The Frog King or Iron Henry
Analysis and Commentary
by Lois Wilkins, PhD, APRN
This analysis honors the wisdom found in each Fairy Tale as we understand its importance to the individuation process. This process recognizes the quaternary structure of the Psyche: Intuiting-thinking-feeling-sensing, sometimes recognized as spiritual-sociological-emotional-psychological.
Recognizing the universality of all Fairy Tales, the following quote from von Franz’s Interpretation of Fairytales (1978) informs us:
Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes. Therefore their value for the scientific investigation of the unconscious exceeds that of all other material. They represent the archetypes in their simplest, barest, and most concise form. In this pure form, the archetypal images afford us the best clues to the understanding of the processes going on in the collective psyche. In myths or legends, or any other more elaborate mythological material, we get at the basic patterns of the human psyche through an overlay of cultural material. But in fairy tales there is much less specific conscious cultural material, and therefore they mirror the basic patterns of the psyche more clearly. (p.1)
What does it mean that we are given two titles to the same story? The story refers to both the Frog King and Iron Henry. In addition, this story is often given the title “The Frog Prince.” * One must keep in mind that, in terms of the transformation journey, the King must first be a Prince. In this Fairy Tale, we have two frames of reference for the story. Iron Henry speaks to a man of strength (Iron) and the Frog speaks to an unusual type of Prince/King who was enchanted by a wicked witch to live in of the body of a frog. So, we know from the title that there will be two male figures of importance in this story: one from a base earthly instinctual nature, the other from a tempered strength. Here at the very beginning with the title, the elements of earth, fire, water and air(spirit) are represented: earth with the frog, fire with the tempering of iron, water the living environment of the frog, and air with the notion of enchantment by the term Frog King.
The “Frog King(Prince)” title alerts the reader to the dynamics of fertility and emerging sexuality. We know this because of the psychological symbolism of the frog, which is often referred to as male genitalia (the scrotum). The word “prince” inferred in the title refers to a royal young man awaiting his role as the King.
For the emerging sexuality of the Princess we are given the symbol of the Linden tree found next to the well, representing the world tree of the feminine, whereas, in contrast, the Oak tree is sacred to the masculine in German folklore. The depth of the symbolism of the tree cannot be ignored, especially because of the setting next to a forest, yet it is the naming of the Linden tree that directs our thinking toward feminine sexuality.
From a historical perspective, “Iron Henry” is referencing sorrow and grief in a heart defending against being fatally broken. This has often been expressed in ancient poetry and folklore as a heart being kept in bands. In the case of our story, the use of iron bands would be to emphasize the strength needed to hold his heart together. Thinking of the title as representing the core issues to be found in the story, one of the most profound is that of grief and how it comes to be transformed.
So, psychologically, two aspects of the masculine are primed for transformation: 1) the prince cloaked in the body of the frog, and 2) the grieving servant who has lost his master.
The Initial Paragraph:
Immediately, we recognize that there is not a Queen, as we are only told of the King and his daughters. Evidence that magic will find its way into our story occurs with the use of the word “wishing.” The presence of a “well” tells us that this will be a journey of depth in relationship to the individuation process. Innocence is represented by the princess “playing,” not attending to serious life issues. The “golden ball” gives us our first encounter with a color; in this case, golden represents great wealth. The ball, a sphere or globe (in the original German a Kugel), alerts the astute reader that this specific ball also carries wider imaginal connotations, and that the story will end with the expression of wholeness. The golden sun shining brightly on her face is another representation of wealth that is not worldly.
In many Fairy Tales, the King, the Queen, the Prince, and the Princess represent the wholeness of the Psyche. Recognizing that our story is missing a Queen at the onset tells us that the Princess will need to follow a journey in her transformation process to becoming a Queen. It will be necessary for her to face some trials, and the frog (supported by her father, the King) brings the numerous trials she must face.
The Frog Prince is encumbered with a false persona. A wicked witch forced the false persona of the frog upon him, pronouncing a cure in order for the spell to be broken. This false persona of the frog was intended to relegate the Prince to a most base instinctual level of existence. By grace, the Prince had the use of his more advanced intellect and knew the wise King would be able to assist him. He knew that he needed to woo or seduce the Princess in order to have the spell broken, which would allow him to claim both his Queen and his Kingship/Kingdom.
It is the Princess that is facing the challenges as she moves from innocence toward maturity, i.e., from a Princess to a Queen. She must learn to honor her word, and luckily for her, she has a father, the King, who demands this of her. Her resistance to growth is evident in her repulsion to the frog. Her frustration when she finds no escape from the frog’s pursuits results in an aggressive, physically, what seems on the surface, abusive action—she throws the frog against the wall. Here, the wall represents a boundary that cannot be avoided. Was it her emerging sexuality? As the Fairy Tale reveals, what was repulsive to her, what she has resisted, is now the handsome Prince/King of her dreams.
