A Story a Day #4: Oscar Wilde
February 9th, 2020
"The Happy Prince"
This story tells of a beautiful statue of a prince in a European town and a swallow who has stayed behind for the winter. One night, the swallow rests between the legs of the statue and feels water coming from above. The statue is crying. The statue tells him of the awful things the people of the town are enduring and asks that the bird deliver the ruby from his sword to a poor family. The bird does and the family is much happier. These requests continue as the prince gives away his precious stones and gold until nothing is left. As the winter has dragged on, it is too cold and the bird falls dead at the statue's feet. The town decides to get rid of the statue as it looks so drab now. They try to melt down the lead heart of the statue, cracked in two, but it cannot be melted.
I have never actually read any Oscar Wilde before but have always wanted to. I knew a bit about his eccentric lifestyle and personal history but not much beyond that. This story, to me, reads very much like a fable for children. In fact, for some reason, it conjures up scenes from the old kids TV show "Between the Lions" which tells lots of old fables and folktales. Of course, this isn't surprising as this story features talking animals and statues amongst a quaint, but impoverished town. It clearly delivers a moral about being happy and helping others which are often present in folktales. I thought it was beautifully written and despite these elements, did not seem unsuitable for adults and still held lots of technical and literary merit.
I love the folktale aspect and have, in the past, experimented with similar styles in relation to Midwestern small towns and their stories. I like how elements in this story appear simple on the surface, but are more complex underneath. It gives just enough information without feeling overloaded or sparse. It also has a clear message but doesn't come across as preachy or over-simplified.