19th November 2010; By KnucklesSonic8
! SPOILER ALERT ! This feature may contain minor spoilers on plot details.
The first story is 'The Happy Prince' where an interesting tale unfolds as a bird comes face to face with a princely statue. The bird tries to get out of helping him by mentioning that he has previous engagements, but the Prince manages to win him over. As it turns out, he needs help distributing treasures to those of little means. A noble cause, indeed.
After helping him out, the bird once again tells him that he must be on his way, but the Prince tries to convince him to stay. This cycle repeats until the Prince makes an odd request, prompting the bird to become more firm in his resolve. How will he react when the Prince tries to counter his retraction with a demand? I thought it was a great story, a tad emotional even. I appreciated the kinds of messages the writer managed to convey through this piece, that of attaining happiness by giving out of want, and even self-sacrifice.
The next story that follows is entitled, 'The Nightingale and the Rose'. One day, a beautiful nightingale manages to overhear a student cry over a rose that he wishes to give to his female interest. For some strange reason, the nightingale feels impelled to help this naive young man with his not-so-pressing troubles. If you saw someone stick their face in the ground weeping without any sense of dignity, what would you do? The nightingale goes on a search through many gardens, trying to locate a red rose for the young fellow. Each time she comes across a talking tree, she is told that the flowers it possesses are of a different colour. But she doesn't let this dishearten her.
Sure enough, she eventually manages to locate the rose she's been looking for. Unfortunately, the tree informs her that retrieving it will be no easy task. Because his flowers are in a white pasty colour, the only way she'll be able to make them red is through her own blood. She would need to suffer a potentially painful death and, might I add, for someone who doesn't even care about her. What possesses her to go through with it? Well, that's for the reader to explore. With the way the story ends, you may need to dwell on it for a while to understand what the writer is trying to illustrate.
Next up is 'The Selfish Giant', a story that tells of an oversized giant who thinks highly of his garden. When a group of children run over to play in that area, you can bet that the giant gets upset. After scaring them off, he sets up a wall to ensure that the children don't return. As luck would have it, the small children manage to find a gap to sneak through and play in this enclosed space once more. This time, when the giant goes to scare all the children away, one boy doesn't even react due to the deep despair he finds himself in. Out of the kindness of his heart, the "selfish" giant decides to help the little boy out and, in return, he receives a kiss from the child. This prompts the giant to declare that from that point forward, he would share the garden with the playful bunch.
The next time they come around, though, the little boy who admired him so much isn't with them. Day after day, the boy fails to show up, plunging the giant into deep sadness. I thought the message here was fairly straight-forward in the way it came across. The last few pages felt like more of a page-turner than the story before it, and the ending here carries a stronger meaning than the last.
The next piece, 'The Devoted Friend', tells the story of a farmer boy named Hans, and an unnamed miller. Loyal and appreciative, Hans expresses much gratitude to the miller when he offers him his wheelbarrow. The reader soon realizes, though, that the miller is only offering it because he doesn't know what else to do with it. This, along with other questionable actions, puts his motives under suspicion for practically the entire story. When the climax of the story occurs, the reader's suspicions become confirmed, and as the ending approaches, this not-so-admirable character actually helps create a solid basis for what Wilde tries to get across. It's a pretty powerful tale, actually.
'The Remarkable Rocket' was a humorous account, if not a bit radical. Picture a cynical, incredibly-egotistical person, then take those same qualities and put them into a talking rocket. Cognizant of what "spectacular effects" he can create, the rocket speaks to a bunch of people in a proud manner. He puts them down for their status, and always sees an incessant need to put himself above others. At one point, he even commented: "The only thing that sustains on through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else." Incredibly audacious, wouldn't you say? It's almost provocative in the way it involves the reader's perceptions of this individual, but it's a great read all around.
'The Portrait of Mr. W. H. serves as the final story in the collection. It immediately presents readers with a mystery-filled title. The story goes on to tell of Shakespearean influences, the complexities of Sonnets, and the presence of forgery. This story is split up into 4 different sections or chapters. Much of the "excitement" takes place in the 1st and 2nd Chapters, where a series of events push the main character towards a trivial quest. Honestly, much of the 3rd and 4th Chapters went on for too long, and I found myself losing much interest in it. From page 786 onwards, the story does get stronger. At this point, there's a suggestion of a "pathetic tragedy" that surfaces as well as a sense of serious responsibility. Overall, I didn't enjoy this story as much as the others. In fact, it was off-putting compared to the metaphorical and approachable writing used in the stories before it. But it did have its moments.
One could argue that the last "short story" is more like an essay than anything else. But overall, even with the discrepancy I had with that last insert, I thought Oscar Wilde's story was a pleasurable read. It's full of messages that can be later related to multiple facets of life, both socially and mentally. And they're things that young and old can related to, even though this has been labelled as Children's Literature. Be sure to add this to your list of things to read!