26 pages 52 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe


Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1849

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Summary and Study Guide

Summary: “Hop-Frog”

“Hop-Frog” (originally titled “Hop Frog; Or, the Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs”) is among the last short stories by American horror and fiction author Edgar Allan Poe. First published in The Flag of Our Union in 1849, “Hop-Frog” explores themes of revenge, “madness,” and dehumanization. Poe explores similar themes in another short story published several years earlier, “The Cask of Amontillado,” a tale of betrayal and vengeance.

Such thematic elements recur often in Poe’s work, given that he was a prominent literary figure in the subgenre Dark Romanticism. This subgenre was a response to Romanticism, which focused on positive aspects of human emotion and individualism. Dark Romanticism, in contrast, explored the sinister side of human nature: self-destruction, sin, and punishment. Fittingly, the story details the revenge that a jester, Hop-Frog, exacts on his abusive king.

Published a few months before Poe’s death, “Hop-Frog” is likely autobiographical, detailing struggles that Poe endured in his difficult lifetime. The character’s experiences while away from home and his having alcoholism mirror events in Poe’s life. In addition, “Hop-Frog” draws inspiration from a tragic 1393 event, Bal des Ardents, when King Charles VI and five knights were burned alive while performing a charivari in flammable outfits.

This study guide uses the version of “Hop-Frog” on PoeStories.com, an archive of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems.

Content Warning: This story features enslavement, some derogatory characterizations of heavier people, and outdated and offensive language in regard to little people, as well as the term “madness” to describe mental health conditions such as alcoholism. This language is replicated in this guide only in direct quotes.

The story takes place in an unnamed kingdom where jesters in court “had not altogether gone out of fashion” (Paragraph 3). The unnamed narrator describes the king, his seven ministers, and his jester. The monarch and his ministers are “large, corpulent, oily men” (Paragraph 1) who have an affinity for jokes, particularly practical jokes. The king’s jester (or “fool”), Hop-Frog, is a little person (or “dwarf”) who was forcibly taken from his home country and presented to the king as a gift.

The narrator doesn’t know Hop-Frog’s real name; when the king and the seven ministers receive him, they call him “Hop-Frog” because of how he walks—the narrator describes it as “something between a leap and a wriggle” (Paragraph 6). Hop-Frog’s size and gait amuse the king and his ministers. However, the opposite is true for Hop-Frog’s friend, Trippetta, another little person (or “dwarf”) who was taken from Hop-Frog’s homeland. Trippetta’s “grace and exquisite beauty” (Paragraph 9) make her popular and give her influence in the kingdom.

One day, the king plans a masquerade ball, but he and his ministers can’t decide what to wear. For help, they call on Hop-Frog and Trippetta as a last resort. To entertain himself and the court, the king forces Hop-Frog to drink a goblet of wine, despite knowing that it drives him “almost to madness” (Paragraph 12). Trippetta steps in and begs the king to stop, and he pushes her down and throws wine in her face. Hop-Frog grinds his teeth in anger but then collects himself and vows to drink as much wine as the king asks.

Hop-Frog suggests that the king and his seven ministers disguise themselves as orangutans, framing it as a practical joke to excite the crowd. He dresses them in cotton shirts and pants, covers them in tar and flax, and chains them together at the waist. Trippetta prepares the ballroom, following Hop-Frog’s advice, by removing the chandelier and ensuring that torches line the room in the hands of the Caryatides, architectural pillars sculpted as women. The king and his ministers enter the ballroom at midnight, and—as predicted—the crowd panics. Partygoers attempt to leave, but the king orders the doors locked and leaves the key with Hop-Frog.

Hop-Frog follows “noiselessly at their heels” (Paragraph 50) and twists the king’s and the other orangutans’ chains together, linking them all. Under the cover of chaos, the chandelier hook descends, and Hop-Frog attaches it to where their chains intersect, connecting the men to the chandelier’s chain. The chain rises (presumably pulled by Trippetta), which makes the men face one another. As they hang above the party, the crowd understands that the charade is a joke.

Hop-Frog grabs a torch and pretends that he doesn’t know the men. He climbs the chain and brings the torch closer to their faces under the guise of unmasking their identities. The king and the ministers catch fire “in less than half a minute” (Paragraph 56) and burn to death above the party where no one can reach them. The partygoers look on in horror.

Before escaping, Hop-Frog delivers a speech. He tells the crowd that the orangutans were the king and his ministers, “a king who does not scruple to strike a defenceless girl and his seven councillors who abet him in the outrage” (Paragraph 58). He declares that this is his final jest and climbs up the chain and through the skylight. The narrator presumes that he and Trippetta return to their home country.