The Happy Prince and Other Tales (also sometimes called The Happy Prince and Other Stories) is an 1888 collection of stories for children by Oscar Wilde. It is most famous for The Happy Prince, the short tale of a metal statue who becomes friends with a migratory bird. Together they bring some happiness to others in life and in "death."
The stories included in this collection are:
- The Happy Prince
- The Nightingale and the Rose
- The Selfish Giant
- The Devoted Friend
- The Remarkable Rocket
The stories convey an appreciation for the exotic, the sensual and for masculine beauty.
The Happy Prince
The protagonist of the story is a gilt and bejewelled statue of a prince, who stands on a tall column overlooking a city. A swallow, who has delayed his migration to Egypt for the love of a reed, rests on the statue's plinth; the Prince is crying at the injustices he can now observe, having been isolated from the realities of his society while he was alive. The Prince asks the swallow to remove the ruby that adorns his sword, and give it to a poor seamstress with a sick child; the swallow does so. The swallow stays with the Prince over the ensuing weeks, distributing the jewels and gold from the Prince to the poor of the city. When the Prince is completely denuded of gold, the swallow realises he is dying from cold; the Prince asks the swallow to kiss him on the lips. The swallow dies, and the Prince's lead heart breaks. The next day, the Mayor of the city observes the state of the statue, and orders it to be removed and melted down. The Prince's heart does not melt in the furnace, and it is discarded on to the same dust-heap where the swallow's body is lying:
"Bring me the two most precious things in the city," said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.
"You have rightly chosen," said God, "for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me."
The Nightingale and the Rose
A nightingale overhears a student complaining that his professor's daughter will not dance with him, as he is unable to give her a red rose. The nightingale visits all the rose-trees in the garden, and one tells her that it can produce a red rose, but only if the nightingale is prepared to sacrifice her life to do so. Seeing the student in tears, the nightingale carries out the ritual, and impales herself on the rose-tree's thorn so that her heart's blood can stain the rose. The student takes the rose to the professor's daughter, but she again rejects him because another man has sent her some real jewels, and "everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers." The student angrily throws the rose into the gutter, and returns to his study of metaphysics.
There are many adaptations of this story in the form of operas and ballets, including:
- One act opera by Renzo Bossi, an Italian composer, (Como 1883 - Milan 1965) in one act, op. 18, 1910 (libretto by Bossi, after Oscar Wilde: The Nightingale and the Rose), Italian Radio Turin, August 9, 1938; staged Parma, Teatro Regio, January 9, 1940); see the link
- A cantata by Henry Hadley, an American composer and conductor, (Somerville, Massachusetts, 1871 - New York, 1937) The Nightingale and the Rose, (libretto E.W. Grant), op. 54, S, SSAA, orchestra (New York, 1911); see the link
- An opera by Hooper Brewster-Jones, an Australian composer (Orroroo, S. Australia, 1887 - Adelaide, 1949) The Nightingale and the Rose, 1927 (after Oscar Wilde) of which only an orchestral suite survives.
- A ballet by Harold Fraser-Simson, an English composer, (London, 1872 - Inverness, 1944) The Nightingale and the Rose, (based on Oscar Wilde) (1927); [www.fullerswood.fsnet.co.uk/fraser-simson.htm see the link].
- A ballet by Janis Kalnins, a Canadian composer and conductor of Latvian parentage. (Pärnu, Estonia, November 3, 1904 - Fredericton November 30, 2000) Lakstigala un roze [The Nightingale and the Rose], (after Oscar Wilde), Riga, 1938.
