Oscar Wilde Stories for Children

Oscar Wilde Stories for Children

by Oscar Wilde, P. J. Lynch (Illustrator)
Publisher: Hodder Children's
Trade Paperback, 94 pages
Not in stock

Basically, this collection of Oscar Wilde stories is a reasonably good collection of the man's fairytales, mixing a few old favourites with some new (or at least reasonably unknown) stories; some excellent, some strange, and some, well...not so good. P. J. Lynch is the illustrator, who in my opinion is a man who can do no wrong. Some of his best are not in fact the full page illustrations, but the small pictures at the beginning and end of each stories, beautifully simple and framed only by the white of the page.

"The Selfish Giant" is probably the most famous of all Wilde's children's stories, of the giant who forbade children to play in his beautiful garden, resulting in winter claiming it all year round. Only when he tears down his walls and permits the children to play does he find happiness, especially in the discovery of a particular little boy who one day comes to claim him for his own garden...

"The Nightingale and the Rose" is a beautiful, haunting poetic tale that doesn't really come across as a children's story in content and form. A small nightingale hears the sadness of a lovelorn student, whose beloved has promised to dance with him if he brings her a red rose. Since none are in the garden, the Nightingale sacrifices herself in order to present him with one, singing of love in the moonlight whilst pressing herself up against the barren rosetree's thorn. No where is Wilde's stunning prose more obvious than here, as the Nightingale sings: "Bitter, bitter was the pain, and wilder and wilder grew her song, for she sang of the Love that is perfected by Death,of the Love that dies not in the tomb." Just beautiful, and Lynch's garden scenes are striking - especially that of the Nightingale pressing her breast up against the thorn.

"The Devoted Friend" is an odd story-within-a-story as a Linnet tells a grouchy Water-rat about the friendship between an honest man named little Hans and a wealthy Miller: a friendship that is decidedly one-sided. Again, it is not entirely a cheerful children's story, as it ends with Hans' death and the Water-rat's complete inability to understand the moral. Overly long, the moral will probably also be lost on most readers, as its a strange ending to say the least. Illustrations are mainly pastoral scenes, but unfortunately don't compensate enough for the dull narrative.

"The Happy Prince" is the other of Wilde's most popular stories, and my definite favourite. The golden statue of the prince in the town is baffled by the reality of poverty in his city, and so employs a swallow to prolong its flying south for the winter in order to pick his jewels and gold plating and take it to those in need. Poignant, tragic and beautiful, I read this story when I was a child and it's stayed with me ever since. Lynch's illustrations are the best here, with aerial scenes that are from (literally) bird's eye-view.

"The Remarkable Rocket" is not however, one of the most memorable...in fact its downright boring. At the Prince's wedding a box of rockets are let off, including one arrogant one that is completely wrapped up in its own importance. That's about it, and yet it stretches over 17 pages. No one will blame you if you skip this one, and even Lynch seems a bit confused at how to present this story, creating cartoonish-like fireworks that don't fit in with the rest of the book.

Finally, "The Young King" is also quite long (one sentence has 125 words in it!), but compensates by fascinating imagery and beautiful, mysterious language. No other story shows Wilde's Christianity than here, but it is saved from being to preachy and moralising by the very real sense of the higher powers at work upon the Prince who adores beauty above all things, but is given several dreams (both beautiful and disturbing) that show him how this beauty is acquired. Again Lynch works wonders with his precise water-colours, though be warned there are a few rather dated assumptions of ethnicity, including the words "Negroes" and "Moors" in a negative light.

With the rest of the mysticism and violence of other stories, and the sparseness of Lynch's illustrations such language further implies that the title "Stories for Children" is misleading - surely these words could have been changed for that suited audience. This is more of an anthology for adult collectors, but such people may want to look for a more complete version - only those who adore the work of P. J. Lynch may want to purchase this book. For children, only two are appropriate, the others are too long or too complex.
—3-star review by R. M. Fisher on February 27, 2004 on Amazon.com

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