Once upon a time, there was a Great King, who lived in a Great Castle, and ruled a Great Kingdom and all the Realms Beyond. One of these realms lay at the far edge of the Great Forest, and was known throughout the entire world for its Enchanted Swamp. Ancient legend told that this swamp was the home of a number of frogs who had great potential to become princes. If only a brave and selfless maiden would come and bestow true love’s kiss, she could leave the realm and return home on the arm of a handsome royal husband, live like a princess in a palace, and carry out the remainder of her days happily ever after. And so, eager and hopeful young ladies would travel from all over the Great Kingdom to seek out the men of their dreams.
One such young lady was named Hope. She was simple but lovely, the daughter of a gardener, who sold posies cut from her father’s well-tended bushes to passers-by in the quiet streets of the sleepy village where they lived. Her father was a good man who loved his family and worked hard to provide a comfortable life for them. But he did not have the financial or social advantages that were needed in those days to secure a good match for Hope in marriage. It seemed none of the local bachelors were interested in marrying the flower girl for her smile. She was pretty and sweet, true, but she did not stand out as exceptional in any way – she was quiet and shy, not very witty or flirtatious, not educated or accomplished, and had no dowry or chance of improving her own station.
Hope knew this, and felt the tremendous pressure of social expectation to wed, and the personal burden to honor her family by marrying well, besides the strong desire to belong to someone who would love and care for her. Her prospects were slim, and getting even slimmer as she heard news of courtships, engagements, and weddings all around her. She had to do something brave, and she knew it would not happen in her hometown. So one night, she disappeared into the darkness, and though she disappeared without leaving a note or clue as to her reasons or destination, her family knew she had gone where so many other desperate single ladies had gone over the years.
As Hope entered the Enchanted Swamp, she felt as though she were finally living up to the fullness of her name. The swamp was actually quite beautiful in its own way, with Spanish moss swinging from thick cypress trees that grew out of the brown-green water, surrounded by wide lily pads, graced with delicate white blooms. There weren’t the bountiful, colorful varieties of flowers that she had come to love back home, but she resolved to enjoy what she saw. There was a wild, mournful, and lonely music in the air – humming cicadas, lazily lapping water, and the rhythmic croaking of frogs. Frogs! Hope could see hundreds of them, fat and warty, with heavy eyelids and quick smooth tongues to snatch flies and-
“Well, helloooo Princess!”
Hope whirled around, looking for the source of the pleasant baritone voice, but she saw no one.
“Down here, Princess. I’m a bit closer to the ground, so you’ll have to lower your gaze and you’re your expectations.”
Looking down, she saw a frog. She stooped in the mud to see him better. “Oh, hello there, little frog! But I’m not a princess; my name is Hope, and I’m just a flower girl from the little town of Arcadia.”
“Who cares? If you are here, you might as well be a princess! Hope, you say? How ‘bout I call you Princess Hop, kind of as a nickname? All you have to do is prove you love me, then I can turn into a prince and you-”
“But… I don’t love you! How can I? I don’t even know you!”
“Semantics, darling, it’s all just words. Love is a romantic idea. Everyone knows the kiss is the key. One little kiss, and all your dreams will come true.”