I read a lot of Korean traditional stories in my early years of living in Korea, and lately, I have decided to go back and read them again because I enjoyed them. I asked my Korean son in law if he knew this story, and he said he didn’t, and that it sounded like something from Disney, but it is from Korean tradition. The first time I read it, I learned a lot of little Korean nuances from it. Perhaps this is the origin of the idea that if a girl kisses a frog, he becomes a prince.
There was a man and woman who lived in a little house in the woods. They were very poor. They wanted a child, but they knew that they couldn’t afford one. They grew a garden, they had chickens for eggs and a cow to milk. They figured out how to get all the food they needed, and if they needed clothing or something else they couldn’t grow or make, the husband went down to the lake fishing. He would take the fish and sell them at the market, then have the money they needed.
He went fishing one day. As he got there, there was an enormous frog just finishing drinking up all the water in the lake. The man was angry with the frog because if there was no water in the lake, then there would be no fish, and the couple could no longer get money. He scolded the frog for drinking all the water. The frog, to his surprise, talked to him. He apologized. He said he was sorry he had done it too because now that there was no water in the lake, he had no home. The frog was so nice and polite that the man forgave him. He asked the man if he could go home with him and stay a while because he had no home. At first, the man thought his wife would never let him bring this frog home, but the frog was so kind and nice that the man ended up giving in and took the frog home with him.
The woman didn’t want the frog. She scolded her husband for bringing him home. The frog apologized for making trouble and tried to explain to the woman that he wouldn’t stay forever, but that for that evening, he really needed a place to stay since he no longer had a home. The wife liked the frog too and decided to let him spend the night. They got leaves and made him a bed, and they brought water to put on his skin so he wouldn’t dry out.
The frog really appreciated what they did. The next morning, when they woke up, their front yard was full of treasures! The frog told them it was a thank you from him for letting him stay. He asked if he could stay longer, and they let him. He ended up living with them. They all became great friends! After a while, he asked the woman if he could call her, “mom,” and she agreed to let him, and he also called the man, “dad.” The frog brought them riches over and over, and the man and his wife became quite wealthy. They lived in a mansion and never lacked for anything.
After a while, the frog asked his human dad if he knew of a certain princess who was known to be the most beautiful girl in all the land. The man said he knew who she was. In Korea during this time, the only way someone could get married was through an arranged marriage. The frog asked the man to go to the king and ask if he could marry the girl. The man told him, “If I go to the king and ask him if a frog can marry his daughter, he will spank me!” (Yes, that was the way of punishment in old Korea. They had wooden benches, and the person being punished would lay down face down on the wooden bench, and the king would have someone use a huge wooden paddle and spank them. I have seen these benches, and if you look through my blogs, there is one about the traditional village in Suwon, and there are pictures of these benches. ) The frog finally talked his human father into going to the king and talking to him about marrying his daughter. The frog was quite a smooth talker! The frog sent gifts for the king with his human father.
The king saw the gifts and allowed the man audience. When the man told the king that a frog wanted to marry his daughter, the king decided to have him spanked. He thought the man was making fun of him. He had the man lay down on the bench, and just when someone came to spank the man, the sky turned black and there was a great storm, and they were unable to spank the man. The king was befuddled! He ended up giving in thinking it was a sign from Hananim (the Korean word for God). He consented to letting his daughter marry the frog. The frog brought the king many rich gifts as a thank you for letting him marry his daughter.
When a wedding took place in old Korea, the bride had been hidden behind closed doors her whole life. The women of old Korea were not allowed to walk freely in the streets for strange men to look at them. If they ever left the courts of their home, they went in a sedan chair behind curtains. Peeking out of those curtains was the only way they could see the world. They never decided who their husband would be. Their father decided who their husband would be. The beautiful princess had been brought up like this.
They brought the princess in the sedan chair to the mansion of the man and woman to marry their frog son, and the princess had to sit behind curtains so people couldn’t see her. She peaked out of the curtains and couldn’t believe her dad was marrying her to a frog. You see, a woman never saw her husband before they married in those days. The husband could look through a window and see the girl, but she never saw him before the wedding. She thought her life was over, but she had no choice but to go through with it.
After the wedding ceremony, they showed her to a room where the frog joined her for the wedding night. She was scared and crying. The huge frog came in and told her she didn’t need to be afraid. He told her that she should take a knife and cut him all down his back, so she did. When she did, a very handsome human prince jumped out of the frog’s skin. She was pleasantly surprised! He explained to her that he was actually a prince, and a son of the king of the Heavens. He told her that he had offended his father, and his father was punishing him. His father told him he would be a frog until three things happened. First, he had to drink all the water of a lake. Second, a human couple had to adopt him in frog form as their son. And thirdly, he had to marry the most beautiful princess in all the land in frog form. After that, he could turn into a human prince again. The prince was an extremely nice guy, and the princess fell in love with him, and he fell in love with her.
The next day, the princess sewed the prince back into his frog skin and he took the traditional wedding journey that all Korean men took in that time to prove he wasn’t too in love with his wife. You see, the tradition was for the man to take a trip without his new bride. It wasn’t like the modern honeymoon. No one but his wife knew he wasn’t actually a frog. Her sisters laughed at her for marrying a frog, but she could see that her husband was much nicer and much more handsome than their husbands. She didn’t say anything, but secretly thought about how foolish they were. In Korea, the acceptance of the family of a marriage is extremely important.
Her father, even though he had consented to the marriage, was not happy with it. The king gave himself a big birthday party. The king’s sons in law were going to go on a hunt for the meat for the banquet. The king invited his other two sons in law, but he didn’t invite the frog son in law. The frog heard what was happening. He felt he should have been invited since he was part of the family. The frog went into the woods. He called the tiger king. He said to the tiger king to gather all the animals in the woods into a cave so the men who were hunting couldn’t kill any of them. He also called the king of the fish. He told the fish king to hide all the fish at the bottom of the rivers and lakes so that they couldn’t get fish for the banquet. There was nothing for the people to eat at the feast.
When the time for the party came, the frog prince came as a human, not as a frog. Only his wife knew what he looked like in human form. The others didn’t even know he was actually human. He rode in a great sedan chair covered with the skins of tigers and carried by 16 men. He was very handsome! He came in complete splendor to the party! The king was surprised when he learned this handsome young man was actually his son in law, and that he had only worn the frog’s skin.
It is never the custom for a king to bow, and it was not the custom for a father in law to bow before a son in law either. However, the king was so overcome with what he saw, he bowed before his son in law. He begged his forgiveness for the neglect he had shown for not including him in the hunt with his other sons in law. He offered the young man the seat of honor at the banquet.
The young man turned him down. He told his bride to get ready for a long journey. A great cloud came from Heaven and took them up into the sky. That night, the wise men who studied the stars saw two new stars in the Heavens. They were convinced it was the frog prince and the princess, his bride. The man and woman who had accepted the frog as their son were never poor again. The frog had left them with enough to live like kings the rest of their lives.