Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests
Fairy tales and their cousins the fable and parable are the sources of much wisdom. They evolved in time into the novel and the short story. They have been around probably longer than the written word. They came before Homer and the great Indian Epics. I was very happy to see the announcement for Fairy Tale Fortnight and decided I would do a post on two of my favorite Oscar Wilde fairy tales.
"The Selfish Giant" by Oscar Wilde (5 pages, 1888)
Oscar Wilde (1854 to 1900-Dublin, Ireland) is the author of Portrait of Dorian Gray (1890) read and loved to this day by readers all over the world. I loved it many years ago when I read it for the first time for the many epigrams that seem to defy the conventional too adult world. Like many people, I wished I could come up with remarks like those spoken in The Portrait of Dorian Gray or even to know someone who could. It is also a great study of the corruption and hypocrisy of late Victorian English high society.
Wilde also wrote and published a number of short stories done in the style of a classic fairy tales. Among the more famous is "The Selfish Giant". As the story begins the giant is returning from a long trip and is not happy when he sees the beautiful gardens surrounding his castle have become the play ground for local children.
One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish ogre, and had stayed with him for seven years. After the seven years were over he had said all that he had to say, for his conversation was limited, and he determined to return to his own castle. When he arrived he saw the children playing in the garden. "What are you doing here?" he cried in a very gruff voice, and the children ran away. "My own garden is my own garden," said the Giant; "any one can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself." So he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board.
TRESPASSERS WILL BE
When the spring returns next year there are flowers, and birds and happy scenes in all of the gardens but that of the selfish giant. It is still winter in his garden. Wilde's prose is simple and echoes masterfully the rhythm of simple fairy tales.
'I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,' said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; 'I hope there will be a change in the weather.' But the Spring never came, nor the Summer. The Autumn gave golden fruit to every garden, but to the Giant's garden she gave none. 'He is too selfish,' she said. So it was always Winter there, and the North Wind, and the Hail, and the Frost, and the Snow danced about through the trees.
One day the giant looks out a castle window and sees the children have crept back into his garden. Every tree is occupied by a child. Then he sees a child who seems unable to climb into a tree. The giant helps him into the tree. The giant's heart melts and he welcomes the children into his garden. The one boy who he helped and felt such love for never returned and know one knew who he was.
Here is a simply perfect description of winter:
He did not hate the Winter now, for he knew that it was merely the Spring asleep, and that the flowers were resting.
There is a twist/surprise ending but in this case it is artistically well done and integral to the theme of the story and I will not spoil the story by commenting on it.
If you like, The Portrait of Dorian Gray I think you will like this simple story. It is also an easy way to sample Wilde's style. I read it on line here and I enjoyed seeing the original illustrations by Charles Robinson that were published with the story. It appears all of Wilde can be read on line. This story can be read in just a very few minutes and it is well worth your time, I think.
"The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde (1888, 7 pages)
As "The Happy Prince" opens we are given a description of a statue that has sort of become the symbol of the town.
High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.
The city fathers were very proud of the statue the wealth it displayed as it spoke well of the city. A Swallow on his way to Egypt with his flock delays his flight as he is in love with a reed. He sees the statue and begins to communicate with it. The description of how this happens is very moving. The prince has a Buddha like story to tell of his life and awaking:
"When I was alive and had a human heart," answered the statue, "I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans- Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep.
The Prince is lonely and he begs the swallow to stay with him just one night. The Prince is aware of what is going on in the city. Some are rich and secure but many are in great need. He knows of a widow greatly in dispair so he tells the swallow to take the ruby from his sword hilt and give it to the widow. The swallow does this and tells him he must now go to Egypt. The statue begs him to stay just one more night. One night turns into more and soon winter has come and it is to late for the swallow to fly to Egypt. I will tell no more of the plot. There is real wisdom in this story and the ending in a pure marvel. Like a good fairy tale, I will not forget this story.
I read it on line here and I really liked the inclusion of the original pastel illustrations.
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