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The Frogs Who Desired a King

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

According to the story, a group of frogs lived happily and peacefully in a pond. Over time, however, they became discontented with their way of life, and thought they should have a mighty king to rule over them. They called out to the great god Zeus to send them a king.

Zeus was amused by the frogs’ request, and cast a large log down into their pond, saying “Behold, your king!” At first, the frogs were terrified of the huge log, but after seeing that it did not move, they began to climb upon it. Once they realized the log would not move, they called out again to Zeus to send them a real king, one that moved.

Annoyed by the frogs, Zeus said, “Very well, here is your new king,” and sent a large stork to the pond. The stork began devouring frogs. In terror, frogs called out to Zeus to save them. Zeus refused, saying the frogs now had what they’d wanted, and had to face the consequences.

To some, the simple lesson of the story is “leave well enough alone,” or “be careful what you wish for.”

More politically minded readers would interpret the story as a warning against giving too much power to a monarch, president, or chief executive of a geographic area. In times of crisis, people may desire a strong ruler to protect them, but a strong ruler can quickly and easily become a tyrant. Some have compared the tale to the Old Testament where Samuel warned the Israelites, who desired a king like the pagan nations that bordered them, that they would be ruled by despots who would start wars of aggression and take away the fruits of their labors through taxation.

The Frogs Who Desired a King, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology

Adaptations

In 1922, Russian-born animator Ladislas Starevich produced a stop-motion animated film based on the tale in Paris entitled Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi (aka Frogland).

Allusions

German Theologian Martin Luther (1483–1546) in his 1523 “On Governmental Authority” speaks of the paucity of good rulers, attributing this lack to humanity not deserving good rulers due to its wickedness. He then alludes to this fable to illustrate how humanity (frogs) deserves the rulers (stork) it gets.

Frogs must have their storks. P.61 [1]

American author Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) alludes to the fable in his 1851 novel The House of the Seven Gables:

We have all heard of King Log; but, in these jostling times, one of that royal kindred will hardly win the race for an elective chief-magistracy. [2]

In the final episode of the BBC series I, Claudius The ageing Claudius refers to himself as King Log to the confusion of his advisors.
English poet Thom Gunn (1929–2004) alludes to the fable in the opening stanzas of his 1954 poem “The Court Revolt”:

King stork was welcome to replace a log,
They tittered at the thrill, then hushed, agog.

New Zealand poet James K. Baxter (1926-1972) included a reference to this story in his poem Election 1960 (1961)

A democratic people have elected
King Log, King Stork, King Log, King Stork again.
Because I like a wide and silent pond
I voted Log. That party was defeated.

Science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein referred to this story several times throughout his work. From his novel Glory Road in 1963:

“…the answer to most problems was: Don’t do anything. Always King Log, never King Stork——’Live and let live.'”[3]

And from his novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress in 1965:

“We never found out who ordered that raid. Mort the Wart had never shown such tendencies, had been King Log throughout tenure.”[4]

… and from his novel The Number of the Beast in 1980:

“Does anything remind you of King Log and King Stork?”[5]
 

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