- A ballet by Friedrich Voss, a German composer and pianist (b. Halberstadt, 1930) Die Nachtigall und die Rose (G. Furtwängler, after Oscar Wilde), 1961; Oberhausen, 5th January 1962; see the Breitkopf’s page
- An opera by Jonathan Rutherford, a British composer (b 1953) – The Nightingale and the Rose, (after Oscar Wilde), 1966; link
- One act opera by Margaret Garwood, an American composer (born Haddonfield, NJ, 1927) The Nightingale and the Rose, (libretto by Garwood, after Oscar Wilde), Chester, Widener College Alumni Auditorium, 21 Oct 1973
- One act chamber opera by Elena Firsova, a Russian composer, op. 46 (1991) The Nightingale and the Rose, (libretto by Elena Firsova, after Oscar Wilde), premiered on July 8, 1994 at Almeida Theatre, Almeida Opera; at the Boosey & Hawkes page
- One act ballet by David Earl, a South African composer (b 1951) - The Nightingale and the Rose, 1983
The Selfish Giant
The Selfish Giant of the title owns a beautiful garden, in which children love to play. On the giant's return from visiting an ogre, he takes offence at the children, and builds a wall to keep them out. As a consequence of this, the garden is condemned to perpetual winter. One day, the giant is awakened by a linnet
, and discovers that spring has returned to the garden, as the children have found a way in through a gap in the wall. He sees the error of his ways, and resolves to destroy the wall - however, when he emerges from his castle, all the children run away, except for one boy, who is crying so much that he does not notice the giant. The giant helps this boy into a tree that he wants to climb; the boy kisses him in return. The giant announces: "It is your garden now, little children," and knocks down the wall; the children once more play in the garden, and spring returns. Many years later, the giant is close to death, and awakes, one winter morning, to see the trees in one part of his garden in full blossom. He descends from the castle, to discover the boy lying beneath the trees - the boy bears the stigmata.
"Who hath dared to wound thee?" cried the Giant; "tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him."
"Nay!" answered the child; "but these are the wounds of Love."
"Who art thou?" said the Giant, and a strange awe fell on him, and he knelt before the little child.
And the child smiled on the Giant, and said to him, "You let Me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with Me to My garden, which is Paradise."
Finally seeing the long lost child the happy giant dies; his body is found lying under the tree, covered in blossoms.
The Selfish Giant is used as a leitmotif throughout the 1997 film Wilde, starring Stephen Fry.
In 1972, Peter Sanders wrote and produced an animated version of The Selfish Giant
, which was nominated for an Academy Award
In the 1990s, the Australian team of composer Graeme Koehne and choreographer Graeme Murphy crreated a children's ballet based on The Selfish Giant.
The Devoted Friend
Hans is a gardener, the devoted friend of a rich miller. On the basis of this friendship, the miller helps himself to flowers from Hans' garden, and promises to give Hans an old, broken wheelbarrow, to replace one that Hans was forced to sell so that he could buy food. Against this promise, the miller compells Hans to run a series of arduous errands for him; one stormy night, the miller asks Hans to fetch a doctor for his sick son. Returning from the doctor, Hans is lost on the moors in the storm, and drowns in a pool of water. After Hans' funeral, the miller's only emotion is regret, as he has been unable to dispose of the wheelbarrow.
The story is told by a linnet to an intellectual water-rat, who fancies himself a literary critic; the water-rat is sympathetic to the miller rather than Hans, and storms off on being informed that the story has a moral.
The Remarkable Rocket
This story concerns a firework, who is one of many to be let off at the wedding of a prince and princess. The rocket is extremely pompous and self-important, and denigrates all the other fireworks, eventually bursting into tears to demonstrate his "sensitivity". As this makes him wet, he fails to ignite, and, the next day, is thrown away into a ditch. He still believes that he is destined for great public importance, and treats a frog, dragonfly, and duck that meet him with appropriate disdain. Two boys find him, and use him for fuel on their camp-fire. The rocket is finally lit and explodes, but nobody observes him - the only effect he has is to frighten a goose with his falling stick.
The Remarkable Rocket, unlike the other stories in the collection, contains a large number of Wildean epigrams:
"Conversation, indeed!" said the Rocket. "You have talked the whole time yourself. That is not conversation."
"Somebody must listen," answered the Frog, "and I like to do all the talking myself. It saves time, and prevents arguments."
"But I like arguments," said the Rocket.
"I hope not," said the Frog complacently. "Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everybody in good society holds exactly the same opinions."