Sunday, January 17, 2016

Frog life

I had the wonderful privilege recently of participating in a 5-session intensive workshop with Diane Edgecomb, an eminent Master Storyteller and experienced workshop leader. During our meetings, and in the interim, I had the opportunity to get a closer look at a traditional Hmong folktale which I have long been interested in, but never performed: "How Frog Became Emperor". I needed an excuse - a good kick in the pants, really - to really dig into this story, to develop the knowledge base that I needed to do it justice as a performer. Over the course of five weeks, I learned more than I ever imagined about frogs, and about the richness and beauty of Hmong culture. 

This story has now become one of my new favorites, it has everything you'd want from a great epic tale: romance, adversity, fire-breathing amphibians, and embroidered balls. Allow me to introduce you to the cast of characters:

Frog's Mother - she handles surprises well, and believes in unconditional love

Frog's Father - ditto, an open-minded loyal man who loves his wife and child

Talking Frog - a likable, resourceful know-it-all, dependable and pragmatic, possessing unexpected talents

Emperor of China - a real empty shirt, there's no substance here, just fear and panicky self-preservation, and very little love

Imperial Princess - quiet on the surface, but loyal in love, an excellent judge of character

The Story
It begins with a happily married woman who unexpectedly births a Talking Frog while her husband is away. Despite their shock, the Frog's parents quickly come to love him, and they realize that in addition to being able to speak, their son is also modest and preternaturally intelligent. One day he informs them that he must got to the capital, in order to save the country from an invading army - !? - so off he goes.

Signs around the capital city warn of the approaching enemies, and promise the Imperial Princess in marriage to whomever will save the country. Frog informs the Emperor that he (Frog) will save the country in three days. The panicky Emperor submits to the Frog's every demand, not knowing what else to do. For three days, Frog silently sits beside a roaring fire, steadily swallowing glowing coals until his belly is enormously distended. As the enemy army approaches, Frog orders the Emperor to open the city gates. Despite his terror, the Emperor obeys, whereupon Frog spews flames at the enemy, who flee. The country is saved!

The Emperor doesn't want his daughter to marry a frog, so he decrees that she will marry whomever catches a traditional Hmong embroidered ball which she will throw to a crowd of eligible bachelors. The Imperial Princess has fallen in love with Frog, but is forced to obey her father, and throws the ball. It is caught by a handsome stranger, to whom she is married that same day. That night, the stranger reveals himself to his wife as Frog, in disguise!

After months of wedded bliss, the suspicious Emperor bursts into the room of his daughter and her new husband, and discovers Frog, in the act of removing his frog skin. Frog explains that he prefers to wear his frog skin, because it gives him immortality. The Emperor demands to wear the skin; he removes his Imperial robes, and puts on the frog skin. But then he discovers that he cannot remove the frog skin - he is trapped! The Imperial Princess puts her father's robes on her husband, who becomes the new Emperor.

And that's how Frog became Emperor!!

Here's a wonderful image of the princess, throwing her embroidered ball to her true love....


1 comment:

Norah D said...

Great post and wonderful story. Thanks.