Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince

On the one hand, it seems unfair to praise P. Craig Russell’s adaptation of such a strong story as Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, because the source material has lasted for over a century and the tale is gem-like in its craft. In fact, this isn’t even a adaptation in the usual sense, since the full text of the story is included. (There wasn’t a need to select parts to match this medium, since the piece is relatively short and Russell uses fully paneled pages with sliver insets when necessary to set the mood.)

On the other, Russell’s work is, as always, simply gorgeous, and if this new illustrated version brings more readers to the story and his art, then it’s more than worthwhile. “The Happy Prince” is particularly timely, as it’s a welcome reminder of how the poor suffer; how thoughtless the rich and well-appointed are; and how virtuous sacrifice can be.

The Happy Prince is a golden statue with jeweled eyes who stands above the city. When a late swallow shelters under him, the prince asks the bird’s aid in helping some of the destitute he’s seen from his unmoving perch. The statue gives up everything to make life better for the sick, the hungry, and the abused.

One of the things I love about Wilde’s fairy tales are how they digress into side stories and even take potshots, as when he’s introducing the city officials. The explanation of why the swallow is running late to migrate is a fable in itself, as the bird fell in love with a reed. It’s full of Wilde’s signature wisecracks, as the other birds criticize his love as having “no money, and far too many relations.” True enough, as far as it goes, and an amusing translation of drawing-room gossip to the natural world.

Russell’s illustrations provide impressive visions of the descriptions the prince and the swallow share. While he tells of the hardship of his people, the bird dreams of flying away to Egypt and the exotic sights to be found there. All together, it makes for a feast for the eyes of many of the extremes of our world — artistic accomplishment (the gilded statue), natural beauty (the bird and the reed), faraway lands (the swallow’s Egyptian dreams), and the ups and downs of home (those living among us who need help).

The publisher has posted preview pages and provided a review copy. Russell shares his process, thoughts on the book, and making-of videos at the publisher’s blog. This is fifth in the series of Russell’s adaptations of Wilde’s fairy tales.

One Response to “Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince”

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