The Prince, now free from his frog self, explained what had happened to him and is forever devoted and grateful to the Princess for his freedom and his Kingship. Her father, the King, declares them married, thereby fulfilling her task of becoming a Queen. Iron Henry, the King’s faithful servant, brings the carriage with eight horses wearing white ostrich feathers and golden chains to take the newlyweds to their Kingdom.
With the acceptance of the Prince, now King, the receptive/feminine aspects of the Psyche have come into a balance. In the beginning of our story, the Princess was all about getting everything she wanted and not giving anything. She had to endure a crisis in order to move her energy out, which occurred when she threw the frog against the wall. What would have been a complex of repressed sexuality was resolved through a violent encounter with the “wall.” This encounter was her confrontation with the unmovable wall of physical, sexual maturation. In other words, kids grow up.
All of the characters in the story work toward the maturation of the Princess becoming a Queen, which is what we learned in our first paragraph was what had to happen—there is movement from the collective unconscious to consciousness.
The carriage, powered by the horses, is the vehicle of motion to carry the once Prince and Princess, now King and Queen, into their new lives. The recognition of the infinity symbol, represented in both the number “eight” and the wheels on the carriage, informs us that this is a completion of their destinies.
The wicked witch is acknowledged as putting the spell on the Prince which turned him into the frog. This is an example of the collective unconscious contaminating and overwhelming the movement toward conscious expression.
What the King heard initially as the sound of the carriage breaking, with the iron bands releasing from Iron Henry’s heart is, in fact, an opening to a new dimension of freedom. There is also a trinity dynamic where each of these three bands breaks. The breaking of each band can be seen as releasing time/space bondage and supporting the infinity dynamic of no longer being restricted by past, present, and future. This movement outside of the time-space continuum recognizes infinity as an alchemical goal of fulfillment of destiny.
Parallels with Other Fairy Tales and Literature:
There is a parallel with the Fairy Tale, “Hansel and Gretel,” in this manner: when the witch captured Hansel, she forced Gretel to grow stronger in the maturation of the feminine in order to support her brother. In our story, the Frog took on the role of antagonist for the Princess in order to help her find the ability to grow into the Queen. This is not unlike the character of the devil, Mephistopheles, in Faust’s “What good from this evil may come? What evil from this good will come”? **Refer to the end note for more stories that reflect this story.
From all of the above, the skeleton of the Fairy Tale has been explained. So now, I am going to move into a depth, holographic analysis of the symbolism, numerology, colors, and spiritual growth.
In order to understand this analysis holographically/multidimensionally, it is important to first look at the colors and numbers of significance in our story. In looking at the colors, the archetypal symbols, the numerology, and the spiritual growth, it is helpful to follow the tenets of alchemy. Most simply stated, colors and numbers are archetypal symbols that carry vibrational qualities, and individuals perceive the influence from these symbols based on their personal spiritual vibrations. The more concretely individuals perceive a symbol, the slower is their spiritual vibration. Some people vibrate at a frequency that allows a natural experience of the multifaceted holographic world. In order to experience a holographic world, certain vibrational frequencies are necessary. Throughout history, the trail blazers in science, art, and exploration have been said to be pulling humanity toward ever-increasing vibrational levels. Often individuals with higher vibrations are more spiritually evolved, experiencing life as infinite not finite.
The symbols in the story are the frog, the well, the ball, the edge of the forest, the witch, the carriage, the infinity symbol, the horses, the golden chains, and the ostrich feathers.
The overt alchemical symbolism is found in the metals represented in the story, which are gold and iron.
First, let’s look at the symbolism of “the frog.” As stated earlier, the frog symbolizes masculine sexuality, specifically the scrotum and the instinct of procreation. Frogs also denote aspects of cleansing; they speak of new life and harmony. They are examples of the energy of water with its ability to refresh, purify, and replenish. In our story, we know there is a need for replenishment in order to manifest a Queen.
The “well” is an example of a feminine figure and also the co-creation between nature and humanity, since a human must build something in order to reach that water (nature). In our story, we have a deep well, evidence of connection to the underworld – our own unknown reflective depths of the psychic matrix, perhaps infinitely extensive. People wish upon a well in the hope of having wishes fulfilled, recognizing a wide range of feelings-imagination-dreams-ideas. Wells are connected to the Earth Mother (an image of nurturance). In Hebrew, the word for well has the meaning of woman or bride; welling up from the depths of the earth; earth/water/air; sources of plenty and of life; a symbol of secrecy. An uncovered well with a good supply of water is a symbol of good fortune. In our story, for both the frog and the Princess, truth is to be found at the bottom of the well, which is all about the wholeness of the individuation process.
The next image is the spherical “ball,” which we’ve noted earlier as a symbol of wholeness. The Princess has it in her hands, she loses it, and the frog retrieves it for her. The ball is symbolic of a marriage of Heaven and Earth and, at the most mundane level, of a man and a woman, as the ball is the cubing of a circle. The wholeness of heaven and earth, the human and divine, a bridge between heaven and earth are captured in this symbol of wholeness that is a ball.
The “forest” itself is a symbol of life. The darkness of the forest and the deep roots of its trees symbolize the unconscious, so being on the edge of the forest would represent potential emerging consciousness.
