This is Oscar Wilde’s second collection of fairy tales. The particular edition that I have is a 2011 recreation of the 1914 edition, which includes the original colourful illustrations by Scottish illustrator Jessie Marion King throughout the book. I bought this new and mine smells weirdly strong of glue, which is a odd note to start a review with, but seriously. It was distracting.
This contains four stories:
- The Young King
- The Birthday of the Infanta
- The Fisherman and his Soul
- The Star-Child
I really didn’t like the first story, The Young King, and I was worried the rest of the book would be the same. It’s about a soon-to-be crowned young man who, through his dreams, comes to the realization that the material goods in his life come with a cost, adding hardship to the already impoverished people of his kingdom. The morality in this one was so heavy-handed and trite that it made for a very dull story. This was compounded by the fact that dreams are so rarely interesting to read, particularly when dealing with an undeveloped character.
The second story, The Birthday of the Infanta, got a little better for me (if you ignore how horrible this is towards people with dwarfism, the way you have to do with some older literature I suppose). It’s about a Spanish Princess’ twelfth birthday, during which she’s being entertained by a young disfigured dwarf dancer. He has no idea how ugly he is, and he is happy in his ignorance. When the people laugh, he doesn’t understand that they’re laughing at him for the wrong reasons. There’s a bit I particularly enjoyed where even the plant-life was mocking him. He eventually sees his own reflection in a mirror, at first thinking it a monster copying his every move, and when he finally understands it leaves him heartbroken.
The third story was my favourite. The fisherman and his Soul is a creative tale of a fisherman who falls in love with a mermaid. He cannot live under the sea with his human soul, so he sees a witch about removing it. Once the soul has been removed, it wanders the world experiencing new things with the hopes of coercing the fisherman back from the sea with what its found. We eventually learn that a soul with no heart can be a dangerous thing.
The Star Child is about a beautiful child found in the woods who grows up to be rude and selfish to everyone around him. When his real mother, a filthy beggar, arrives, he wants nothing to do with her. He is then cursed to be hideously ugly and mistreated, which drives him to leave his home to try to make amends with his mother.
A lot of these were incredibly blunt in their message of morality, which is maybe just how it works with fairy tales. I don’t know if I’ve actually read any other fairy tales as an adult. His prose is great, of course, but what I love most about Oscar Wilde is his dialogue. There wasn’t much dialogue in this, and what there was tended to be fairly stilted and stylized for this specific genre.
This wasn’t my favourite, but I’m still glad I read it. I actually really enjoyed The Fisherman and his Soul, but I could have left the other three. I’ll probably pick up his other collection of fairy tales at some point, for completion sake, so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy more of the stories in that one.