Russian Fairy Tale – The Frog Bride

The fairy tale told is a Russian version of the Frog Bride story. To briefly summarize, two sons of a man go find a bride through a process of shooting a bow and arrow, and the older son brings back a daughter of a rich man while the younger son brings back a frog. The father then proposes three challenges that each bride must face – baking a magnificent loaf of bread, weaving a beautiful tapestry, and presenting themselves to the father of the sons at a party. The younger son is worried about the frog bride, but the frog bride ends up completing the first two tasks fantastically while her groom is asleep. Every night, she takes off her frog skin and becomes a beautiful woman, and completes the tasks. Before the final task, the party, she asks her groom to go away and meet her at the party. Rather than completely leaving, the son instead spies on his bride, and sees that she takes off her frog skin to become a woman. While they are at the party, the son sneaks away and burns the frog skin, unknowingly continuing his bride’s frog curse that would’ve gone away on its own had he not interfered directly. The more detailed telling can be found below: 

“So two brothers – the father is saying “I’m getting older, so I’m going to leave you the house, but I want you two to bring me a bride first. Each of you get a bow and arrow, and shoot the arrow into any direction. You go and find the arrow, and whichever house it hits, you’re going to marry the girl. Bring me the girl, and I’ll check her out. The older brother shoots the arrow and gets the girl who has a rich dad. The other brother shoots the arrow, and finds that it’s in the middle of the woods in a swamp. When he walks up to find the arrow, he finds a frog sitting on a lily pad who has an arrow. He has no choice but to take the frog and bring it to the dad. She [the frog], of course, is fully aware and speaks perfect Russian. He’s completely mortified and embarrassed, he’s afraid that everyone is going to laugh at him. So anyways, the father says great! You got the girls! There are certain tasks that the ladies have to do to prove themselves. The younger son comes back and is very upset, and the frog asks what’s wrong. He says the first task is you have to perform – you have to bake the bread. Not just any bread, it has to be an amazing, fabulous creation. And she says don’t you worry, go to bed, in the morning it’s going to be alright. And so, she goes and she changes out of her frog skin into this beautiful girl, and takes the skin and hides it in a little box and puts it away. She bakes this beautiful piece of bread – almost like a castle out of the bread. The next morning, he wakes up – here she is again as a little frog – and then there’s this huge beautiful bread creation. So he goes to the father; the other brother’s girl bakes this like whatever flour bread, and she’s upset. The father is like “this is not even the bread.” And the younger brother brings this other huge loaf of bread that is amazing and beautiful and tastes great. And of course the father is impressed, and the boy is happy. And then the father is like, okay there’s a second thing that your girl has to do. She has to make a rug – create a tapestry. And so the boy comes back home, very upset and concerned that she won’t be up to the task, and of course the same thing – she says don’t worry, go to sleep. It will be alright. So of course the same thing happens, she puts the skin away in a little box and hides it away, creates this beautiful tapestry with a scenery of a castle… blah blah blah. Next morning, he wakes up, there’s this gorgeous tapestry. He’s so surprised, and takes it to his dad. Of course the other girl does not even compare, and the father is like whatever – loser… And so the youngest brother’s bride of course wins again. The father says that the third and final task that I need you to do is – I want to meet your ladies. So I’m going to throw a big celebration and party tomorrow, and you have to present your girls. And so they have to prepare their best dress, their best appearance. And he goes home to his froggy and he says “I don’t know what to do – Dad wants you to appear tomorrow at the party. And I don’t know, it’s going to be embarrassing.” and of course she says, you know, “Don’t worry, go to bed and we’ll see, everything is going to be okay.” The following morning, she goes to the party, she sends him off. She goes on her own, and drops her skin, and puts it in a little box. Meanwhile, the younger son is spying on her, trying to see what she’s going to do. So he sees her hide her skin in the box. The son goes ahead to the party, the frog shows up to the party as a gorgeous girl, in a beautiful dress, and everybody is so surprised and so amazed. And of course he himself is very impressed. And so they started dancing, and the father says show us your best dance – present yourself. So the music starts, and they’re all eating and drinking, and the guy watches her and the other bride watches her intently to see what she does to copy her. The woman eats her chicken legs, and instead of throwing it out she puts it in one sleeve, and drinks a little bit of wine and instead of leaving it she pours it into her other sleeve. So then she gets up and starts dancing and she waves one arm, and instead of wine, there spills a beautiful blue lake in front of everybody, and she waves the other and there’s beautiful swans that start swimming in the lake. The other girl tries to do the same thing and starts dancing to do the same thing, and of course she waves her arm and splashes the red wine and chicken bones in everyone’s faces. Meanwhile, the youngest brother thinks – if I don’t do something about the skin, she’s going to turn back into a frog tomorrow, and I don’t want that to happen. So while the girl is entertaining the party, he sneaks away and throws the skin into the fire. Then, as she comes back from the party, she’s disappointed and devastated and she says “I can’t believe you’ve done that, you didn’t trust me.” And she basically tells him that somebody put a curse on her, and she only had a few more hours left of the curse, and if he hadn’t burned the skin, she would’ve stayed as a proper girl. And so he messed it up, and now she has to come back to whoever that evil person was and continue the curse. And of course he’s devastated, and his dad is like “what happened to your woman” and he says “I don’t know! I messed up.”

At this point, the teller stated that the rest of the story was quite blurry to her, and that she could only recall a vague sequence of quests that the prince had to go through in order to rescue his bride from the curse. She explains that the latter half of the tale is essentially demonstrating that the man has to go through suffering and challenges for his mistake that cost his bride. 

Context: The story was told to me through a phone call from a friend’s mother after I had asked said friend for any folk stories that she knew of, and she had offered to call her mom for stories that she potentially would know of. The teller notes that this story is a well known old Russian folk tale that she couldn’t attribute to any particular author, though she notes that multiple adaptations like animations and movies have been made of the tale. 

Analysis: This tale is a telling of the classic Frog Bride/Animal Bride fairy tale, which is ATU 402. The latter half of the story that the teller is unclear on is also an iteration of ATU 400, the quest for the lost wife. While the tale is told in a more casual context, there is still the appearance of some classical traditions in the telling of folk narratives. For example, this telling of the tale notably features repetition, with the teller repeating how the frog bride tucks away her skin in a box for each night, and the repetition of how the frog bride comforts her husband. The telling of the story also notably features the Law of Three’s, in how the frog bride must overcome three challenges in order to prove herself to her groom’s father. Part of the reason that the teller may not have been able to remember the latter half of the full story is that, in adding the quest for the lost bride, the tale breaks its adherence to traditional structures of folklore and creates a clear first and second half. 

In replacement for the second half of the tale, the teller instead offered an animated adaptation of the tale, provided at this link: At the time of this writing, I have yet to take a proper look at the film. However, this moment does point to how modern media and the Internet allows for individuals to “check” their folk knowledge against other instances of a particular form of folklore – a sort of modern iteration of Walter Anderson’s “Law of Self Correction.”