Remember my review of Phantom of the Opera, the first book in the Muppets Meet the Classics series? Two weeks ago, I received a comment on the review from Erik Forrest Jackson, the author of the book. This was both very flattering and very nerve-wracking: I never expected the author of the book to actually read my review; if I had, I would have tried to be a bit more diplomatic about what I didn’t like about it. But his comment was very kind, and he thanked me for the thoughtful review.
The next book in the series is to be released today. Because I was expecting another novel, I was surprised to find out that the next book in the series is Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. If I’m being completely honest, I’m also slightly–just slightly–disappointed, if only because the Muppets have drawn so frequently from the fairy-tale well in the past.
Then again, probably the reason why the Muppets so often adapt fairy tales is that the content works so well for them. Also, based on the sample chapter that has been released–“The Frog Prince,” one of the most well-known and successful of the Muppet fairy tale adaptations–it looks as though Jackson is able to put a new spin on even the stories that the Muppets have adapted before.
(Warning: Spoilers below)
Right away from the title, “Kermit, the Frog Prince,” we already know that this is going to be a different adaptation than what we are accustomed to. In every other version of “The Frog Prince,” including the Muppets’ previous adaptation, the prince starts out as a human being until the wicked witch/spiteful fairy changes him into a frog. Since the prince is identified immediately as Kermit, we can tell that a frog is the prince’s true form and he must have been changed into something else. So when Sal swings down out of the trees, we know everything we need to know to figure out how this story is going to end. But that’s okay; as the song says, “getting there is half the fun,” and the point of these stories is to be fun, not suspenseful.
Given the effort that Jackson made in Phantom to give virtually every character, no matter how small or minor, a Muppet persona, I’m a little disappointed that he doesn’t give the king a name on the grounds that he has “so little to do in this story.” On the other hand, maybe it’s better because this way we can imagine any Muppet character we want as the king, even characters that do not belong to Disney. The king could be Pa Gorg if you want him to be, or Old King Cole from the “Sesame Street News Flash.” Personally, I prefer to imagine him as King Goshposh.
There’s something kind of weird and random that I noticed in Phantom too but never got around to mentioning until now: When Jackson’s Miss Piggy addresses someone (usually Kermit) as “you” in French, she uses the familiar form “toi,” whereas when actual Muppet Miss Piggy calls someone “you,” she uses “vous,” which is more formal and also used when addressing more than one person. The rules that govern formal versus familiar use of “you” in French are very confusing, and I’m not going to try to explain them. It’s not that Book!Piggy’s use of “toi” is incorrect, although it is arguably more appropriate in Phantom than it is here because Piggy Daae and Kermit de Chagny were childhood friends and therefore more familiar with each other than the prince and princess of this story. But I have the impression that puppet!Miss Piggy exclusively uses “vous” because she doesn’t actually speak French and therefore doesn’t know any better, which I think is a little bit funnier.
By the end of the story, once the spell is broken and Prince Kermit is returned to his froggy form, he graciously thanks Princess Piggy and is ready to take his leave when she manipulates him into marrying her instead. Though not out of character for Piggy, her threatening demeanor is nonetheless a little uncomfortable. Believe it or not, however, this is actually a toned-down version; in some tellings of the original story, the princess gets so mad at the frog that she throws him against a wall, and once he hits, he turns back into a prince.
I think it’s worth pointing out here that the Brothers Grimm didn’t actually make up any of these stories themselves. The Grimms were actually 19th-century linguists who traveled around Europe studying the evolution of the different languages spoken on the continent. During the course of their studies, they listened to people tell their folktales and decided to write them down and compile them in book form. Over the intervening centuries, the Grimms’ versions have been bowdlerized and retranslated within an inch of their lives, but because they started out as folktales in the oral tradition, there’s no real “definitive” version of Grimms’ fairy tales. Or if there is, that’s a debate I’m not interested in having right now.
In any case, even the more violent version of this story, in which the princess throws the transformed prince against the wall, would still be in character for Piggy. In fact, since the Grimm Brothers’ versions of fairy tales tend to be darker and more gruesome than the more commonly known versions today, it will be interesting to see how Jackson handles them, but I’m not concerned as the original Phantom is also a dark and gruesome story that Jackson nevertheless managed to make silly and funny and Muppety.
So I’m looking forward to reading the whole book, although I don’t know when I will have the chance to do that as money is still an issue. Perhaps I should hit up my new friend Erik Forrest Jackson for a free perusal copy for review purposes.
(I’m kidding…sort of.)