Book Review: The Happy Prince and Other Tales

oscar wilde I bought this book from ALDI a number of years ago and am slowly, but surely, going through it. I started with the stories for children, ie, easier to read and quicker to finish, if only for a sense of accomplishment as I undertake this task.

The Happy Prince and Other Tales is collection of five stories: “The Happy Prince”, “The Nightingale and the Rose”, “The Selfish Giant”, “The Devoted Friend”, and “The Remarkable Rocket”.

Oscar Wilde may have written these specifically for children, but they can be enjoyed by everyone.

“The Happy Prince”

I first read “The Happy Prince” as a child and I have read it several times since then.

The “Happy Prince” is a gold-covered statue of a deceased royalty and he stands tall in the city where he sees the poverty of his people. A swallow, on his way to meet his friends in Egypt, postpones his migratory trip and rests under the statue. He is persuaded by the Prince to take the ruby from his hilt, the sapphires from his eyes, and the golden leaf covering his body to give to the poor. The swallow refuses to leave the Prince after he is blinded and stripped bare and soon dies from the winter cold.

A very beautifully-told story that absolutely must be read aloud for maximum enjoyment. Have tissues ready.

The entire story is available online here: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/HapPri.shtml

“The Nightingale and the Rose”

might have read this when I was younger — some parts definitely seemed familiar. A nightingale overhears a young student lament that there are no red roses in his garden with which he can give to his professor’s daughter in order to dance with her. The nightingale is impressed with the student’s love for the girl and flies around the garden looking for a red rose. She at last finds a rose tree, but alas, it is bare.

‘My roses are red,’ it answered, ‘as red as the feet of the dove, and redder than the great fans of coral that wave and wave in the ocean-cavern. But the winter has chilled my veins, and the frost has nipped my buds, and the storm has broken my branches, and I shall have no roses at all this year.’

‘One red rose is all I want,’ cried the Nightingale, ‘only one red rose! Is there no way by which I can get it?’

‘There is a way,’ answered the Tree; ‘but it is so terrible that I dare not tell it to you.’

‘Tell it to me,’ said the Nightingale, ‘I am not afraid.’

‘If you want a red rose,’ said the Tree, ‘you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s-blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.’

‘Death is a great price to pay for a red rose,’ cried the Nightingale, ‘and Life is very dear to all. It is pleasant to sit in the green wood, and to watch the Sun in his chariot of gold, and the Moon in her chariot of pearl. Sweet is the scent of the hawthorn, and sweet are the bluebells that hide in the valley, and the heather that blows on the hill. Yet Love is better than Life, and what is the heart of a bird compared to the heart of a man?’

A seemingly simple fairy tale on the surface, but, like many classic fairy tales, has a lot to say about Love, Life, Death, Sacrifice, and Gratitude.

The entire story is available online here: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/NigRos.shtml

“The Selfish Giant”

I think of all the stories in this book of fairy tales, this one is my favourite.

A Giant comes back home after being away seven years visiting his friend. He finds that in his absence, the neighbourhood children have been playing in his garden. He is very annoyed about this and builds a wall to keep them out. As a result of this, his garden falls into perpetual winter. Many years go by and one day, the children find a hole in the wall and make their way back into the garden, bringing with them Spring. He sees one little boy stretching out his arms in a futile attempt to climb a tree. The Giant realises the error of his selfishness. He helps the boy into the tree and tells the other children that they are welcome to play in his garden. The children do come back to play, but the little boy is never seen again. Years later, the Giant once again sees the same little boy under a tree in his garden. He rushes out to meet him and learns Who the Child really is.

An exceptionally beautifully-written story about Love and Redemption. I cannot read it out loud without tearing up.

The entire story is available online here: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/SelGia.shtml

“The Devoted Friend”

A story within a story. The tale starts out with a water-rat commenting on a duck’s parenting skills and segues onto the topic of friendship. A linnet overhears this and after determining what the water-rat means by ‘friendship’ proceeds to tell the story of “The Devoted Friend”.

Hans, a poor farmer, is a good friend to a rich miller who helps himself to Hans’ flowers in the garden. He sees Hans in need of a wheelbarrow and promises to give him his broken one. Before delivering on his promise, however, the miller compels Hans to perform many laborious tasks. Ultimately, Hans dies while doing the miller a good deed. The miller never did hand possession of the wheelbarrow over to Hans and expresses regret at his promise to do so as it is now just in the way and not good for anything.

The water-rat does not understand the applicability of the story and leaves disgusted when he realises the story has a moral.

‘I am rather afraid that I have annoyed him,’ answered the Linnet. ‘The fact is, that I told him a story with a moral.

‘Ah! that is always a very dangerous thing to do,’ said the Duck.

I did not enjoy this story as much as the others. The miller was a downright sponger and Hans was a doormat. I read this out loud to my youngest and she was frustrated with how Hans was being used as well.

The entire story is available online here: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/DevFri.shtml

“The Remarkable Rocket”

A firework, one of many to be let off at the Royal Wedding, is so full of himself that he belittles the other rockets. He cries to show how sensitive he is, but since he is wet, he becomes useless and is thrown into the ditch the following day. He holds firmly to his belief that he is destined for greatness and shows disdain at several animals that pass him by. Two boys find him, and use him to light their camp-fire. The rocket finally goes off, but nobody sees him – the only effect he has is to frighten a goose with his falling stick. To the end, the rocket really thought himself remarkable.

The entire story is available online here: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/RemRoc.shtml

All very entertaining stories. Best read out loud to children (or to the child in you).

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Posted on Monday, September 28th, 2015, in Books and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I remember reading these years ago. I must have been a child or teen. For some reason, I didn’t remember that they were by Wilde.

    There is, of course, the question of what the moral is in The Devoted Friend. As a parent, I tend to wonder if it was a dig at the Water Rat for critiquing parenting without being willing to help out. There certainly are people who are more than willing to tell you what they think you are doing wrong, but have no intention of helping in any way – until you agree to do things their way.

    Like

  2. I’m not sure if there is just one takeaway moral from “The Devoted Friend”.

    I like what you’ve said about people who give parenting advice. Very true!

    Like

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