Thoughts On “The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich”
“The Frog King” is one of those stories that everyone remembers to some extent, whether it’s the princess’s revulsion at having to share her plate and her bed with a slimy frog, or whether it’s the kiss that everyone thinks they remembers (but which doesn’t actually occur in Grimm).
But what I love most about this, the very first tale in the Brothers’ ouvre, is the strange figure of Iron Heinrich, in some translations called Iron Hans or Iron Henry, who appears at the end. Once all is said and done–kissed or thrown against the wall–between the prince and princess, Iron Heinrich pulls up to the palace to whisk the couple away to their honeymoon. Heinrich is the frog prince’s devoted servant, and we’re told that he was so devastated when the prince was transformed into an amphibian that he had three iron bands affixed to his beating heart, to keep it from breaking.
As the prince and princess are driven away into the sunset, Iron Heinrich’s iron bands start cracking.
Now, as a kid, I just assumed, without much concern, that this meant that Iron Heinrich was dying from joy. But returning to the tale this week, I was surprised to find that, although all three of Heinrich’s iron bands snap, and the prince hears each one, the text never outright says that Heinrich’s heart is failing, or that he’s dying. Maybe I was just that morbid as a kid?
But still, he always seemed to be such a sad character, defined by what I imagined to be his tragic death in the face of utter relief and joy. Why else would the end of the story be devoted to him?
Also, so much to infer from that wonderful first line, “In olden times, when wishing still helped…”
My short piece in response “The Frog King,” Number 001. in “A Grimm Project”
The full text, according to the Pitt University’s compilers.
More information on this tale at the Surlalune site.