Monday, December 3, 2018

Review - The Happy Prince and Other Tales

The Happy Prince and Other Tales
by Oscar Wilde
Date: 1888
Publisher: Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: short stories
Pages: 30
Format: e-book

The five original fairy tales included in this volume were first published by Davis Nutt in 1888. Although it is said that Wilde wrote them for his two young sons, the author himself claimed they were '.... not for children, but for childlike people from eighteen to eighty'. Since then the stories have been constantly reprinted and, despite the author's disclaimer, children have made the tales their own, a particular favourite being 'The Selfish Giant' - the highly moral story of the giant who banished children from his garden, so that spring never came.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've had a lot of bad luck this year with current novels and short stories, so I thought maybe I'd try something a little bit older. I don't have much experience with Oscar Wilde's work; I may have read The Importance of Being Earnest years ago, but I don't really remember.

I'm actually reading the edition that combines The Happy Prince and Other Tales with A House of Pomegranates. But since I don't know if I'm going to be able to slog my way through the whole thing, I decided to review the two original works separately.

Here are my thoughts on the individual stories contained in this volume:

"The Happy Prince" - So... Wilde likes comma splices. Okay, I'll try to overlook that; it's not like he can do anything about it now! This starts out like a fairly standard fairy tale, with a swallow helping a statue commit charitable acts. You have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief (especially when you think about the legal ramifications for the recipients of the gifts; if a statue suddenly loses its jewels and then some poor folks go and trade in similar jewels for money, the logical assumption would be that they stole them). This tale is a little bit macabre, with the bird plucking out the statue's jewelled eyes, and eventually dropping dead from the cold while the sentient statue is melted down for scrap. The bird and the statue's heart are eventually thrown in a trash heap. (Cheery story!) Then, in a complete deus ex machina (literally), God takes the bird to His garden of Paradise and the statue to His city of gold, where the statue has to "praise" God forevermore (as if God doesn't get enough attention already). I was sort of okay with the story until that last paragraph, when the religious stuff seemed to come out of nowhere. It pretty much knocked a few stars off for me; it seemed like a lazy way out.

"The Nightingale and the Rose" - I don't understand the point of this one at all. Maybe that humans are stupid and selfish while birds are lovely and self-sacrificing? But, as it came right on the heels of the previous story that also ended with a dead bird, I'm starting to wonder if Wilde had something against our feathered friends. (This is also a pretty gory story, in which the bird presses her breast against a thorn, at the coaxing of a rosebush, until it pierces her heart and she bleeds her life-force into said bush. Maybe this story was meant to serve as a warning about evil talking shrubbery. I don't know.)

"The Selfish Giant" - Look, I enjoy a good villain redemption as much as the next person, but there has to be a reason for it. In this case, the selfish giant (who wasn't really that selfish; this story could also have been called "In Defense of Squatters") came around only because his selfishness affected him... which seems to go counter to the message Wilde was going for. I'm also not a fan of overly religious stories, and this one was just dripping with Christianity. I'm afraid it's the weakest one I've read yet. (Things aren't looking very good for this book.)

"The Devoted Friend" - I don't think I'd want a child reading this one for fear that they wouldn't understand, and that they might think the Miller was an okay guy. He was a raging narcissist, so extreme that I felt rather uncomfortable (his wife was no better, and the way he treated his little boy was appalling). It got even worse at the end, though, when the story sort of implied that single people (or homosexuals, depending on how you interpret the term "confirmed bachelor") are selfish, immoral narcissists. Nice, Wilde. Real nice.

"The Remarkable Rocket" - I have no idea what this was supposed to be, other than a drawn-out metaphor for ejaculation. A narcissistic firework goes on and on about his superiority, getting so emotional that he cries, makes himself wet, and then can't be lit. After he's thrown away, he chats with some animals, and eventually gets lit by a couple of little boys, culminating in a weird scene that talks about him getting stiff and tingly before exploding. Then all that's left of him is a smouldering stick. Make of that what you will.

These stories are full of narcissists, and other generally awful people. The writing didn't impress me (I don't know if it's just that styles have changed, but Wilde's writing wouldn't pass muster with an editor today), and the stories just came across as preachy. They were not entertaining in the least (except maybe that last one, but only because I was laughing at all the veiled penis references).

I highly doubt I'm going to bother with the stories in A House of Pomegranates now. Even if I do, I'm not in any rush. These stories felt like something one would be forced to read for school... right before analyzing the hell out of them. I don't know exactly what Wilde was trying to say here. Quite frankly, I don't care.

Overall: 1.5 out of 5

No comments:

Post a Comment