The frog who became king

A Chinese folktale retold

Many years ago, there lived a handsome young man who married a beautiful maiden. Before long the man had to leave for a far away land on work that was to last for many years.

“Keep this bag of silver coins. Take good care of yourself and our baby. I shall be back soon!” he told his pregnant wife before he left.

A few months later, the woman had her baby but it was neither a girl nor a boy. It was an ugly green frog. The woman was shocked at first but soon grew to love and care for it. However, she longed for her husband to return.

One day the frog spoke to his mother in a human voice. “My father is returning tomorrow. Mama, you should make him a special dinner!”

This surprised the woman and even more so, when her husband returned the following day. The couple were convinced that the frog had magical powers. Hence, they decided to show him off to the king.

It wasn’t the best of times for their country. It was under attack from invaders who were moving slowly towards the walled-city gates. The king had no capable general to lead his army. He was desperate. Seeing his plight, the little frog offered to protect his kingdom, to which the king readily agreed though he wondered how it was going to fight the enemy.

“Get me some red-hot embers in a big iron pot!” ordered the frog. When it was placed before him, he gulped down searing flames that came out of the pot. For three days and three nights, the frog continued to swallow tongues of flames. By then, the enemy soldiers were at the city gates. The king was frantic. What was the frog going to do now?

“Throw open the gates and let the invaders in!” thundered the frog. The king had no choice but to obey. However, his fears turned to joy when the frog spewed fire on the soldiers and charred them to death. The ecstatic king offered to give the frog anything he wanted.

“Your Highness, I wish to marry your daughter!” said the green hero in a humble voice. This made the king very unhappy but he was bound by his promise.

The wedding of the beautiful princess and the frog that saved the kingdom was a grand one indeed. But the king and his daughter were sad. What would life be married to a frog, wondered the princess tearfully. But imagine her joy, when at dusk, a handsome young man stepped out of the frog skin!

“It is a curse of a witch that I have to live inside a frog skin; and this curse can be broken only if someone volunteers to wear it,” explained the young man. “I am afraid my dear that I will have to wear the frog skin at sunrise.”

The overjoyed princess told her father about this, which quite naturally made him very happy. “Come, my son, let me see you as a human,” said the king to his son-in-law. The man stepped out of his frog suit.

“Why don’t you throw it away for good?” asked the king. “I will lose my powers if I did that.”

“Okay, in that case, why don’t I wear the suit? I will get all the powers that you had!” With that, he quickly slipped into the frog skin. Unfortunately, he did not know how to come out of it. Thus he remained in it while his son-in-law ruled the kingdom in his place.

Published as part of a series titled ‘Folktales of the World (Retold) ’ in Deccan Herald, Student Edition, dt. January 18, 2013


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