Ex Libris Online: The Selfish Giant and Other Stories

SUGGESTIONS FOR WEEKEND READING

Review: The Selfish Giant and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde

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In conclusion of our summer series on children’s literature this Labor Day weekend, I am pleased to share the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde compiled by The Folio Society in The Selfish Giant and Other Stories. Just as amazing to me as Mark Twain’s penning a fairy tale (The Prince and the Pauper) is that Wilde too turned his talents towards creating original fairy tales.

Oscar Wilde, 1881
Oscar Wilde, 1881

Perhaps best known for his plays, such as The Importance of Being Earnest, and for literature such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde emerged as one of the most successful playwrights in London during the 1890s. He wrote his children’s stories and fairy tales earlier, however, following the birth of his two sons in the mid-1880s.

As Jeanette Winterson points out in her introduction to the Folio Society edition, fairy tales traditionally involve a reversal of fortune of some kind… paupers become princes, princes are turned into beasts, etc. Wilde takes many of these traditional themes and incorporates lessons for his own children, from the importance of selflessness and compassion to some of the hard truths in life that do not lead to happy endings. As opposed to many traditional fairy tales, Wilde more mimics the somber tone of the tales from Hans Christian Anderson.

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In “The Happy Prince,” the jewel-studded and gold-guided statue of a bygone prince watches in anguish over the sufferings of the people in his former kingdom. He regrets that he lived a carefree existence within his castle walls, completely unaware of the poverty and distress of his people, and beseeches a Swallow, flying through on his way to Egypt for the winter, to take the ruby out of his sword and fly it to the home of a poor family whose son was dangerously ill with fever. The statue continues to ask the Swallow to stay with him one day longer and fly the different valuable parts of his frame to needy people around the village. Finally, nothing is left, and the Swallow dies at the feet of the statue in the cold of winter. As in many of these tales, Wilde shows that love often requires no less than ultimate sacrifice.SGT_S_05

I hope you enjoyed our summer series on children’s literature! The topic for our
September reviews is murder-mystery novels, so stay tuned!

Buy this book here.

BINDING ILLUSTRATION BY Grahame Baker-Smith FROM THE FOLIO SOCIETY EDITION OF The Selfish Giant.
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