Here we see that a privileged princess with a huge sense of entitlement has carelessly dropped her golden ball down the well. The frog, on hearing her piteous tears, has struck a bargain – bed and board with the Princess for the return of the ball. The Princess, who has no intention of honoring her promise, is lying through her teeth.
On the one hand, this is a story about how power and privilege, carelessly handled, can corrupt decency and erode compassion. The princess has forgotten that with power comes responsibility – the ability to respond – to stay fully present in each moment, giving one’s full attention to the person(s) and events at hand. If she had remembered, she would have thought carefully about the consequences of any promises and lies she might make. She might have considered alternative ways to retrieve the ball, or perhaps just left it down the well. Instead her power has bestowed a false sense of superiority, not only towards others, but also to the normal rules of decency, respect, integrity and courtesy governing relationships.
The frog is just as deceitful as the Princess. He has seen an opportunity to advance his own agenda and seized it. In a culture supporting a more equitable distribution of wealth and power, the frog might have performed a random act of kindness and simply returned the ball. But deprivation and the princess’s callous behavior have hardened his heart. With no other resources to fall back on, desperation has made him manipulative and sly, ready to take advantage of any weakness to exploit another and further his own ends.
Coded in fairy tale form, we find the base cause of social unrest and incipient rebellion. Because it was dangerous to discuss such matters, people’s concern, fear and rage were folded in to the tales and disguised as simple set-ups for happy endings. Despite pretty descriptions of beautiful girlish princesses and faithful servants, dark feelings imbue these tales and often include brutal acts of violence on the way to resolution. Vicious episodes, such as the step-sisters mutilation of their feet in Cinderella, the streak of fish blood in The Fisherman and His Wife or the devouring wolf in Little Red Riding Hood speak to a time as turbulent, chancy and violent as our own. They warn of the dangers of extreme polarization and hint at the possibility of revolution.
On the other hand there is always another, more personal way to read the story. Water symbolizes both the emotional life of our surface personas and also the inaccessible depths of the personal and collective unconscious. The Princess, that young, naïve, immature Queen-to-be, represents the un-individuated self. She has lost her golden ball. Gold represents fertility, life, dominion, warmth and generosity, it is pure and incorruptible. So far, the Princess possesses none of these qualities and thus cannot keep hold of her treasure.
The frog, an amphibian, can live and breathe in two realms. This makes him a spirit guide, or psychopomp – a being who can travel back and forth between worlds. The word for frog in Japanese is kaeru which also means “to return”. Traditional beliefs state that however far you may transport a frog, it will always return to the place of departure. Another meaning ascribed to frogs by the Japanese is “stand-ins.” Some people carry lucky frog charms and believe that when something threatens them, the frog may “stand-in” and face danger in their place. In this story the frog displays all these attributes as he dives into the well to rescue the Princess’s best qualities, which she has shoved into the shadows and neglected. The story reminds me that we can ignore talent and nobility as deliberately as we deny less desirable attributes. It asks me to consider how I sometimes denigrate or reject my own abilities.
Like with dream work, one may read a collage or a fairy tale as if every character and object represents a part of oneself. Taking this approach I’m working with the idea of deception. If everything in the story represents myself, what lies do I tell myself and why? What have I lost and how may I retrieve it?