Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review: The Happy Prince and Other Tales

THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES: A simple writing style goes a long way

The Happy Prince and Other Tales is a collection of short stories for children by Oscar Wilde. It contains The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose, The Selfish Giant, The Devoted Friend, and The Remarkable Rocket.

Among the many commendable things about this collection are the style and voice. Oscar Wilde uses the most basic of words to get his ideas across. He is very straight to the point, and what makes this approach even more powerful is the fact that the style is lyrical at the same time. The simplistic yet lyrical writing style gives this book a magical impression.

But this collection is not just for the entertainment of children. It could also be enjoyed by the adults. The stories, even though their premises seem to be too simplistic and childish, are actually metaphorical and allegorical -- much like the episodes of Alice in Wonderland. They have subtleties that could not be easily detected by children, and that’s where the adult audience come into play.

The Happy Prince, the story where the collection gets its name, is a clear example of this. At the outermost layer, it is just about a statue who pities the poor people of the city. He then decides to help them by making a swallow, which has been separated from its fellow birds, pluck his valuable statue materials out of himself, to give to the poor for pawning. But it doesn’t take a literary genius to realize that this story is about compassion, and that compassion always has its pay-offs in the end. What I really like about this story is that it doesn’t tell this to the audience blatantly. It is hidden between the lines.

This style is also employed in the other stories of the collection. The Nightingale and the Rose presents a subtle naivety on love and appreciation. It does this in such a romantic voice that this voice has come to contradict itself, giving an ironic notion.

            The Selfish Giant, on the other hand, is the story that least employed the layered writing style. Its lesson of being nice to your neighbours is pretty straightforward. But it doesn’t mean that this story is bad. It’s just weaker compared to the others.

The Devoted Friend resumes the trend of a layered writing style. It presents contradicting ideas about the true meaning of friendship. I must admit that The Miller has successfully annoyed me, and there are instances that I have become annoyed at the protagonist -- Little Hans -- as well, because of his naivety. I also find the ending witty.

As for The Remarkable Rocket, I couldn’t say that it is an amazing story, but it does have its fair share of ideas to share. It has presented the negative consequences of being too self-centred.

Overall, The Happy Prince and Other Tales is a collection that I will always see as marketed for both children and adults. The seemingly simplistic and fantastical stories it contain are more than what meet the eyes. The writing style and premises make the collection appear childish, and the subtleties contained in the stories make it appear mature. It is a contradiction -- and it is one that is done effectively by a writing genius.

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           Book Review: A House of Pomegranates



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