It happened quite by accident deep in the night when the moon was dark and dense clouds covered the sky, and no one could see anything if they were awake that late, looking, which the Wicked Witch Peggy of the Dismal Forest was. Of course, you couldn’t actually say she was “looking” for anything—it was too dark even for witches to see anything. But, she was searching with rapt concentration.
The Wicked Witch Peggy was trying to find tender sprouts of Night Creeper Vine, which grow only during the darkest night of the last week of spring, and are highly desirable for a number of witchy brews and spells. Since the slightest bit of light is enough to spoil Night Creeper Vine sprouts, you can’t look for them with lanterns, or even candles—you have to sniff them out.
So, The Wicked Witch Peggy was on her hands and knees, sniffing along the floor of the forest, searching diligently for the object of her desires, when several things happened at once. She nosed into a puff ball and inhaled a solid quart of puff power; she opened her mouth to gasp and wheeze; and a frog named Gibley Dade, frantically trying to hop away from all the commotion, landed squarely in The Wicked Witch Peggy’s mouth.
The Wicked Witch Peggy gagged, sputtered, spewed, and coughed. “BLEAATCH!!” she bellowed, sending Gibley Dade flying into the darkness. She wiped her mouth, trying to remove the thought of a toad on her tongue from her memory. It didn’t work.
She whimpered, shivered and gagged at the very idea, and ignited a small shrub with the snap of her fingers. In the light of the burning bush, she saw Gibley Dade trying to rub the memory of witch’s tongue from his mind.
“Ha!” said The Wicked Witch Peggy. “There you are! I’ll curse you forever for this, you filthy frog! May your fondest dream come true!”
Having his fondest dream come true didn’t sound like much of a curse to Gibley Dade, particularly when it was such a wonderful one. The only dream Gibley ever had was of becoming a king. He’d heard all the fairy tales, and knew it was common practice for kings to be turned into frogs, and he had always thought how grand it would be if it worked the other way.
And now it happened! Instantly, Gibley Dade was transformed into the handsomest king on record, any record, before or since. Peggy disappeared with a snap, and a pop and a slight wisp of smoke. Gibley was alone with himself and the glowing embers of the bush. He admired what he could see about his new appearance. “This isn’t bad,” he thought.
Suddenly, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men arrived with torches, and lanterns, and barking dogs. “Here he is!” they shouted. “Hooray! We’ve found King Gibley! Where have you been, Your Highness? We’ve been searching all over!”
Gibley could only shrug as they hoisted him onto his white charger and carried him away to his kingdom.
They arrived at the palace to the cheers of women and the cartwheels of small children, and Gibley was ushered straight away into the banquet hall, which was overflowing with all the delicacies of the realm. “You must be famished, Your Majesty,” said Gibley’s servants, “Sit and feast!”
Gibley was a bit hungry, but the platters of meat and vegetables, the baskets of fruit and the plates of dessert didn’t interest him at all. For some reason, his eyes stayed on a fly that flew about the table.
In the days and weeks that followed, Gibley grew increasingly depressed. The demands of kinghood were more than he could bear. There were always decisions to make, and public appearances to tolerate, and people seeking audiences and favors.
The only relief he found was in the time he spent swimming in the lily pond on his country estate. He didn’t know why he preferred that to the indoor pool at the palace, but he felt more at peace with himself there, at home somehow.
But it wasn’t enough. Gibley spent his days in sorrow and despair because kingship wasn’t really what he wanted. He didn’t know what he wanted, but the kingly life wasn’t it. He pined for what he didn’t have. The sadness showed in his eyes, in his expression, his body, his gait, his tone of voice and his general demeanor and disposition.
Gibley’s subjects tried everything they could think of to cheer him up. They held grand parties and circuses and ice capades. They sent him to the great resorts. He went skiing, and scuba diving, and mountain climbing. He rode horses, and went fishing, and watched television. But none of it helped. Gibley didn’t feel any better
Nothing he did eased the notion that things were not as they should be. Nothing he bought filled the hollowness within. Nothing he could think of doing, or having, or seeing, or hearing eased the emptiness in his soul, or diminished the ache for Something More that he carried with him every day.
“What do you want, Your Highness?” asked his loyal court. “Just tell us, and we will gladly bring it.”
“I don’t know what I want,” said Gibley. “I don’t know what to want. I just know this isn’t it.”
The people looked at one another with perplexed concern, and brought him everything they had. They brought him bicycles and dinner jackets; baseballs and sports cars; hula hoops and elaborate stereo systems. They worked late in their factories, hard on their technology, around the clock in their research labs. Every invention, creation and project was hailed as the salvation of the king.
But nothing worked. No matter what they gave the king, his countenance did not lift, his spirits only lowered. Then, one day there came a light knock on the palace door. The guard admitted a little girl who said, “My name is Mary Nuel, and I want to see the king.”
“I’m sorry, child,” said the guard, “but the king cannot be bothered.”
“But it’s rather important,” said the little girl. “I want to help the king.”
“Oh, I’m sure you do,” replied the guard. “The entire kingdom has been trying to help the king, to no avail. What makes you so bold as to think that you can succeed where so many others have failed?”
“What do you have to lose?” the girl asked.
“Good point,” said the guard, and he showed her to the throne room of the king.
The little girl walked up to the king’s throne. His eyes were closed, his brow was wrinkled, and his body was slumped in defeat. Gibley had tried with all his might to reason his way out of his difficulty, and now he was lost.
“Excuse me, Sir,” said the little girl, tugging on his sleeve. “I want to show you something that I think will help.”
“Nothing will help,” sighed the king. “I know. I’ve tried it all. Several times.”
“This is different,” said the little girl. “It always helps me when I feel bad. I think it’s just what you need.”
“What is it, then?” asked Gibley.
“Here,” she said, holding out her hand. “It’s my pet frog, Emma. My mamma says she is like one of the family. So I call her Emma Nuel.”
The king looked at the frog, and something stirred within. He felt the realness of times long forgotten. His eyes lit up. A smile came to his face. He didn’t know what it was, or how to begin putting it into words, but, as strange as it seems, he felt a connection with the frog—it was as though he could see himself in the frog. And he knew if he was going to be the kind of king the people deserved he had to become the frog that he was.
So, the king spent the rest of his life pondering the essence of frogness, and he worked diligently to become less kingly and more froggy.
“Frogs live close to the land,” he decided, so he moved out of the palace and into the woods. He tilled the land himself and taught the people the value of hard work, and led them to respect their relationship with the natural world.
“Frogs have no pretensions,” he realized. So, he gave up his royal robes and set aside his many titles. He stopped acting as though being king made him better than anyone else and lived to identify himself with his subjects and listen carefully to their concerns.
“Frogs don’t try to get ahead,” he reflected. So, he let go of his desire to solve all imaginable problems in order to relax in the pleasing splendor of the Ultimate Answer. He simply dealt with each difficulty in the moment that it arose, and let tomorrow’s problems be tomorrow’s problems.
In this way, Gibley Dade lived out his life, reflecting upon and expressing the best of his inner frogness through all of his dealings with the people of the realm. The kingdom prospered under his rule; the people grew strong during his reign; and the swamps resounded with the proud croaking of all the frogs.