The “carriage” is a vehicle for movement and another feminine figure as it is a container. The carriage holds the new King and Queen, as well as Iron Henry, the faithful servant of the King.
There are eight “horses” to pull the carriage, which symbolize power and strength, as in horse power. True personal power is the Wisdom obtained from walking your own journey.
“Chains,” laced around the wheels of the carriage, are a symbol of binding together parts of a whole. In our story, they reinforce the coming together of the King and Queen in marriage.
“Ostrich feathers,” adorning the headpieces of the horses, are often seen as magical protective totems. In the case of our Fairy Tale, this would be protection from the harmful magic, like that from the wicked witch. Once the plume of an ostrich feather is on display, no longer can we have the luxury of innocence, like the ostrich sticking its head in the sand.
The Numerology of the Fairy Tale:
Numerology is found in the number eight (8), the number four (4), and the number three (3).
The number eight, found with the eight horses pulling the carriage (representing the infinity symbol), is the number of cosmic balance. According to the Tarot, the infinity symbol is also the symbol of justice.
The number four, found with the four wheels of the carriage, symbolizes the earthly, the totality of the created and the revealed. It is to represent what is solid; it is the number of completion; the whole system of Jungian thought is based upon the fundamental importance which is attached to the number four; this quaternary structure is the archetypal basis of the human Psyche. The totality of conscious and unconscious psychic processes; the four functions of thought-feeling-intuition-and sensation support the fundamental axiom of the alchemists.
The number three, represented by the three iron straps around Iron Henry’s heart, is an expression of intellectual and spiritual order (past-present-future), therefore, it’s about forward movement of the individuation process. Freud viewed the number three as a sexual symbol, that of father-mother-child. Also the number three supports social order; infant-child-adult and home-town-nation. This is not insignificant in our story.
The Colors in the Fairy Tale:
The colors emphasized overtly are gold and white, while green is implied from the frog and the forest. Gold (her ball and golden chains on the horses) represents the sun, masculine Zeus energies, as well as power, riches, both material and spiritual. White (horses and ostrich feathers) denotes the moon, the feminine, sacred, pure, and holy. Green brings forth the energies of growth and the life force.
The Alchemical Metals:
The metal gold (the golden chains on the horses) is pure and of great value. The iron metal (around Iron Henry’s heart) represents strength and endurance. Therefore these two metals indicate pure strength of great value and endurance.
Spirituality in the Fairy Tale:
Recognizing that none of the characters in our Fairy Tale have names other than Iron Henry, indicates the universality of the story. The story is representative of each person’s individuation journey — the journey toward wholeness.
In our story, Faith, the foundation of spirituality, was most overtly demonstrated by several factors: 1) the first King, with his wise insistence that his daughter honor her word, indicated his belief in a positive outcome in her relationship with the frog; 2) the Frog, knowing this Princess had the power to break the spell and become his Queen, retrieved the ball placing a symbol of wholeness back in his possession and then proceeded to bring forth his many demands of the Princess; and 3) finally, Iron Henry, determined to not die from a broken heart, exemplifies the alchemical base metal of Iron, representing the alchemist’s lead, thereby enabling the transformational process of becoming the alchemist’s gold (the Princess becoming the Queen and the Frog Prince becoming the King). In this manner, Iron Henry, was catalytic a well as the prima materia.
Take a moment to reflect on the illustration provided by Audrey Leamon at the beginning of this analysis. In his shadowy, almost ghost-like image, Iron Henry can be viewed as ever-present, an apt depiction for the spiritual dynamic of Faith. Faith is the overriding principle of this Fairy Tale.
Awareness of the great diversity of the journeys explored in Fairy Tales is not unlike the numerous experiences found in all of human existence. Some can travel through a plethora of different journeys in one lifetime. Others will spend an entire lifetime on one journey. As we explore each Fairy Tale, the reader benefits from reflection on those aspects of their own lives that are revealed in each individual story. As with a dream, it is foundational to understand that a single analysis of a Fairy Tale is completely inconclusive. The variety, the depths, the significance of understandings experienced with each thoughtful reading may be yet another definition of a life experienced multidimensionally—holographically.
© 2018 Lois E. Wilkins, PhD, APRN
*,** “The Frog Prince” In the first English translation of the above tale. Edgar Taylor, the translator, not only changed the title, but altered the ending in a substantial and interesting manner.
- “The Wonderful Frog” (W. Henry Jones and Lewis L. Kropf, Hungary).
- “The Tale of the Queen Who Sought a Drink From a Certain Well” (J. F. Campbell, Scotland).
- “The Well of the World’s End“
- “The Paddo” (Robert Chambers, Scotland).
- “The Maiden and the Frog” (James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, England).
- “The Kind Stepdaughter and the Frog” (W. Henry Jones and Lewis L. Kropf, England).
- “The Frog Prince” (H. Parker, Sri Lanka).
- “A Frog for a Husband” (William Elliot Griffis, Korea).
- “The Toad Bridegroom” (Zong In-Sob, Korea).