Dropping the ball

Once there was a princess, who dropped her golden ball down a well…

You know, I never liked that fairy tale. First of all, a ball of gold is going to be a really heavy sucker. Have you ever noticed how much gold weighs? A ball big enough to play with and see her reflection is going to be way too heavy for a spoiled brat to throw high in the sky or roll far. Now, if it were hollow enough to be light enough to throw that high, which means likely gilding over a very thin sphere, it would also be light enough to float. And therefore she wouldn’t need a frog to retrieve it.

Second, I never had any patience for spoiled brats. I certainly don’t think they should get a reward for being faithless and forced by others into doing their duties.

Third, I learned my fairy tales from Grimm, not from Disney. In the Grimm version, the frog is transformed when she throws him into the wall with the intent of murdering him. And that he should be released form the curse… and yet still want to take up with a spoiled, murderous young narcissist seemed the stupidest decision of all. There was no reformation of the main character, so why should she get a reward? And to faithfully perform his tasks and demand his just due to end in an abusive marriage seemed a punishment for doing well.

Not that I was any stranger to being punished for doing well. By the time I read that story, I’d already learned that the only reward for working hard enough to skip a grade would be to have the school system declare that I was academically ready, but not old enough to go to the next grade, so I would have to do the time with the exact same quizzes, tests, and homework stretched out over a interminably boring hell-year.

And that no matter how hard I tried, if I couldn’t make it to school on time every time due to reasons usually outside my control (being a small child), I’d get hit with detentions anyway. The reward for half-assing it was the same as the reward for doing it all. And the reward for blowing it off and becoming a disciplinary problem with barely-not-failing grades… was exactly the same reward as if I did all the work to the best of my ability, except that the people providing random punishments were Disappointed In Me. This might have worked better if I hadn’t been equally Disappointed In Them.

And spoiled mean girls might be moved to temporary pity, but there was always a knife ready to go in your back, and spite in their heart. The lesson I took from that fairy tale was: if you force a spoiled princess to do her duty, soon as there are no witnesses, she’ll try to murder you.

But the prince was an idiot, and should have gotten out and never looked back. Besides, you can’t travel far as a frog, so that meant the witch was nearby… and the princess likely knew who he was and what had happened. And didn’t care.

In fact, what are the odds the witch is her mother? The queen never gets mentioned in this story.

I guess it’s the kind of story intended for vain young women to try to teach them that they should do their duty, keep their promises, and good things will come of it. But from here, if I ever write about a spoiled narcissist of a princess losing her golden ball down a gravity well, the soldier who retrieves it ain’t asking for her hand or half the kingdom. If he’s naive enough to ask for her… it wouldn’t be friendship. But her support on some matter needing political pull, and she promptly abandons him?

Sure, I’d have him show up and publicly maneuver her into doing her duty. But he’d be gone before she could conveniently vent her wrath. Maybe back down that same gravity well, where she can’t reach. Because there are worse fates than living a calm existence with the other frogs… like a murderous political marriage.

There’s a strain of romances that believes in silly, vapid female protagonists who merely act like spoiled narcissists. I could see someone adapting this to the frog being a soldier who is doing duty as a diplomat whom the princess thinks is ugly and awful due to her mother poisoning her ear and her mind with bigotry and hatred against his people… and the throwing against the wall being turned into her attempting to do what she’s been taught is her duty and kill him, only to get shut down hard because he’s more competent, more experienced, and a better fighter than her. And opening her eyes to the way she’d been used and abused by that traitor to the kingdom who’d already been removed from the palace for the damage she did and the wars she tried to start.

But I couldn’t write that, because I can’t stand silly, vapid female protagonists. And…

Shut up, muse. I have duct tape bourbon and I’m not afraid to use it!

Photo by wattersflores at Morguefile.com

17 comments

  1. I sympathize re: annoying muse. I’m trying to work on a fantasy-ish mystery, but my muse won’t shut up about this badass Texas Ranger and trying to come up with a modern-day western to put her in.

