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NA213912 - WILDE, O.: Happy Prince (The) - and other stories (Abridged)
THE HAPPY PRINCE
and other stories
The Happy Prince • The Remarkable Rocket • The Nightingale and the Rose
The Selfish Giant • The Devoted Friend • The Young King • The Star Child
There is no better way to keep a child quiet than telling stories, and there are few storytellers better than Oscar Wilde. These are the tales Wilde told when he was tired from playing with his sons, Vyvyan and his younger brother Cyril. It is easy to imagine the two enthralled by their father, ‘a big indolent figure, lounging in an easy chair, his face alive with delight in what he was saying, pouring out stories and descriptions, whose extravagance piled up and up until they toppled over in a wave of laughter’.
The magic Wilde wove to capture their attention has lost none of its force. The swallow in The Happy Prince that falls in love with a slender reed for the summer, or the garden of The Selfish Giant where trees carry blossom and fruit simultaneously, are still enchanting. Indeed it is a measure of how good Wilde’s stories for children are, that so often they are assumed to be traditional fairy tales, as timeless as those re-told by the Brothers Grimm. But then, even Red Riding Hood had to be told a first time. The Happy Prince and The Nightingale and the Rose will no doubt engage children in the future for as long as any folk-tale has been with the past.
Wilde used to plaster the walls of his sons’ room with texts about early rising and sluggards, and so forth, and tell them that, when they grew up, they must take their father as a warning and occasionally have breakfast earlier than two in the afternoon. Whether or not Cyril and Vyvyan took this particular piece of wisdom to heart and became early birds, the morals found in their father’s fairy-tales cannot have come more attractively packaged, despite what the Water rat says to the Linnet in The Devoted Friend. Instruction comes concealed in a story-world where love is the strongest force, stronger than the power of evil or the power of good.
However, the mind of a child is a great mystery, as even Wilde acknowledged. ‘Do you ever dream’ Cyril once asked his father. ‘Why of course my darling. It is the first duty of a gentleman to dream.’ ’And what do you dream of?’ asked Cyril, with a child’s disgusting appetite for facts. Wilde, believing, of course, that something picturesque would be expected of him, spoke of magnificent things; “I dream of dragons with gold and silver scales, and scarlet things coming out of their mouths, of eagles with eyes made of diamonds that can see over the whole world at once, of lions with yellow manes and voices like thunder’ So I labored on with my fancy, till, observing that Cyril was entirely unimpressed, and indeed quite undisguisedly bored, I came to a humiliating stop and, turning to my son there, I said: ‘But tell me, what do you dream of, Cyril?’ His answer was like a divine revelation: ‘I dream of pigs,’ he said.”
The stories here are from two collections, the first published in 1888, as The Happy Prince and Other Stories, and the second, published a year later entitled The House of Pomegranates.
Notes by Benedict Flynn
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