Literature Study GuidesGrimms Fairy Tales SelectedThe Frog King Or Iron Heinrich Summary

Grimm's Fairy Tales (Selected)

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

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Grimm's Fairy Tales (Selected) | The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich | Summary



A king lives with his daughters in a castle near a wood. All the girls are beautiful, but the youngest is so lovely that even the sun is awed at her beauty.

On hot days, the princess sometimes sits by a cool spring in the woods, tossing and catching her golden ball. One day the ball rolls into the water. The princess bursts into tears but is interrupted by a large frog, who offers to fetch the ball on one condition: the princess must let him become her companion.

Out loud, the princess agrees. To herself, she scoffs at the idea. When the frog dives in and finds the ball, the princess grabs it and rushes home, leaving the frog behind. The next day, she's at dinner with the rest of the court when the frog knocks at the door. The king reminds his disgusted daughter that a promise must be kept. The princess is forced to bring in the frog and set him next to her on the table so he can eat from her plate.

Dinner finished, the frog announces that he's tired and would like to join the princess in her bed. Again the princess refuses. When the frog threatens to tell the king how the princess is still resisting him, the angry girl grabs the creature and throws him against the wall. Instantly the frog transforms into a handsome prince. He explains that he's been under a spell from which only a princess could release him.

The prince and princess marry immediately. Next morning, a coach arrives, pulled by eight white horses with golden reins. The prince's servant, Iron Heinrich, stands at the back of the coach. (His name refers to his steadfast loyalty to the prince.)

When the prince turned into a frog, Heinrich was so affected that he had three metal hoops set around his chest to keep his heart from breaking. Now he's so happy that his heart no longer needs binding. As the coach drives along, the three hoops snap one by one.


This tale is less complex than many in the collection, and readers may feel that the princess is over-rewarded. She completely neglects her part of the bargain and is rude to the frog besides. On the other hand, it's a nice touch that her father is so resolute about making her keep the promise she has made to the frog. Fathers in the Grimm universe can be disturbingly remote; here's one who refuses to let his daughter wriggle out of her responsibilities.

In defense of the daughter, sleeping with a frog is more than most fairy-tale heroines are expected to do! Her hurling the frog against the wall makes more emotional sense if the reader takes this passage as expressing female ambivalence about sex. There's no doubting the princess's repulsion, which is shown even more strongly in other versions of the tale. A Polish version replaces the frog with a snake, which the princess tears in two; another retelling transforms the princess herself into a frog and joining the frog prince in the pond; in yet another, she eats the frog's legs.

The Iron Heinrich subplot seems a bit sketchy and tacked-on, especially since there's been no mention of this servant until the end of the story. In another version of the story, the prince marries a false bride, while the true princess rides behind the wedding coach disguised as a man. In that version, it's the princess's iron bands that snap, which seems better-integrated with the plot than a male servant who shows up out of nowhere.

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