New Roads, Louisiana, is on the banks of False River, an oxbow lake formed when the curvature of the meandering Mississippi River became so pronounced that the water broke through, forming a new straighter and shorter channel. Eventually the ends of the abandoned meander loop filled in, creating a lake that is no longer part of the river. It was the site of one of the first European settlements in the Mississippi valley. The French founded the town in 1720. Around 1822, le Chemin Neuf was built, a new road connecting False River with the Mississippi. Eventually the town became known by that name, translated into English and made plural. Laetitia and her group spent the day touring the considerable number of Antebellum homes that are in the area around New Roads.
Her group members weren’t interested in a walkabout, so Laetitia arranged to meet them for dinner at a local New Roads restaurant that featured southern fare and went for a walk on her own. She walked by a bookstore with a window display that featured children’s books on the frog prince theme. In the display was the original Brothers Grimm version, where the transformation from frog to prince occurs when the princess throws the frog against the wall, and a wide variety of modern versions where the princess kisses the frog. So well is the story embedded in modern folklore that it’s a frequent target of sardonic humor. Older women will warn their younger colleagues, “You’ll have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.” Then there’s this winning entry from one year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, an annual event run by the English Department of San Jose State for bad novel first lines:
The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness, crept along the greensward, and, with sickly fingers, pushed through the castle window, revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping in frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her, disbelieving the magnitude of the toad’s deception, screaming madly, “You lied!”
While she was looking at the display, two teenage girls walked up and began discussing a book in the display that Laetitia hadn’t noticed. It was a recent book by Jackie Mims Hopkins called The Horned Toad Prince. One of the girls had read the book. Laetitia listened to their discussion, introduced herself, and learned their names. Later, using a bit of license, she summarized their discussion and added a comment of her own for the multiple-verse limerick of the day.
Said Jill to young Sal from New Roads
“Your plan to go ‘round kissing toads
Is sadly amiss
For ‘tis frogs you must kiss
Those transmogrified princes’ abodes.”
Said Sal, “Those old books are passé
For I read a new book just today
And now ever since
I read The Horned Toad Prince
To kiss toads, I’ll go out of my way.”
Though both these tales may seem like blarney
They raise a dilemma quite thorny
Would a girl be remiss
If she happened to kiss
A toad that she found wasn’t horny?