyst's couch, but never mind. I will persist in my project of spiritual allegory, in the medieval Christian tradition of "Ovid Moralisee." I'm firmly resisting the temptation to the modern absurdist tradition of Kafka's rewritten legends, in which the would-be deliverer would be magically transformed into the frog princess and the couple would live disconsolately ever after in the petit-bourgois swamp. Resisting, I say, the gravitational attraction of the Kafkesque version, I want to offer a lighter and brighter interpretation. To wit:

The frog prince--or princess (we can surely allow more inclusive language here)--may be said to represent the human soul which knows that its inheritance and its destiny is more aesthetically appealing than its present green and slimy condition.

The princess--or prince--redeemer represents another human soul, its otherness perhaps simply figured as a difference in gender, who is willing to descend from its higher plane in an act of charity that requires an experience of the unpleasant or the disgusting.

The restitution and happy ending represents the psychic community or fellowship on which psychic identity depends.

Here endeth the lesson.

Though if I were Percy Shelley, the English Romantic poet I have been reading too much of recently, I would probably want to add another chapter. (Shelley finished his great closet drama *Prometheus Unbound* in three acts, but couldn't resist adding a fourth act, which has not usually been greeted with acclaim.) Act IV: inspired by the example of Prince Froggie Unbound, the whole swamp community joins in the amphibious human potential movement. Everything, from the methane gas bubbles in the mud to the white egrets perched on the top of the branches of the cypress trees festooned with Spanish moss, breaks into song, grows legs, and begins a joyful line-dance heading toward the royal palace.

Tune in next week, when we will hear the Prince call out, "Dear, I think you need to set a few more places for dinner."

Any resemblance between characters in this work of fiction and actual creatures living or dead is purely coincidental.