  2. That’s a toad, not a frog. Unlikely to be found in, or near, a well. I’d also expect him to be a grouchy, curmudgeonly sort who would see through the spoiled brat and tell her to stick her golden ball somewhere equally unlikely.

    1. You, sir, are 100% right. On the other hand, at 11:54 at night when hunting images with permissions I can use, it’s close enough for the post to go live. My perfection drops as my “I want to be asleep now” rises… or there’s not enough coffee in the system. Funny that, eh?

  3. I don’t know–it sounds like you might enjoy starting with a silly, vapid female protagonist and then putting her through the wringer in order to make her a functional human being.

  4. My state of mind is apparently deeply silly.

    Frog in a well? There must be kung fu wizards somewhere. Another of the idioms is ‘toad lusting after swan meat’.

    Golden ball sorta sounds like Dragonball to me.

  5. Are you familiar with Tanith Lee’s version? It doesn’t end well for the princess at all.

  6. You could see your reflection in a marble-sized ball alright…but even just a lead ball that size is not really a great thing to play with, although it’s small enough for a frog to pull up.

    Maybe…. hm…. some kind of gold-flaked marble? Like a cat’s eye shooter, but with gold flakes?

    Still doesn’t work very well.

  7. Once had an instructor state he would NOT accept “had to change flat tire” as reason for being late (to first class of the day). Made up my mind then if I had that situation, I’d roll the flat into class and force him to deny OBVIOUS objective Reality in front of everyone. Lucky for both us, I never had to.

    1. “Give yourself time to get a flat tire, stuck in traffic, or other very possible event” isn’t that outrageous. Though sometimes a tight schedule is unavoidable. For finals I tried to give myself time to be stuck on the freeway, just in case.

      1. Depends on if they let you in more than “when the teacher gets there.”

        Most of the teachers I’ve seen who refuse reasonable reasons for being late do not apply the same metric to themselves.

        As someone who does the “five minutes early is ten minutes late” thing as a matter of course, I get a lot of chances to see this.

        And yes, I am obnoxious enough to say “But they couldn’t have come in on time, even if they hadn’t had a flat tire. Your office didn’t unlock the door until five minutes after opening. Remember how I was sitting out here with four kids in the ninety degree heat?”

  8. The one where the prince/soldier disguises himself and teaches the arrogant brat what life outside the palace is REALLY like may well have been created by someone annoyed with the Golden Ball story.

    You know, to use a phrase from the romance scene a few years back, the Golden Ball “marries her despite attempted murder and she becomes a wonderful person” is just the inverse of the trope of the, ahem, Golden Hoo-Ha. Which doesn’t make either one any better.

  9. Oh, there’s a whole variety of frog prince tales. You don’t have to accept that one.

  10. The only “Vapid Princess Becomes a Better Person” story that ever worked for me was Ringo’s Prince Roger series. I dislike vapid females enough that it took me three tries to get past the first chapter.

  11. I’ve got a Grimm’s fairy tale book somewhere. I’ve had it since high school so the binding is disintegrating just because of time. It was for a “Speech” competition category called “Storytelling” where you drew a story from a hat and had a set amount of time to prepare to tell the story extemporaneously in front of judges.

    I remember the golden ball one and the princess trying to murder the frog.

    And now, of course, I’m thinking that I should dig that book out and translate the stories to science fiction, one after another as practice for short stories. The stories themselves can’t be under any sort of copyright, right?

    Or (checks lines of fire, available cover, and routes to exfiltrate) Dorothy could edit an anthology?

    (Runs)

  12. Did Phyllis McGinley write a story about turning a spoiled princess into something worthwhile? I remember Clarabell and Dorabell … ??? Eleanor Farjeon’s stories in Martin Pippin and the Apple Orchard have some interesting fairy tale variants that this essay reminded me of, especially Proud Rosalind.

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